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History of the Department of English

From "Day One"

When Indiana State Normal School opened in 1870, one of the first five faculty members was Miss Julia Newell, Lady Principal and Professor of English Language and Literature. Even though the initial enrollment was a mere twenty-one students, and the library was composed of an unabridged dictionary and a bible, the educational work began—primarily with composition and the classics. It’s not likely that Newell earned the $1,200 that some professors made, but she was instrumental in forwarding the educational training of eight male and seventeen female students. Several years later, Newell was joined by Miss Mary A. Brice, Professor of English Grammar and Composition, and in later years by professors whose names are familiar even today, including Howard Sandison and William Parsons. Then, as now, English courses were required of all students (six semesters’ worth in the 1880s), and literature courses were available as well.

Nineteenth-Century Campus Politics

As early as 1881, the Department of English Language and Literature became embroiled in campus politics. Five of nine faculty members—including Parsons, the head of the English division at the time—submitted a letter to the Board objecting to the president’s interference with curricular design and classroom practices. Parsons did not join the faculty who resigned their positions in protest; instead, he stayed and later became president of the school. In the 1890s, the abrupt dismissal of an English professor produced student “mass meetings” (a euphemism, of course, for protests) and letters to the Terre Haute newspapers by a group that identified itself as “The Committee of Fifteen.” It got dicey enough that commencement was cancelled.

The Name of the Department

The name of the Department has changed almost as much as that of the school. Having begun as the Department of English Language and Literature (with only one faculty member), it morphed into the Department of Grammar and Composition. Later still, two departments were formed: Reading, Rhetoric, and Literature and English Grammar and Composition. In 1923, these two departments merged to become the Department of English; except for a brief stint as the Department of English and Journalism in the 1970s, this title has remained, even as Indiana State’s name changed from Normal School to Teachers College to University.

The Current Story

With faculty and administrative offices on the second floor of Root Hall and classes in eight buildings across campus, the Department of English offers two undergraduate majors: English (Liberal Arts) and English Teaching; the Department also offers two minors: English (Liberal Arts) and Creative Writing.  At the graduate level, the Department offers an MA in English (with concentrations in literature and writing). Beyond the 150 undergraduate majors and thirty graduate majors in English, the Department serves every ISU student in every major through Foundational Studies courses in composition and literature. Combining major and minor courses and Foundational Studies courses, the Department offers approximately 190 individual classes each fall and spring semester.

Current Faculty

The Department has twenty tenured and tenure-track faculty members (nine professors, eight associate professors, and three assistant professor), thirteen Instructors, sixteen Lecturers, and eight graduate teaching assistants. Members of the Department have been duly recognized over the years for their campus contributions: eighteen English faculty have received the Caleb Mills Distinguished Teaching Award; seven have received the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research and Creativity Award (one member has been recognized twice); one faculty member has received the Faculty Distinguished Service Award; one has been designated the College of Arts and Science’s Distinguished Professor; and three have received the President’s Medal.

Joseph S. Schick Lectures

The Department is also home to the internationally recognized Joseph S. Schick Lectures in Language, Literature, and Lexicography. Since 1989, the Department has hosted from six to ten scholars a year. These visiting scholars present formal lectures, as well as participate in readings, class visits, seminar discussions, demonstrations, and performances. Heralding from institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, Stanford, and Chicago, notable scholars like Houston Baker, Cleanth Brooks, Terry Eagleton, Stanley Fish, Marilyn French, Henry Louis Gates, Donald Hall, Hugh Kenner, J. Hillis Miller, Paul Muldoon, Stephen Orgel, W.D. Snodgrass, Helen Vendler, and Ian Watt have been welcomed to campus. The Schick series has provided remarkable opportunities for faculty and students in the Department, as well as members of the ISU community.

Having been part of Indiana State from the start, the Department of English continues its committed work in support of students who join us in the changing world of higher education.

For Further (and Interesting) Reading

Lynch, William O. A History of Indiana State Teachers College. Terre Haute: Indiana State Teachers College, 1946.