Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse 205: Special Topics—The History of Literacy examines, well, the history of literacy. Defining “Literacy” is ostensibly an easy task, having something to do with reading and writing. But, as we will explore this quarter, the concept of literacy has been in debate since systems of alphabets were first developed 5000 years ago. Researchers, educators, and policy makers have debated the definition of literacy, its value, its consequences, and social and educational policies directed at attaining it. In this course, we’ll read selected landmark scholarly articles on the history of literacy.

As we read these works, we will ask such questions as:

  • What is literacy?
  • Is literacy the same everywhere?
  • How is literacy different from orality?
  • Does the introduction of literacy in a culture necessarily have certain effects or cause certain changes?
  • How is literacy related to schooling?
  • Does literacy change as technologies and new media for communication emerge? If so, how?


Course Requirements

This is a reading- and writing-intensive course. We’ll be reading about 20 to 40 pages for each class meeting. You’ll also be writing a lot—both outside of class and in class. Nearly all our work this quarter will focus on understanding the texts we read for the course. That said, you will have the opportunity to explore a topic related to course themes on your own and present your findings to the class.

Required Texts

Course readings, available on our course website.

Assignment and Grading Overview

You will receive detailed assignment descriptions for all of the required aspects of this course. I will upload them to the course website well in advance of their due date. I will also give you all possible midterm questions well in advance of the exam.

My expectations for your work are high. Here are the percentages I’ll use to calculate your final grade:

  • Class Discussion Participation: 15%
  • Blogging (posts & comments on posts): 30%
  • Midterm exam and grading conference with me: 20%
  • Research project & in-class presentation: 35%

Academic Integrity

Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated.

  • You won’t learn anything if you don’t do the work in this class yourself, and learning, as you already know, is a wonderful thing.
  • The minimum penalty for plagiarism will be an “F” on that assignment; blatant plagiarism is grounds for failing the course.
  • For a more in-depth discussion of plagiarism see the Depaul Student Handbook.

If you have questions or feel tempted to cheat or plagiarize, please get in touch with me so we can talk in person.

The Writing Center

Located in SAC212 in Lincoln Park and 1600 Lewis Center in the Loop, the Writing Center offers students one-on-one help with writing concerns. This is a fabulous resource for writers at any level.

Special Needs

Students with special needs should contact me immediately.