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Bedford Bibliography Basic Writings

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from The Prince used in this book are from the W. K. Marriott translation, available in the public domain.

Selections from The Prince are not always used verbatim. Wording and grammar from public domain quotes are often modified for clarity or modernity. In particular I used the Constantine and Bull translations most when looking for appropriate alternate wording.

Sources for other quotations include The Discourses (Ninian Hill Thomson translation), The Art of War (trans. Henry Neville, 1675), Sun Tzu’s Art of War (Giles translation), Han Fei Tzu (Burton Watson translation), The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene. Details follow.

All of these books are in my own library – there are others available on Machiavelli, but I cannot claim to have read or quoted from them.

Books by Machiavelli

The Prince. I own many editions of this book, including translations by:

  • Robert Adams (Norton Critical Edition, New York, USA, 1977);
  • Peter Bondanella (Oxford University Press, London 2008; revised version of his 1979 translation in The Portable Machiavelli);
  • George Bull (Penguin Classic edition, London, England, 1981, revised edition 1999);
  • J. Scott Byerley (Google Books, London, UK, 1810)
  • William J. Connell (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, Boston, USA, 2005);
  • Peter Constantine (Modern Library, New York, USA, 2008);
  • Edward Dacres, 1640 (from Machiavelli, Volume 1, Project Gutenberg www.gutenberg.org. Contains two archaic translations of his works);
  • Daniel Donno (Bantam Books, New York, USA, 1966, reissued 1984, 2003);
  • Ninian Hill Thomson, 1883 (Capstone Edition, West Sussex, England, 2010, introduction by Tom Butler-Bowden);
  • Harvey C. Mansfield (University Of Chicago Press; 2nd edition, Chicago, USA, 1998);
  • W. K. Marriot, 1908 (Sterling books edition, reprinted 2008; this translation is also sold in many bargain book editions);
  • Henry Neville (Google Books, 1720 edition, trans. 1674, London, UK)
  • Tim Parks (Penguin Classics, London, UK, 2011; a very modern version);
  • Russell Price (ed. by Quentin Skinner, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1988)
  • Wayne Rebhorn (Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, USA, 2003);
  • Luigi Ricci (Modern Library, New York, USA, 1950);
  • David Wooton (Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, USA, 1995)

Other translations are available. Differences between translations are generally more about grammar and style than content, although more recent translations are somewhat easier to read. If you want punchy style and readability, I recommend Parks or Wooton. If you want literality, chose Mansfield or Connell. If you want something in between, choose Constantine or Bondanella.

Collections and Machiavelli’s other writing

Allan Gilbert trans., Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others. Three vols, orig. published in hardcover, Duke University Press, 1965. Reprinted in paperback, 1989. Easily the best and most comprehensive collection, which includes Machiavelli’s essays, letters, plays and poetry as well as his political works. Vol. 1 contains The Prince and The Discourses.

William Connell trans., The Prince with Related Documents, St. Martin’s Press, USA, 2005. Includes letters and essays about Machiavelli and The Prince, plus an excellent introductory essay on the problems of translation. Includes a selection from Cardinal Pole’s Apology to Charles V, as well as other documents reacting to The Prince.

Leslie Walker trans., The Discourses, edited and introduction by Bernard Crick, Penguin Classics, London, England, 2003. I also have the translation by Christian Detmold (Modern Library, New York, USA, 1950 and a translation by Julia and Peter Bondanella (Oxford University Press, London, 2009). It is essential to read The Discourses in order to understand Machiavelli.

Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa editors and trans., The Portable Machiavelli, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1979. Includes the complete text of The Prince, plus abridgements of The Discourses, The Art of War, The History of Florence, with several letters, plays and essays.

Peter Constantine, ed.. The Essential Writings of Machiavelli, Modern Library, New York, USA, 2007. Contains The Prince, selections from The Discourses, Art of War and Florentine Histories, plus several political essays, poems and plays. Contains the same translation of The Prince as in the standalone 2008 Modern Library edition.

Christopher Lynch, trans., The Art of War, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 2005. Machiavelli uses a Socratic-style dialogue to explain military arts, and the relationship between war and the state.

