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Seminar 6: The Politics and Practices of Archival Research

Seminar Leaders: Belinda A. Stillion Southard and Ersula Ore

Seminar Leaders:

Belinda A. Stillion Southard and Ersula Ore 

“The Politics and Practices of Archival Research” will explore how the idea of “the archive” has evolved in rhetorical studies and will take seminarians to multiple archives in the Washington, D.C. area. The goals of the seminar are two-fold. 

First, it will facilitate discussion of advances in the study of archives as concrete places, sites of knowledge and knowledge production, sites of political action, as something without a place altogether, and as a process. Scholars who examine the texts of marginalized groups have found it necessary to critically examine “the archive” and destabilize notions of an archive as concrete, complete, and authoritative. In turn, scholars have theorized ways to reconfigure an “archive” as a dispersed, contingent, contextualized, and politically-inflected assemblage of texts. Meanwhile digital archives have made it possible to access previously unavailable texts. 

Second, the seminar will take seminarians to archival sites in the D.C. area to experience the requirements and processes of conducting archival research for the purposes of a specific research project, including but not limited to a dissertation, journal article, and book manuscript. 

The first day of the seminar will facilitate discussion of selected readings listed below. Each of the remaining four days will be split between meeting as a group and travel to archives where seminarians can conduct their research. Each afternoon, seminarians will reconvene at the University of Maryland to debrief their experiences and discuss themes from selected readings. Over the week, Belinda and Ersula will accompany seminarians to as many different archives as possible. 

Day 1: Seminarians introduce themselves, their projects, their goals, and perceived challenges; discuss what it means to critically examine an archive; set transportation plans.

Day 2: Convene for two hours to discuss readings; then disperse to archives; Belinda and Ersula accompany seminarians; all reconvene and debrief late afternoon at UMD

Day 3: Disperse to archives; Belinda & Ersula accompany seminarians; all reconvene and debrief late afternoon at UMD.

Day 4: Disperse to archives; Belinda & Ersula accompany seminarians; all reconvene and debrief late afternoon at UMD.

Day 5: Disperse to archives; Belinda & Ersula accompany seminarians; all reconvene and debrief early afternoon at UMD; share reflections on archival experiences; create next steps in archival research 

To prepare for the seminar, seminarians must not only complete the required readings, but also have submitted clear, discrete goals for conducting research at a specific archive (or two) in the D.C. area. By late April, seminarians will be expected to submit information regarding their consultation of all relevant finding aids, contact and/or appointments set with archivists, and if possible, arrangements to have their targeted papers ready for examination. Additionally, seminarians will have needed to complete necessary registration processes online (acquire ID card; clearance to make copies, etc.) for their particular archive. 

Archives include, but are not limited to:

The National Archives (Archive I, NARA)
The Library of Congress
Smithsonian: Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Smithsonian: Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art
Howard University: Moorland Spingarm Research Center, Founders Library
Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, National Woman’s Party Collections 

Seminarians will gain a complex view of how an archive can work in relationship to their research projects. They will have begun or added to an “archive” that will shape a work in progress. They will also have time to reflect upon the potential and challenges of archival work and formulate concrete goals toward continuing their project. 


Biesecker, Barbara A. “Of Historicity, Rhetoric: The Archive as a Scene of Invention,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs vol. 9, no. 1 (2006): 124-131. 

Brown, Richard Harvey and Beth Davis-Brown, “The Making of Memory: The Politics of Archives, Libraries and Museums in the Construction of National Consciousness,” History of the Human Sciences vol. 11, no. 4 (1998): 17-32. 

Corrigan, Lisa M. “On Rhetorical Criticism, Performativity, and White Fragility,” Review of Communication vol. 16, no. 1 (2016): 86-88. 

Houck, Davis W. “On or About 1988,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs vol. 9, no. 1 (2006): 132-137. 

Enoch, Jessica and Pamela VanHaitsma. “Archival Literacy: Reading the Rhetoric of Digital Archives in the Undergraduate Classroom,” vol. 67, no. 2 (2015); 216-242. 

Finnegan, Cara A. “What Is This a Picture Of?: Some Thoughts on Images and Archives,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs vol. 9, no. 1 (2006): 116-122. 

Graban, Tarez Samra. “Decolonising the Transnational Archive: Re/writing Rhetorical Histories of How African Women (Can) Govern,” African Journal of Rhetoric vol. 9 (2017): 82-118. 

Houdek, Matthew. “The Rhetorical Force of ‘Global Archival Memory’: (Re)Situating Archives Along the Global Memoryscape,” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication vol. 9, no. 3 (2016): 204-221. 

Thomas P. and Melody Bowdon. “A Rhetorical Stance on the Archives of Civic Action,” College English vol. 61, no. 5 (1999): 591-598. 

Morris, Charles E. III. “Archival Queer,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs vol. 9, no. 1 (2006): 145-151. 

Morris, Charles E. III. “The Archival Turn in Rhetorical Studies; Or, The Archive’s Rhetorical (Re)Turn,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs vol. 9, no. 1 (2006): 113-115.

Ray, Angela G. “Rhetoric and the Archive,” Communication Studies vol. 16, no. 1 (2016): 43-59. 

Contact Information:

Belinda Stillion:
Ersula Ore:

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