I found an article on JSTOR related to the general history of English studies (Yood, 2003). The article framed the beginning of English studies as a response to rhetoric and classics. After the Civil War, a new field of English split from existing studies, and allowed students to engage in literary criticism, linked with the study of language. English studies courses were socially-relevant, and became more and more affected by on-going events such as civil rights and feminist movements.
There’s an interesting discussion in the article where there is a conflict between the idea of English studies as a new genre that separated from literacy studies, and the idea of literary analysis and language use being inseparable. One of the main take-aways is how fluid and self-reflective the process of defining English studies has been. As a field that teaches critical thinking and meta-cognition, it makes sense that there’s no easy definition of what exactly English studies is. There is some conclusion at the end: That – as of 2003 – the conflict of the past has turned into a consensus that none of those things – oral discussion, writing skills, literary criticism – are necessarily excluded.
I felt a bit of a connection to part of this discussion. I don’t teach grammar, but I also admit that these two parts of language acquisition are present:
1: My students must use language skills, and,
2: My students are improving their language ability.
I have a tendency to say “I don’t teach English, I teach critical thinking and analysis”, but when using English language and English novels to teach those skills, the students need to express themselves, discuss, and reflect using English as a method of communication.
Yood, J. (2003.) Writing the Discipline: A Generic History of English Studies. College English , May, 2003, Vol. 65, No. 5, Special Issue: Materiality, Genre, and Language Use (May, 2003), pp. 526-540