Allan Gilbert,trans., The Letters of Machiavelli, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 1988. Letters sent to friends, family and his political bosses.

Leslie Walker, trans., On Conspiracies: A Dead Man Cannot Contemplate Vengeance. Seven chapters taken from the Penguin edition of The Discourses, mentioned above, but without commentary.

Jeremy Scott intro., Power: Get It, Use It, Keep It,  Profile Books, London, UK, 2001. Maxims selected from a 1674 translation of The Prince.

Walter Dunne, trans., History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy by Machiavelli, (1901), Harper Torchbooks, New York, USA, 1960.

Wayne Rebhorn, trans., The Prince and Other Writings, Barnes & Noble Classics, new York, USA, 2003. Includes the Life of Castruccio Castracani, the famous letter to Franceso Vettori, and a few selections from The Discourses.

Andrew Brown trans., Life of Castruccio Castracani, Hesperus Press, London, UK, 2003.

Books about Machiavelli, His Ideas and His Time

Sydney Anglo, Machiavelli: A Dissection, Paladin, London, UK, 1971.

Stanley Bing, What Would Machiavelli Do?The End Justifies the Meanness, Harper Collins, new York, USA, 2000. A tongue-in-cheek application of selected principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to business and management affairs.

Philip Bobbitt, The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That he Made. Atlantic Books, London, UK, 2013.  Another examination of the republican ideas of Machiavelli that attempts to correct popular misconceptions.

Erica Brenner Machiavelli’s Ethics, Princeton University press, New Jersey, USA, 2009. A very detailed examination of Machiavelli’s works and philosophy.

Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Prince: A New Reading, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2013. Benner’s take on The Prince is that it is both satire and parody. But her book is much more interesting and comprehensive than just that.

Niccolò Capponi, An Unlikely Prince: The Life and Times of Machiavelli, Da Capo Press, Philadelphia, USA, 2010. A very recent biography.

Leo Paul de Alvarez, The Machiavellian Enterprise: A Commentary on The Prince, North Illinois University Press, DeKalb, USA, 1999. A chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Prince by a professor of political science, based on his own translation (Waveland Press, 1989).

Peter Donaldson, Machiavelli and the Mystery of State, Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, 1992.

Antony Jay, Management and Machiavelli, Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1970.

Ross King, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, Harper Collins, New York, USA, 2007. A more recent biography. Highly readable.

Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Machiavelli: The Father of Philosophy Cross-Examines the Author of The Prince, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, USA, 2003. An imagined dialogue between the two philosophers.

Michael Ledeen, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago, St. Martin’s Griffin, USA, 2000. An analysis of contemporary American political issues through a Machiavellian lense.

Carnes Lord, The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, Yale University Press, New Haven, USA, 2003. A look at international political leadership through Machiavelli’s principles by a professor of strategy at the Naval War College.

Harvey Mansfield, Machiavelli’s Virtue, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 1998. A collection of scholarly essays by Mansfield.

Harvey Mansfield, Jr., Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power, Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 1993. An assessment of executive power and modern republicanism.

Alistair McAlpine, The New Machiavelli:Renaissance Realpolitik for Modern Managers, Aurum Press, London, UK, 1997. Not to be confused with the H. G. Wells’ novel of the same name.

Dick Morris, The New Prince, Renaissance Books, Los Angeles, USA, 1999. Machiavelli revisited by a former campaigner for US President Bill Clinton, with specific relevance to American federal politics.

John Najemy, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 2010. A collection of scholarly essays on many subjects related to Machiavelli and the Renaissance by several contemporary authors.

Cary Nederman, Machiavelli: Beginner’s Guide, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK, 2009. A sympathetic look at Machiavelli’s ideas, works and his beliefs.

Roberto Ridolfi, The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 1963. Still considered to be the most comprehensive biography available, but out of print.

Quentin Skinner, Machiavelli: A Brief Insight, Sterling Publishing, New York, USA, 2010. An illustrated biography with an overview of his works and philosophy.

