Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE—A best-selling handbook that for decades has influenced the teaching and learning of writing—and was created by a late University of Tennessee professor—is celebrating its seventieth anniversary.

The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, produced by John C. Hodges in 1941, is now in its eighteenth edition. It is one of the most widely used grammar reference books at colleges and universities in the United States, as well as one of the oldest. It has been published consistently since its inception.

Cengage Learning publishes the text, which has roots in the UT English department. It estimates that as many as 15 million students have used the text over the past seventy years.

Hodges, for whom the main UT library is named, began teaching at UT in the 1930s. His legacy goes beyond the handbook itself. Royalties from the handbook go to UT to fund writing- and literature-related programs for the university community.

Most of the revenue goes to the John C. Hodges Better English Endowment, which funds graduate student fellowships, research assistantships, library acquisitions, lectures, and community outreach, among other efforts. The endowment is overseen by the Hodges Trustees—the full professors and emeritus professors of the Department of English. Revenues also have helped fund other humanities initiatives such as the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Hodges died in 1967.

During his tenure as UT professor in the 1930s, Hodges obtained federal funding to support his study of the frequency of errors in college students’ essays. He collected 20,000 student-penned papers, counted and analyzed the errors in those papers, and created the taxonomy he used to organize the original Harbrace Handbook of English. Harbrace has remained one of the most definitive college composition textbooks, embraced by English composition instructors at both two- and four-year colleges and universities and career colleges.

“Hodges created a clear taxonomy, with a simple numbering system for writing concepts and standardized usage,” said Cheryl Glenn, co-author of the eighteenth edition of The Hodges Harbrace Handbook. She is a liberal arts research professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State. “As students’ needs have changed, both in the way they learn and receive information, so has the handbook, all while remaining true to the original template.

“Every successful handbook in America has copied the Harbrace Handbook. It may not have been the first English grammar handbook, but it became the first continuously published one.”

The entire family of Harbrace handbooks has evolved to reflect important cultural developments, including the digital age.

Rhetoric, added four editions ago, is especially important for understanding composition that ranges from essays and speeches to the professional meetings and PowerPoint presentations that form the backbone of many professionals’ schedules after college. Social media and web-based content have brought fresh attention to the skill of brevity, and globalization has brought with it the need to address language issues relevant to non-native English speakers.

To purchase the book, visit the UT Bookstore.

For more information about the Hodges Library, visit its website.

To learn more about The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, visit the Cengage Learning website.

C O N T A C T :

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,