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Young Composers

Young Composers

Composition's Beginnings in Nineteenth-Century Schools

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Lucille M. Schultz


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
240 pages, 5.5 x 8.5, 19 illustrations

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric


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About the Book

Lucille M. Schultz's The Young Composers: Composition's Beginnings in Nineteenth-Century Schools is the first full-length history of school-based writing instruction. Schultz demonstrates that writing instruction in nineteenth-century American schools is much more important in the overall history of writing instruction than we have previously assumed.

Drawing on primary materials that have not been considered in previous histories of writing instruction—little-known textbooks and student writing that includes prize-winning essays, journal entries, letters, and articles written for school newspapers—Schultz shows that in nineteenth-century American schools, the voices of the British rhetoricians that dominated college writing instruction were attenuated by the voice of the Swiss education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Partly through the influence of Pestalozzi's thought, writing instruction for children in schools became child-centered, not just a replica or imitation of writing instruction in the colleges.

It was also in these nineteenth-century American schools that personal or experience-based writing began and where the democratization of writing was institutionalized. These schools prefigured some of our contemporary composition practices: free writing, peer editing, and the use of illustrations as writing prompts. It was in these schools, in fact, where composition instruction as we know it today began, Schultz argues.

This book features a chapter on the agency of textbook iconography, which includes illustrations from nineteenth-century composition books as well as a cultural analysis of those illustrations. Schultz also includes a lengthy bibliography of nineteenth-century composition textbooks and student and school newspapers.


Lucille M. Schultz is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Cincinnati.


The Young Composers, which Schultz herself labels as ‘our profession’s first history of school-based writing instruction,’ is a groundbreaking text that reveals the true creativity of writing teachers, the innovations in the lower schools, and the complex origins of many teaching methods.”—JAC

“The study is a strong example of imagination, resourceful, and thorough archival research and it will be a valuable resource to future researchers for its bibliographies of nineteenth-century “composition and Language Arts Textbooks, Grammars, and Rhetorics” and “Student Writing” in addition to the list of Schultz’s secondary resources.”—CCC