Count Carlo Sforza, Count Carlo Sforza presents The Living Thoughts of Machiavelli, Fawcett World Library, Greenwich, CT, USA, 1958. A selection of comments from The Discourses. Has a good introduction by Sforza.

Paul Strathern, Machiavelli in 90 Minutes, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, USA, 1998.

Miguel Vatter, Machiavelli’s The Prince: A Reader’s Guide, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK, 2013. An analysis and explanation of the main themes in The Prince.

Mauricio Viroli, Machiavelli(Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought series), Oxford University Press, London, UK, 1998.

Maurizio Viroli, Niccolò’s Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli,, Hill and Wang, New York, USA, 2000. An entertaining, insightful biography.

Maurizio Viroli, How to Read Machiavelli, Granta Publications, London, UK, 2008.

Corrado Vivanti, Niccolo Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography, Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA, 2013. Vivanti was the editor of the standard edition of Machiavelli’s collected works.

Michael White, Machiavelli: A Man Misunderstood, Abacus Books, London, UK, 2004.

The Prince 2.0: Revelations from Machiavelli, by Staffan Persson, printed by Percussina Forlag, Stockholm Sweden, 2014. A commentary on modern Swedish politics, addressed to national politicians, based on a personal reading of The Prince.

Thoughts of a Statesman, trans. Christian Detmold. A small, print-on-demand book (2015) of aphorisms derived from Machiavelli. Detmold was a 19th century engineer who translated Machiavelli’s works. In order to make Machiavelli seem more palatable to the Victorians, he cobbled together this collection, added a fake letter to Machiavelli’s son and some overtly Christian comments.

Machiavelli: The Founder of Political Science. Two public domain essays, one by John Morley, the second by Thomas Macaulay, LM Publishers, undated, print-on-demand book, probably printed in the USA. Both were 19th century writers and their essays are both available online.

Online Resources

All of Machiavelli’s main works are available online in readable text format, some also as audiobooks, or PDF files. I also recommend you buy a printed version of at least The Prince and The Discourses for your own reference, from the selection listed above.

Machiavelli on the Net lists the main works and online resources here: timoroso.com/philosophy/machiavelli/

For all of Machiavelli’s works in their original Italian, see www.classicitaliani.it/index090.htm. The original version of The Prince is here: www.classicitaliani.it/index007.htm while a translation into modern Italian is here: www.classicitaliani.it/machiav/critica/Pricipe_traduzione_Bonghi.htm. Original Italian versions are also available here: www.bibliotecaitaliana.it/xtf/view?docId=bibit000214/bibit000214.xml and here: www.bibliotecaitaliana.it/exist/bibit/ (type Machiavelli in the ‘autore’ field). And many are available at the Italian edition of Wikisoucre: it.wikisource.org/wiki/Autore:Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli

Wikipedia has a good biography: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccolò_Machiavelli that links to pages about his works.

E-Machiavelli has some essays, translations and links: www.emachiavelli.com/

Don MacDonald has an excellent biography of Machiavelli in graphic novel form at donmacdonald.com/

Isaiah Berlin’s excellent article about Machiavelli in the New York Times, 1971, is online at www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/nov/04/a-special-supplement-the-question-of-machiavelli/ Anyone interested in the changing historical views of The Prince should read it.

A well-annotated version of The Prince by Maarten Maartensz with considerable notes and commentary (with particular emphasis on Dutch politics) is available at: http://maartens.home.xs4all.nl/philosophy/machiavelli,/machiavelliPrinceTOC.htm

Many 19th and early 20th century books about Machiavelli, or translations of his works, are available in PDF, text and other formats at the Internet Archive: archive.org.

Text versions of the Art of War are online at constitution.org and en.wikisource.org.

A downloadable version of The Prince, Marriott translation, is available at www.gutenberg.org, along with other works by Machiavelli, including The Life Of Castruccio Castracani Of Lucca, and Description Of The Methods Adopted By The Duke Valentino. I quote from the public domain version, translated by Ninian Hill Thomson, 1883, from www.gutenberg.org (2004), although I edited the quotations for clarity and modernity. The Ninian Hill translation is also available online.

