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Understanding Kenneth Burke through His Archives

Leaders: Jack Selzer, Penn State University; Ann George, Texas Christian University; David Tell, University of Kansas

  Understanding Kenneth Burke through His Archives

Jack Selzer (Penn State University)
Ann George (Texas Christian University)
David Tell (University of Kansas)

In the past decade a host of enlightening essays in high profile journals have demonstrated how archival research can bring substantial understanding to the challenging works of Kenneth Burke. In order to gain insights to everything from key terms in Permanence and Change, Counter-Statement, The Rhetoric of Motives and The Philosophy of Literary Form to Burke's engagements with Nietzsche, Del Hymes, Coleridge, the New Critics, Bennington College, and dangerous drugs (to offer just a sample), scholars have mined revealing documents, letters, and draft manuscripts that Burke left behind in a host of libraries around the country-most notably in the Kenneth Burke Papers at Penn State.  The Burke Papers offer a record of Burke's intellectual engagements over his long life with a stunning array of personalities and issues.  (To get a sense of the reach of the Papers, please see:

Thus scholars with an interest in Burke are invited to participate in this workshop, which is intended to generate publishable essays about Burke that capitalize on the intellectual resources provided by the Burke Papers at Penn State.  The seminar is designed to offer possibilities to everyone from senior scholars to beginning graduate students.

Participants can count on receiving detailed help on nascent and developing projects from the workshop leaders and from the other members of the workshop.  Not only will participants get detailed advice on their projects in a seminar-like environment; they will also get a substantial and productive orientation to archival research in general and to the Burke Papers in particular-including a chance to learn from the Pattee Library overseers of the archive, advice from workshop leaders on making the best use of archival materials, and an opportunity to actually use the Burke Papers to solve the intellectual and scholarly problems that they bring with them.   Leaders, all of whom have themselves explored Burke's papers in productive (i.e., published) ways, will also commit themselves to providing feedback on draft articles that participants finalize after the workshop closes.

Those who wish to participate should identify a Burke-related project that they wish to work on:  a problematical text or term or issue.  It could be an entire text, like Burke's "Calling of the Tune" or "Mind, Body, and the Unconscious"; or a problematical or confusing section (or term) in a longer work such as A Grammar of Motives or The Rhetoric of Religion or whatever.  People will be selected to participate based on the promise of their projects:  i.e., on the likelihood that the workshop will result in publications that emerge from this engagement with the Burke archives.  Those who are just beginning to think about publication are as welcome as seasoned researchers, and indeed many of the best recent essays on Burke have come from graduate students. (Note:  some people who wish to participate, have an interest in Burke, but do not have a specific project will be assigned to a project by the leaders.) 

Leaders:  Ann George, associate professor of English at TCU, is coauthor of Kenneth Burke in the 1930s and is working on an authoritative edition of Permanence and ChangeJack Selzer, currently president of RSA and a member of the faculty at Penn State, has published extensively on Burke.  David Tell, whose essay on Burke's "Four Master Tropes" appeared in RSQ in 2004 and who won the RSA Best Dissertation Award in 2007, is assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

For inquiries, contact Jack Selzer:

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