This review essay places Local Histories in the context of recent books and studies examining the wide variety of composition and rhetoric courses and pedagogical practices that existed in nineteenth-century America. The book has two general foci as represented in its split title: Local Histories, or microhistories of institutions, curricula, and figures; and Reading the Archives of Composition, an extended look at several hitherto unexamined archival sources and their associated projects. The editors identify three central purposes for their book: to challenge the “Harvard narrative,” which, they claim, places the origin of “composition” at Harvard and other elite Eastern colleges; to offer several alternative “microhistories” from various institutional sites, and to document, interpret, and interrogate specific archival holdings and the nature of archival work in composition. While the reviewers find the challenges to “the Harvard model” as history and historiography overstated, overall, they find the collection important for its studies of diverse sites and its attention to less visible figures: teachers who acted as early innovators, and students whose written compositions, informal diaries and letters offer new lenses for making history. The authors of various chapters who unveil their documentary and archival work in process, disclosing both finds and gaps and offering their developing understandings of the archive as construct, perform a valuable service to future scholars of composition studies.

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