Years ago, when I was but a soft spoken high school junior, I was introduced to the Harbrace Handbook in Ms. Neal’s AP English III.
Our teacher circled our grammatical mistakes in each paper and noted where we could look in the Harbrace Handbook to fix them. We then had to correct the grammatical error and submit the revised paper. Through all of this, I never knew that the creator of the Harbrace Handbook was a Tennessean, a professor of English at the University of Tennessee.
For those of you who don’t know, the Harbrace Handbook is a massive, comprehensive guide to everything you could ever need to know about English grammar. It is extremely useful and is used in colleges throughout the English-speaking world. I wish I had been told when I was in high school that the creator of this book was from Tennessee. The more I research the topic, the more I feel that we are doing a tremendous disservice to the children of Tennessee by not talking about our people more.
White Tennesseans want to cling to their Confederate “heritage,” and I firmly believe that this is in part because we’re taught that nothing else of significance has happened here. The Confederacy lasted four years, was made up of traitors and failed. In the media, anyone from any state in the South is portrayed as slow, stupid and so accented that my ears bleed. I’m tired of it. I don’t care if I have to write a history column once a week until I die, but I will do my best to prove that we are so much more than that.
Now, back to John C. Hodges.
Hodges began teaching at the University of Tennessee in 1921. He taught freshman English and pioneered a comprehensive method for grading freshman English papers. He kept the papers from his students and his colleagues’ students to study, making note of which mistakes were most important and most often corrected. Then he compiled all of his findings to create the first edition of the Harbrace Handbook, which was published in 1941.
The Harbrace Handbook has been consistently re-published since then and is now on its 19th edition. It has been adapted over time to reflect changes in English grammar and has been used by millions of college students over the past 70 years.
While at UT, Dr. Hodges rose to the head of the English department. Kenneth Curry's book, “English at Tennessee, 1794-1988” describes Hodges as tactful, unfailingly polite and considerate. Curry was a former colleague of Hodges', and most of the book's content was witnessed firsthand by Curry. Before you ask: Yes, I do own a copy of “English at Tennessee, 1794-1988.” I found it at McKay’s and couldn’t resist.
Hodges retired from UT in 1967. He dedicated over 40 years of his life to the university. This week, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hodges Library, don’t forget the man for whom it is named. There are a lot of buildings on campus named after people whose contributions I don't know. They’re part of our history, though. We need to remember them, too, not just their buildings.
Tiffany Cantrell is a senior in history and can be reached at email@example.com.
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