Graduate work in Composition and Rhetoric at UNL prepares teacher-scholars as active contributors to their school, disciplinary, and community settings. We provide students a rich understanding of both historical and contemporary questions, issues, and ideals that shape the field of Composition and Rhetoric.  From this exploration, we offer students support and guidance in determining their own lines of scholarly inquiry and pedagogical commitments, which, in turn, contribute to the field’s knowledge.

UNL's Composition and Rhetoric program identifies the graduate seminar classroom as one among many sites of important scholarly work.  Equally important are the many ways teacher-scholars collaborate on research projects, teaching and curriculum design, program administration and development, and outreach to the communities surrounding UNL.

M.A. and Ph.D. Specialization

The Composition and Rhetoric program offers a generalist M.A. specialization and an individually-tailored Ph.D. specialization. There are no core or required courses at the Ph.D. level. Ph.D. students design an individual program of study with faculty in their area(s) of interest. Our advising documents describe the program of study, language requirement, exam and dissertation process.

Graduate specializationPh.D. Advising DocumentPh.D. Timelines

Core Areas of Inquiry

Public Rhetorics

Examine relationships among language, culture, identity and agency through historical and contemporary inquiry. Topics include how rhetoric shapes public discourse, social conventions and norms, as well as how rhetors rewrite cultural norms and practices.

Sample courses

Rhetoric of Women Writers This class explores women’s discursive practices and their relationship to the 2000-year tradition of rhetoric, considering how women’s contributions have subverted and transformed traditional assumptions about rhetorical theory and practice. In particular, we will consider specific forms of rhetoric(s) used by women to challenge, expand, or rewrite conceptions of womanhood; uses of silence and listening; engagement of emotion; and embodied identities. We will also reflect on the implications of women’s rhetorical practices for teaching writing and rhetoric.
Rhetoric and the Body
Rhetoric and the Essay

Literacy Theory and Practice

Examine how practices of reading and writing—as well as assumptions about what “being literate” entails—are shaped by social, cultural, political and economic contexts. Topics include literacy instruction and acquisition, digital media and literacy, and literacy and identity.

Sample courses

Literacy and Community
The Politics of Literacy

Composition Theory and Practice

Explore historical and contemporary approaches to writing instruction. Topics include changing institutional and cultural exigencies, new technologies, diverse student writers, and dialogues between K-12 and university teachers of writing.

Sample courses

ENGL 976: Queer RhetoricsThis course is designed to explore the impact of queer studies and queer theory on ideas about English Studies and English pedagogies. While a large majority of the course texts are drawn from the field of Composition and Rhetoric, the course will take as some of its primary questions: what does it mean to read, teach, write, or be a member of “an institution” in queer ways? How are queer rhetorics in converstaion with BIPOC rhetorics, feminist rhetorics, and digital rheorics in our current moment? What do the terms—queer rhetoric, queer pedagogy, and queer literacy—mean, and how do those meanings shift? What does it mean to queer English Studies, or to “queer” anything for that matter?
ENGL 957: Composition Theory and Practice

Talk about pedagogy is simultaneously talk about the details of what students and others might do together and the cultural politics such practices support. To propose a pedagogy is to propose a political vision. In this perspective, we cannot talk about teaching practice without talking about politics.

—Roger Simon

This course will ask you to take up your own teaching as a question and to explore your pedagogies (in theory and in practice) throughout the semester. For our purposes, composition theory and pedagogical practice will have a cyclical relationship whereby theory applies to practice, and (perhaps more importantly) your teaching practice produces theory. Paulo Freire called this mutually informing and dialogic relationship: praxis. Praxis not only illuminates the dynamic relationship between theory and practice, but it also troubles the very idea that theory and practice are distinct from one another in the first place. Lastly, as the epigraph here suggests, one’s teaching has everything to do with one’s political vision. Some instructors might consider themselves apolitical, or even neutral. But the field of composition (among others) has grappled, time and time again, with the impossibility of pedagogy without politics.

This semester you will be asked to think carefully about your teaching decisions and about your engagement with your teaching as part of your own political vision. You will be invited to consider the political implications of your teaching moves in the same way we might ask students to reflect on their writing moves. It is my hope that what you will learn to do in this course will be something you continue to challenge yourself to do throughout your years of teaching. Just as the courses you are teaching this fall focus on writing as having significant dimensions of inquiry, this course will take up both writing and teaching as inquiry. In the description for my own first-year writing course, inquiry is described this way: “The goal of inquiry is not to answer questions but to raise questions. Inquiry is an intellectual activity, one that is about thinking-in-process perhaps more than it is about taking a stance. But, it is not impractical. Inquiry is the ability to explore the dimensions of a problem in ways that do not erase or ignore the unknown. In a practical sense, our solutions to a problem are always approximations, guesses. Because answers are always temporary, then, inquiry does not offer definitive answers. Inquiry is a way of thinking about a problem, not solving it.” In this course, you will have the strange and wonderfully contradictory experience of approaching your teaching as both a question you cannot answer and a question you must answer each time you make a decision about what you will do in your classroom, about what your comments on a student paper will be, about which books you will use, and so on. And, of course, this contradictory experience is the very nature of good teaching—self-reflexive, uncertain, curious. In this sense, writing and teaching never exist outside the realm of inquiry.

Writing Center Theory, Practice, and ResearchThis course explores theoretical and practical questions around teaching and learning in the writing center, primarily within a one-to-one context. We will investigate the growing field of Writing Center Studies and examine theories and pedagogical commitments that inform and shape the practice of writing center consulting. This course also involves a substantial research component, inviting you to explore some aspect of writing culture within or beyond UNL and produce original scholarship. You will have the opportunity to observe consultations in the Writing Center, reflect on your own and others’ writing processes and experiences, explore the theoretical foundations of writing center work, and consider how this work relates to social (especially racial) justice. Completing this course makes you eligible for (but does not guarantee) a position as a consultant in the Writing Center.
Nebraska Writing Project Institutes

Socially Committed Pedagogies

Explore critically-oriented processes of learning, including queer, feminist, place conscious and critical pedagogies. We also provide many outlets for pedagogical development, including mentorship of new TAs, writing center consulting, composition colloquia, and work with the Nebraska Writing Project.

Sample courses

Place Conscious Teaching
Pedagogy and Difference
Radical Pedagogies
Activist Teaching