The Prince and The Discourses are also on constitution.org.

Shorter works of Machiavelli’s, plus The Prince, and quotes from The Discourses are available at anewdayoutreach.com/machiavelli.htm

Free audiobook versions of The Prince (Marriott) are available online at http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/book/the-prince-by-Niccolò-machiavelli and from librivox.org/the-prince-by-Niccolò-machiavelli/

An excellent audio course in 24 lectures, called Machiavelli in Context, is available for sale from www.thegreatcourses.com

The History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy, edited by Hugo Albert Rennert, Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), 2006. Other translations are available at archive.org.

A good essay on the various translations and edition of Machiavelli’s works, with links to online sources  is here: http://bonaelitterae.wordpress.com/studying-machiavelli/the-real-machiavelli/

There are numerous books by and about Machiavelli available, in whole or part, for viewing on Google books.The Online Library of Liberty has several older translations of Machiavelli (oll.libertyfund.org/index.php) as does the Internet Archive (www.archive.org); these include some of the earliest English translations.

The list of Robert Greene’s 48 Law of Power and 33 Strategies of War are on Wikipedia. Greene has a blog about his books and related topics at powerseductionandwar.com

Squashed Philosophers gives a shortened version of The Prince, meant to be read in under one hour: sqapo.com/machiavelli.htm

Was The Prince written as a satire? Ian Johnston thinks so, and explains why in this lecture: records.viu.ca/~Johnstoi/introser/machiavelli.htm

The Machiavelli Blog has some good content, but has not been updated for a while: www.machiavelliblog.org/

Cary Nederman (author of Machiavelli: Beginner’s Guide) has a comprehensive entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Machiavelli here: plato.stanford.edu/entries/machiavelli/

Harvey Mansfield has a site with references to his numerous articles and books on Machiavelli at harveymansfield.org/tag/machiavelli/

Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous letter to his friend, Francesco Vettori  (1513) is available online in several places, including faculty.cua.edu/pennington/churchhistory220/Lecture13/MachiavelliStudy.htm, www.fullposter.com/snippets.php?snippet=120&start=200&ordertype=0&cat=0 (Italian and English), and http://delong.typepad.com/hoisted_from_the_archives/1513/12/letter-from-nic.html. A study of the letter is available here: www.nla.gov.au/sites/default/files/hw_transcripts__290212.pdf

Lionel Fox’s Modern Machiavelli blog at modernmachiavelli.com/. Essays on leadership, power, politics, and reputation. I gather that Lionel Fox is a Machiavellian pseudonym based on the ‘be the fox or the lion’ section of The Prince.

Related Books

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power, Penguin Books, New York, USA, 2000. An excellent synthesis of many classic and modern works on politics, leadership, war, power and statecraft, including Machiavelli. Probably the best single work on gaining and maintaining power, on leadership and management, since The Prince.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War, Penguin Books, New York, USA, 2008. Greene’s second book is to Sun Tzu what his first book was to Machiavelli.

Sun Tzu, translated by Samuel B. Griffith, The Art of War, Oxford University Press, London, England, 1971. Also available in a modern edition translated by J. H. Huang, (Harper Perennial, New York, USA, 2008). Various versions of the Lionel Giles translation (1910, now in the public domain) are in print, and at suntzusaid.com, www.gutenberg.org, and www.sonshi.com.

Burton Watson trans., Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, New York, USA, 1964. Han Fei was a 3rd century BCE Chinese prince from the legalist school of philosophy. His handbook for rulers was a practical guide for Chinese rulers similar to The Prince. Few of his writings are available in translation, although you can find some chapters (along with other Chinese treatises on rulers, government and war) here: afe.easia.columbia.edu/main_pop/ps/ps_china.htm.

T. A. Sinclair trans., The Politics, by Aristotle, Penguin Classics, London, England, 1992. Aristotle’s work was the premier book of political science in Machiavelli’s day. Plato’s Republic was also studied by princes and scholars. Versions of both are available online.

