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A Brief History of Computers and Composition

In November 1983, the first issue of Computers and Composition appeared in a newsletter format. Kathleen Kiefer (of Colorado State University) and Cynthia L. Selfe jointly edited the newsletter. Between 1983 and 1985, the newsletter—approximately 13 pages each issue—appeared eight times, publishing short articles, announcements, and software descriptions.

In 1985, the newsletter grew up to become a journal produced at Michigan Technological University. This change meant adding professional features such as an editorial review board to evaluate manuscripts and the creation of volunteer staff to copyedit and produce the journal. Articles became longer and of a more scholarly tone. During this period, one can see a shift from brief narratives about classroom experiences using technology, descriptions of working with drill-and-skill programs, and software reviews to articles of a longer length that more fully incorporated pedagogical and rhetorical theories and boldly confronted the complexities of merging computer technologies with classroom practices.

The growth of Computers and Composition continued when Gail E. Hawisher assumed the role as co-editor in 1988 as the journal began to feature authors who focused on innovative technologies (e.g., hypertext and electronic mail) and their attempts to situate them within classroom contexts. Hawisher worked with Selfe to bolster the standing of the journal and to extend its reach by adding members to the editorial board, refining the peer review process, and encouraging a wide-range of manuscripts from across the disciplines. During this time, the journal began to feature special-edited issues that focused on such diverse areas as writing centers, synchronous CMC, computer programming, intellectual property rights and professional concerns such as tenure and promotion. The two coeditors also made sure that even as they were encouraging cutting-edge research, they were also helping graduate students and newcomers make their mark on this newly emerging field. Hawisher and Selfe, along with staff at the University of Illinois and Michigan Tech, encouraged new directions and critical perspectives in a journal that was quickly taking its place among other well-known publishing venues in rhetoric and composition. As the larger discipline matured, Computers and Composition reflected the increasingly prominent role that digital media would assume in the teaching, research, and scholarship of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries.

In 1990, the journal began annual awards that acknowledged and promoted scholarly excellence: The Computers and Composition Hugh Burns Dissertation Award, which honors Burns and the first dissertation in the field, Stimulating Rhetorical Invention in English Composition through Computer-Assisted Instruction (1979); the Computers and Composition Ellen Nold Best Article Award, which honors Nold and her College Composition and Communication article, “Fear and Trembling: A Humanist Approaches the Computer” (1979), arguably the first article in the field; and the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award, which honors outstanding book-length texts in the field. In 2003 the Computers and Composition Charles Moran Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Profession was inaugurated. Named to recognize the numerous contributions Moran made to both the journal and the field over 20 years, the award is the exemplar award of Computers and Composition. In 2006, honoring the contributions of the late Michelle Kendrick, the editors began the Computers and Composition Michelle Kendrick Outstanding Digital Production/Scholarship Award. All these awards mark important milestones in the coming of age of the journal, the field, and the teacher-scholars who contribute to them.

The 1994 printing of Computers and Composition marked another major change. Ablex Publishing Corporation assumed ownership of the journal and its name was changed to Computers and Composition: An International Journal for Teachers of Writing. With this change, the management of subscriptions and the actual printing of the journal shifted from Michigan Technological University to Ablex. However, the copyediting process remained at Michigan Tech under the direction of Selfe, and the review of manuscripts continued to reside with Hawisher at the University of Illinois. The  journal benefited immensely from increased collaboration with authors from many countries. Articles reflected even more strongly rhetoric and composition’s interest in social issues, exploring the consequences of digital literacies in connection with issues of gender, race, and class.

In 1996, Computers and Composition launched an online edition (Computers and Composition Online), co-edited by Keith Comer (University of Karlskrona, Sweden) and Margaret Syverson (University of Texas, Austin) to provide a venue for manuscripts that did not lend themselves well to the text-based format of a hard copy journal. The online edition is currently under the able direction of Kristine Blair (Bowling Green State University). Additionally, the first ten years of the print journal, as well as abstracts and table of contents of current and upcoming articles, are available on this site.

In 1999, Ablex Publishing Corporation moved to Elsevier Science, which more recently has changed its name to Elsevier. In 2001, Computers and Composition abandoned the triannual publication schedule and adopted the quarterly publication schedule. A quarterly schedule allows the journal to reach subscribers more often, to feature more articles, and to be listed in a variety of indexes that include only quarterly published journals. In 2002, with the launch of the third Computers and Composition book series, New Dimensions in Computers and Composition Studies (Hampton Press), the journal changed its name to Computers and Composition: An International Journal. In 2005, the journal moved with Selfe from Michigan Technological University to The Ohio State University while still retaining its home at the University of Illinois.  Copyediting and production responsibilities are now located at Ohio State while reviewing and manuscript approval are at the University of Illinois under the direction of Hawisher. In 2006, the journal officially adopted Elsevier's E-Submission digital content management system (EES) as its primary means of manuscript submission, review, approval, and copyediting. This move to electronic submission and review has attracted a new group of authors who submit manuscripts from all over the world. The system also provides authors with a means of representing multimedia components in conjunction with their print contributions. The editors are pleased to note that in 2007 Computers and Composition was downloaded in 64 different countries.