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Review: Dartmouth '66 Seminar Exhibit

A review of Dartmouth ‘66 Seminar Exhibit, a collection of materials related to the 1966 Anglo-American Seminar in the Teaching of English at Dartmouth College, curated by Annette Vee with contributions from Megan McIntyre and Lindsey Harding

Published onFeb 28, 2023
Review: Dartmouth '66 Seminar Exhibit

Dartmouth ‘66 Seminar Exhibit

Project Team
Annette Vee, Project Curator, University of Pittsburgh
Megan McIntyre, Project Contributor, University of Arkansas
Lindsey Harding, Project Editor, University of Georgia

Additional contributions are noted on the site.

Project URL

Project Reviewer
James E. Dobson, Dartmouth College

Project Overview

Annette Vee

The Dartmouth '66 Seminar Exhibit collects existing and new archival materials related to the “Anglo-American Seminar in the Teaching of English,” which brought almost 50 U.S. and British educators to the Dartmouth College campus for almost four weeks in late summer 1966 to discuss what the study and curriculum of English was and should be. Organized by leaders of the National Council of Teachers of English as well as the Modern Language Association, and funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Dartmouth Seminar has been documented by historians of Composition and Education and is often thought of as an origin point for the field of Composition, as well as a lasting influence on K-12 education in the Anglophone world.

This open-access online exhibit, built in Masa CMS and hosted by the WAC Clearinghouse, includes correspondence of the organizers, reports on the seminar, participant lists, original interviews and notes from participants, a bibliography of published work discussing the seminar, and an introduction and reflections from the exhibit's designers. 

Although much has been published on the Dartmouth Seminar in journals and books, this collection of materials is designed to facilitate new interpretations and uses within the fields of English Composition and Education. In particular, it resists (re)producing canonical history, especially in light of the welcome trend of more diverse histories of the field of Composition and Writing Studies, such as those of Carmen Kynard and Iris Ruiz.

The exhibit designers envisioned a multivoiced history for the Dartmouth Seminar — a history that revealed some of the complexities and lacunae of the seminar, and which didn't put aside the contentiousness of it or its place in a racist, nativist, and sexist worldview. The exhibit then facilitates access to archival holdings from the Carnegie Corporation and presents new material for illuminating new interpretations, including an interview with a seminar participant set against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the recovery of the only Black participant in the seminar (not previously mentioned in any previous publication on the seminar): Nearlene Bertin, who served as the secretary, later married one of the lead participants, and went on to be a dean with a successful career in education. 

The collaboration for this project began at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Dartmouth Seminar in 2016, for which Megan McIntyre, then faculty at Dartmouth, helped to locate, organize, and present archival materials. At this same seminar, Annette Vee met John Hardcastle, who was then faculty at University College London and connected to many of the original participants of the Dartmouth Seminar from conducting his own research on its history and influence in the UK. Over years of conversations, John Hardcastle shared with Vee resources and insights and a connection to John Dixon, one of the remaining UK participants from the Seminar and the author of one of its official accounts: Growth through English.

Vee and McIntyre collaborated on the scope and design and objective of the project, finally settling on an early version of the exhibit. They reached out to the WAC Clearinghouse, who was willing to host the project and make it accessible online. Lindsey Harding served as the editor with the WAC Clearinghouse and implemented much of the digital exhibit.

Project Review

James E. Dobson

The “Anglo-American Seminar in the Teaching of English” was the title of an event held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire in the fall of 1966. Supported by the Carnegie Corporation and sponsored by the Modern Language Association, the National Council of Teachers of English in the U.S., and the National Association for the Teaching of English, the workshop brought over 50 participants, consultants, and support staff together to discuss the teaching of English in terms of literary studies and as a language. This event, known within the Writing Studies community as the “Dartmouth Seminar,” has been understood to be a highly influential event — a “canonical event” in the language of the exhibit — in the formation of composition as an academic field. It has also been acknowledged to have provided a limited and limiting sense of the field.

Annette Vee, with contributions from Megan McIntyre, has assembled the Dartmouth ‘66 Exhibit to reframe key archival documents, collect oral histories, and provide an extensive scholarly bibliography on the event. This exhibit enables visitors to interrogate the meaning of the event for the participants and the present. It also reopens questions about its reception and placement in the field’s imagination. The site is hosted by the WAC Clearinghouse, an organization supported by the Colorado State University Department of English and the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. This location places the project alongside field-defining open-access scholarship on the teaching of writing and communication and resources for instructors. 

Vee has provided an article-length introduction to the exhibit. She also staged a live event to introduce it that has now been archived on the site. Vee and McIntyre also authored separate critical reflections on their involvement with the exhibit, the 50th anniversary conference held in 2019, and their understanding of the place of the event in their disciplinary history. 

The curated and created documents and objects frame questions — What was said? What wasn’t said? Who was there? Who wasn’t there? — rather than make an argument about the meaning of the event, and this is the key strength of this important resource. There is no question that the digital format is essential to this exhibit. While the material traces of the event are rather slim — the site hosts thirteen well-annotated and contextualized digitized documents from the Carnegie Corporation archives at Columbia University — the discourse surrounding the event is incredibly rich. The bibliography (rendered from a Zotero Library) contains 65 items, spanning several reports from 1966, the year of the seminar, to a journal article published in 2021.

The site adds to this body of discourse in several meaningful ways. Returning to the question of the meaning of the event in its own time, Vee provides interviews with two participants, Paul Olson (M4A audio from a Zoom meeting and a clean, lightly edited transcript) and John Dixon (edited from email exchanges). These are insightful interviews that add context, provoke new questions, and give a sense of the personalities of the participants and organizers. Vee’s interview with Olson, in particular, reopens the received account of the event with Olson’s questioning of the significance of this event: “My sense is that your colleague… overestimates the influence that Dartmouth conference had on Composition, but I could be all wrong.” The Dartmouth ‘66 Exhibit allows for the continued revisiting of the question of influence and much more.

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