Quintus Tullius Cicero, translated by Philip Freeman, How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, Princeton University press, Princeton, USA, 2012. Lessons in politics and electioneering from Marcus Cicero’s younger brother.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by Philip Freeman, How to Run a Country: An Ancient Guide for Modern Leaders, Princeton University press, Princeton, US, 2013. More advice from the classical author of De Officiis (see below).

Cicero, Commentariolum Petitionis (“A Little Handbook on Electioneering”) is also known as De petitione consulatus (“On running for the Consulship”). This is the same book translated by Freeman (above). An English translation of Cicero’s essay is available at en.wikisource.org.

Marcus Tulius Cicero  was a popular author in the Renaissance. His work, De Officiis, or in English, On Duties or On Obligations, was a tract about the principles and behaviour of aspiring politicians.  His books The Republic and its sequel, The Laws, were also famous among Renaissance scholars and philosophers. I recommend Cicero: On Obligations, translated by P. G. Walsh (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2000, reissued 2008) and Cicero: The Republic and The Laws, translated by Niall Rudd (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1998, reissued 2008).

Ogyu Sorai, translated by Samuel H. Yamashita, Master Sorai’s Responsals, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, USA, 1994. This book is to 18th century Japan what The Prince was to Renaissance Italy, although it has more on manners than Machiavelli.

Stephen Gardiner, ed. and translated by Peter Donaldson, A Machiavellian Treatise, Cambridge University Press, London, UK, 1975. A 1555 treatise on politics by Queen Mary’s Bishop of Winchester. He uses unattributed content from Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses.

James Gimian and Barry Boyce, The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict; Strategies from The Art of War, Shambala Publications, Boston, USA, 2008.

Moses Hadas ed. The Basic Works of Cicero, Modern Library, New York, USA, 1951. Contains Cicero’s essay on orators and rhetoric, De Oratore.

Francis Bacon, The Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral, of Francis Ld. Verulam, Peter Pauper Press, Mount Bernon, New York, USA. Original published in 1950, reprinted 1950.

Rodney Ohebsion, The New Art of War, Tactics and Power:A New Rendition of Teachings from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom, and the Works of Han Fei Tzu, Immediex Publishing, United States, 2005. Lacks any reference to the source versions of the original material.

Ralph Roeder, The Man of the Renaissance:Four Lawgivers: Savonarola, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Aretino, Viking Press, New York, USA, 1933.

Balthasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Original title: Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (literally The Oracle, a Manual of the Art of Discretion). Translated by Christopher Maurer (Doubleday Books, New York, USA, 1991), translated by Martin Fischer (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, USA, 1993), translated by Joseph Jacobs (Dover Books, New York, USA, 2005, originally translated in 1892). This collection of 300 aphorisms was first published in 1637. Many versions in print and online stem from the 1892 translation. It is described in a review on Amazon.ca as “Machiavelli with a soul.” A searchable text version can be found at www.online-literature.com/gracian/art-worldly-wisdom/ and here: www.sacred-texts.com/eso/aww/index.htm . A PDF is here: www.andrewburke.ca/ajlb/viewBlogEntry.php?ref=213 Gracian also wrote “Heroes,” around the same time; a counter argument against Machiavelli, outlining what he felt was the proper behaviour for a Christian prince. A partial translation is available in A Pocket Mirror for Heroes, translated by Christopher Maurer, Doubleday Books, New York, USA, 1996.

Lauro Martines, April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici, Pimilco, London, UK, 2004. While this happened before Machiavelli took office, it did set the stage for Florentine politics of his day. The book also relates several other conspiracies in Italy during the period.

Hugh Bicheno, Vendetta:High Art and Low Cunning at the Birth of the Renaissance, Phoenix Books, London, UK, 2007.

Miles Unger, Magnifico:The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de Medici, Simon & Schuster, New York, USA, 2008.

Jonathan Jones, The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance, Simon & Shuster, London, UK, 2010. While not specifically about Machiavelli, it does describe Florence during Machiavelli’s time.

David Borgenicht and Turk Regan, The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac:Politics, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, USA, 2008. Not specifically about Machiavelli, it nonetheless has many Machiavellian politicians in its content.

Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve:How the World Became Modern, Norton & Co., New York, USA, 2011. About how the rediscovery of Lucretius’ poem, On Nature (also called On the Nature of Things), created European humanism in the Renaissance. Vatter says reading it significantly affected Machiavelli’s thinking.

C. Northcote Parkinson, The Law, John Murray, London, UK, 1957, 1979. A collection of 16 of Parkinson’s delightful, sardonic essays about the nature of civil service and bureaucracy.


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Basic writing, or developmental writing, is a discipline of composition studies which focuses on the writing of students sometimes otherwise called "remedial" or "underprepared", usually freshman college students.

Defining basic writing[edit]

Sometimes called “remedial” or “developmental” writing, basic writing (BW) was developed in the 1970s, generally under the constraints of open admissions policies. Basic writing courses are meant to help students come to a basic understanding and familiarity with formal written English. BW students can be categorized two ways: 1) students coming straight from high school, who did not develop a basic competency in formal written English before graduation and who placed below average on a college writing placement test, and 2) non-traditional students who are older than average college freshman and who are coming to college for the first time in order to further their education in the hopes of gaining the skills necessary for better employment and earning more money. These are generally students that may have full-time jobs, come to classes at night, and may have children, and perhaps be a single parent. In some cases non-native and ESL students are also considered basic writers, because of their unfamiliarity with the English language, let alone formal written English (sometimes identified as standard English).

BW students are usually characterized by a lack of understanding of the rules of formal written English which may manifest itself in non-traditional syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, mechanics, organization, and clarity. Mina Shaughnessy, a pioneer in the field of basic writing, characterized basic writers as “those that had been left so far behind the others in their formal education that they appeared to have little chance of catching up, students whose difficulty with the written language seemed of a different order from those of the other groups, as if they had come, you might say, from a different country, or at least through different schools, where even modest standards of high-school literacy had not been met."[1] However, BW is also a relative term. What might be considered freshman-level writing at one university might be characterized as basic writing at another, or even advanced writing at another, depending on the ability of the general student population and university standards.

Basic Writing is also a field of study. The research in the field probes into the concerns of teachers and students on the academic margins. Deborah Mutnick explains about Basic Writing:

“It signifies struggles for inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity; debates over standards and linguistic hegemony; the exploitation of faculty and staff on the academic margins; and the policies that opened and not threatened to close higher education’s doors to masses of people. It has played a key role not only in providing opportunities for research on adult literacy but also in illuminating the politics of writing in terms of race, class, ethnicity, and other social structures that would have remained invisible in the mostly white, middle-class classrooms that have traditionally constituted the “mainstream.”[2]

History of basic writing[edit]

The creation of basic writing courses in colleges across the United States is largely the result of the creation of open-admissions policies that no longer required academic standards be set for entrance into college. The first to start such a program was the City University of New York (CUNY). Before opening their campus to all those who wanted higher education, regardless of previous academic performance, CUNY had instituted the SEEK program (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) which was designed as a pre-collegiate program that was meant to prepare students, who were not yet ready to enter the university, for full admission. However, with the advent of open admissions in 1970 there was no longer a need for pre-collegiate classes, so the program transformed into a course taken by those admitted to the university who did not place well on admissions placement tests. The writing program that stemmed from this transformation became known as a basic writing course because it dealt not with preparing highly literate students for upper-level course work, but with the teaching the very basics of written communication.

Since the late seventies, many colleges and universities have created open admissions policies, and have in turn created BW programs across the country. However, from the very beginning there has been large opposition to open admissions policies. Open admissions detractors have prevailed at some colleges and universities, overturning open admissions policies. As a result, BW course have either been eliminated entirely from the curriculum or have been relegated to community colleges.

