Bartholomae in Richmond

David Bartholomae’s essay entitled “Inventing the University” focused on three critiques of essays written by students before 1983. However, the faults in these essays and his professional analysis of these essays are more than relevant 25 years later. His critiques mainly focus on grammatical errors, structural faults, and tone mistakes made by students. Bartholomae’s suggestion imploring students “to speak with authority” and “not only… speak in another’s voice but through another’s code… with power and wisdom” sat particularly well with me (413). His statement tells me to write with confidence and accuracy because I have obtained the academic skills and knowledge to do so. In his essay he describes a discourse community, a community, that I am noticing, is a lot like the student body and faculty at the University of Richmond. The community here is dedicated to not just higher learning, but producing well-rounded adults and adolescents that will be prepared for any professional challenge presented to them after graduation. I was a part of a pre-orientation ‘class’ where we hiked the Appalachian trail for two days, lead by Dean Benner and other UR students. A comment from one of the students still resonates in my head three weeks later. He said, “your time here at Richmond is all about expanding your mind, in any field, whether it is one you are desperately interested in or couldn’t care less about. There will never be another four years like it in your life”. His comment perfectly represents what a discourse community is and excited me for the academic journey that was about to undertook. When looking around at my peers I am very impressed by their diction and understanding of a vast array of literature. However, I am most impressed by the individuals who can connect literature to bigger, more relevant issues. To me, these students have a firm grasp of skills like diction and literary terms but can expand on ideas and can form their own opinions on the text. I am excited to move on from the fundamental understanding of literature that high school addressed and graduate to a wider understanding of not just the literature but an understanding author and the circumstances that lead to the creation of his or her work. In turn, these new skills will allow me to form my own opinions, making me a better ‘scholar’. The essays that I had to write in high school seemed overly structured and therefore more stressful, in my opinion. I want to embrace Bartholomae’s advice to write more confidently and make my work truly my own. If Bartholomae had written his essay today I believe his thesis would remain the same. However, writing styles and reading styles have changed in the last 25 years. The internet and technology have informalized much of the text that is read and written daily. However, the scholarly text still remains very similar and students still struggle with grammatical errors and structure, which is perhaps why his essay has withstood the test of time.


Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” 1985. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd Ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana: NCTE, 2003. Print.