This is an analysis of English studies in higher education, addressed in particular to practitioners in the field – teachers and students. As Heather Murray states in her introduction, those who work in English are likely to have a stronger sense of critical history than of disciplinary history. She contends that, in order to understand and reform the discipline of English studies, it is necessary to shift the focus of examination ‘down and back’ – to look at ordinary and often taken-for-granted disciplinary practices (such as pedagogy), and to extend the historical frame.
Murray begins with an examination of some important historical moments in the developments of the discipline in Canada: the appointment in 1889 of W.J. Alexander as first professor of English at the University of Toronto; the twenty-five-year experiment early in this century in rhetorical and dramatic education for women that the Margaret Eaton School of Literature and Expression represented; and the entry of ‘theory’ into the English-Canadian academy. The second section examines some of the common features and routines of English departments, such as curriculum design, seminar groups, tests and assignments, essay questions, and the conference, in order to establish the critical/political principles that underpin study and teaching in the academy today. In this section, Murray also focuses on the role of women as students and teachers of English. The final section surveys the literature available for further research on the discipline and for constructing a history of English studies in Canada.