Major theorists[edit]

Mina P. Shaughnessy[edit]

Mina P. Shaughnessy (pronounced MY-NA SHAWN-ES-EE), involved with the SEEK program at CUNY, was a proponent of open admissions for City College (part of the CUNY system) and became director of the BW program once City College opened its doors to all. Shaughnessy worked hard not only to design a curriculum for students that seemed alien to the professors that literally did not know what to do with students who seemed not to be able to put two words together, in some cases, but to understand and categorize the characteristics of basic writers in order to understand them better, and be able to teach them more effectively. For this purpose, Shaughnessy compiled four-thousand placement essays written by students as part of the entrance process into City College and classified the errors that she found, trying to understand the logic behind spelling, syntax, grammar, etc., that seemed, at best, scattered and, at worst, completely arbitrary. She published her results in the book Errors and Expectations (1977). Her main conclusion is that these writers are not scattered or arbitrary, but that they have created systems of written English based on misunderstood rules, half-understood lessons on punctuation, their own local or familial dialects, among others, and have logically created their own systems of written English. It is not that these students do not understand communication, but they simply have not been taught or have misunderstood the rules of written formal English. Shaughnessy’s work was considered groundbreaking and Errors and Expectations is still considered the seminal book in the field of BW. And although she died in 1978, and other scholars have made contributions to the field, Shaughnessy remains its leading figure today.

Mina P. Shaughnessy is arguably the most prominent name in the field of BW. She helped create the atmosphere of academic respectability BW needed to become recognized as a legitimate scholarly field. Her 1977 book, Errors and Expectations, set the tone for much (if not all) of the BW scholarship that followed. BW scholars, whether they agree with Shaughnessy or not, are still responding to her.

The ‘‘‘Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing’’’ includes this annotation for Errors and Expectations:

“Shaughnessy takes teachers through writing problems such as poor handwriting and punctuation, syntax, common errors, spelling and vocabulary errors, and lack of idea development. While her focus is primarily on error, it is underscored by a sensitive understanding of the reasons behind the rhetorical and linguistic difficulties discussed and a strong belief in the inherent intelligence of learners described as ‘basic writers.’ Shaughnessy's claims about the difficulties faced by basic writers are supported by examples from thousands of student papers. Examples of many kinds of errors are provided. Each chapter also includes suggestions for the teacher on how to reduce the particular kind of error discussed in that specific chapter. Shaughnessy also explains why these errors occur by examining the rules that are manifested in students' writing. The book also contains an appendix that includes suggestions for placement essay topics and also contains suggested readings for the teacher of basic writing.” [1]

All in all, Shaughnessy saw disadvantaged students as being intelligent (though scholastically under-prepared). She resolutely held that such students could be taught how to effectively write. It is teachers of BW and not BW students that need to radically alter their views toward the teaching and learning of writing. In her 1976 speech, "Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing", she asserted that “teachers (need to) realize and accept the need to remediate themselves regarding the needs and learning styles of basic writers.” [2]

Shaughnessy controversy[edit]

From the ‘‘‘Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing’’’:

“Min-Zhan Lu's 1992 article ‘Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?’ [3] inspired a flurry of feminist, Marxist, and poststructuralist reexaminations of Mina Shaughnessy's work. These critiqued Shaughnessy on three counts: for forwarding an ‘essentialist’ conception of language that separates thought from expression and views discourse as a transparent vessel for meaning; for promoting basic writers' accommodation to mainstream linguistic standards and thereby minimizing the political dimensions of language use; and for overlooking materialist considerations such as the economic, social, and institutional issues surrounding basic writers and the teaching of basic writing.” [4]

To be fair, we should note that Lu’s critique applied to other big names in the field of BW including Mike Rose (see below).

Other notable scholars of BW, however, like Laura Gray-Rosendale have claimed that such critiques of Shaughnessy do not hold much critical weight. “Shaughnessy’s works,” themselves, she claims, “render ambiguous if not outright defy many such negative characterizations.” [5]. Also, David Bartholomae (see below) has defended Shaughnessy’s emphasis on error in BW students’ writing (though he still advocates refocusing BW to help students learn various academic dialects). Adjusting the focus a bit, “Bartholomae extends Mina Shaughnessy's hope that teachers, especially basic writing teachers, will examine how they view errors in student writing. For example, he suggests that teachers who cannot understand student prose do not read the prose as complex texts and thus do not find the logic at work in many errors.” [6]

