1977 is an excellent history of the composition program at Penn State, which Henze, Selzer, and Sharer argue is a justified history to tell because too often histories of composition are more national and told in grand narratives. In a way, the history of Penn State’s composition program in the 1970s “mirror[s:] (and complicate[s:])” the national debate in composition studies (86).
Henze, Selzer, and Sharer begin by providing cultural and social context for their history (Chapter 2), and then proceed through the book to narrow their focus. Chapter 3 offers a the context of English Studies in 1977, and Chapter 4 overviews the national conversation about composition studies in the mid-to-late 1970s. These two narratives are pretty familiar to most in composition studies, and Henze, Selzer, and Sharer move through it quickly before focusing on Penn State. One nice aspect of these two chapters is the sidebars, in which prominent composition scholars from other programs provide their own views of the state of the field in the 1970s.
Chapter 5 examines closing the changing face and the new problems of Penn State’s English department in the 1970s: budgetary woes, a changing student body (more nontraditional students), declining number of English majors, and of course, critiques of the two composition courses (English 1 and 3). Henze, Selzer, and Sharer outline how the courses often did not have a shared design and were critiqued for not preparing students for college writing.
Chapter 6 is a discussion of how the English department attended to these problems. Professors Wilma Ebbitt and Douglas Park were instrumental in bringing about certain changes: a shift from English 3 as a literary course, changes from a more current-traditional paradigm to a process-oriented paradigm, a move toward exposition and argument and away from expressivism, the development of a committee for freshman composition, and a new teacher orientation.