David Bartholomae[edit]

David Bartholomae is Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Bartholomae’s most-referenced publication about BW is the book chapter “Inventing the University.” The following is a selection from that chapter:

“Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion--invent the university, that is, or a branch of it, like history or anthropology or economics or English. The student has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community. Or perhaps I should say the various discourses of our community, since it is in the nature of a liberal arts education that a student, after the first year or two, must learn to try on a variety of voices and interpretive schemes--to write, for example, as a literary critic one day and as an experimental psychologist the next; to work within fields where the rules governing the presentation of examples or the development of an argument are both distinct and, even to the professional, mysterious. The student has to appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse, and he has to do this as though he were easily and comfortably one with his audience, as though he were a member of the academy or an historian or an anthropologist or an economist; he has to invent the university by assembling and mimicking its language while finding some compromise between idiosyncrasy, a personal history, on the one hand, and the requirements of convention, the history of a discipline, on the other hand. He must learn to speak our language. Or he must dare to speak it or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long before the skill is ‘learned.’ And this, understandably, causes problems.” [7]

Bartholomae asserts that (though important) error should not determine the efforts of or relationship between BW teachers and their students. Rather, BW teachers should recognize that the language they demand from their BW students (typically short, direct, non-abstruse sentences) is not the language that they (the teachers) typically write and publish in. Students experience such disconnect between what they learn from their writing classes and what their discipline specific course require of them that they are often left to their own devices to figure out how to write acceptably in any given discipline. To resolve this, Bartholomae believes that BW teachers should immerse their students with academic writing (peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, etc.). BW students thus get healthy exposure to sufficient sums of “academic” language in a teacher-assisted environment. This, Bartholomae claims, should help BW students make the transition more quickly to start writing “academically.” The idea that academics might personally strive to exhibit a clear, cogent, and elegant style in their articles and chapters, and thus model good writing for their students to emulate, is not entertained.

Mike Rose[edit]

Mike Rose is Professor of Social Research Methodology at UCLA. He is best known in the BW community for his part autobiographical/part pedagogically philosophical book, ‘‘Lives on the Boundary.’’

The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing offers this annotation:

“This examination of the idea of ‘underpreparedness’ in a range of educational schools and systems also explores Rose's own experiences as a student who was erroneously placed in the vocational education track. He suggests that lower-track classes create a self-fulfilling prophesy for most students who might, if challenged to succeed, do well in advanced classes. Among the issues Rose discusses are the problems encountered by students whose improvised backgrounds provide little context for the ideas and language they encounter in the academy. By explaining his personal challenges and his experiences with various mentors, Rose illustrates how he worked to master academic language and ideas. Rose uses his experiences as a student and a teacher as evidence for a critique of conceptions of literacy used in contemporary education. He suggests that students labeled "underprepared" are inexperienced with the expectations of the academy, that literacy crises running through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were manufactured and deflect other concerns, and that schools must work with students differently.” [8]

Rose’s main interests in the study of thinking and learning include the, “study of the factors – cognitive, linguistic, socio-historical, and cultural – that enhance or limit people's engagement with written language.” As well as, “The development of pedagogies and materials to enhance critical reading and writing, particularly at the secondary and post-secondary level, and particularly with ‘underprepared’ or ‘at risk’ populations.” [9]

Additionally, Rose has argued for the term basic writing as opposed to the terms "developmental" or "remedial" which have the connotations of medical terminology:

"This atomistic, medical model of language is simply not supported by more recent research in language and cognition. But because the teaching of writing – particularly teaching designated remedial has been conceptually, and [...] administratively segmented from the rich theoretical investigation that characterizes other humanistic study, these assumptions have rarely been subjected to rigorous and comprehensive scrutiny."[3]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Basic Writing E-journal (BWe)


  1. ^Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977, p. 2
  2. ^Deborah Mutnick (2001). Gary Tate; Amy Rupiper; Kurt Schick, eds. A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Oxford University Press. p. 183. 
  3. ^Rose, Mike (1989). Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 210–211. ISBN 0140124039. 

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