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Historiography and the Archives: Taking the Next Steps

Seminar Leaders:

Susan C. Jarratt, Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine
Susan Romano, English, University of New Mexico
David Gold, English, University of Michigan
Davis W. Houck, College of Communication and Information, Florida State University

In this seminar historians of rhetoric, composition, and communication who work with different geographies and time periods will share their current efforts to pose new sets of questions, pressing on assumptions and practices that may have reached their limits of usefulness for 21st century histories. Each of the four leaders will speak from his or his specific research site: rhetoric in the ancient Mediterranean (Jarratt), rhetoric in the context of Latin America (Romano), 19th and early 20th century US college teaching and writing (Gold), and 20th century presidential rhetoric and the black freedom movement (Houck). But the four will also debate historiographical questions of common concern across periods and fields. Questions to be considered may include the following:

• Do standard periodization and geographical schemes (e.g., colonial/post-colonial, classical, “Western”/post-occidental) continue to serve scholars in rhetoric, especially those working in earlier periods?

• Are theories of dominance/submission, centrality/marginality sufficient for organizing accounts of rhetoric in politically and culturally complex sites? How might historians of rhetoric engage with contemporary political theories (those of Agamben, Enrique Dussel, Foucault, Hardt and Negri, for example) grounded in rhetorical material?

• Has revisionist history achieved its aims: i.e., overturning “master” narratives of 20th-century histories of rhetoric and composition? Has rhetoric and composition historiography gone far enough in the recovery of neglected writers, teachers, locations, and institutions? How would our histories change if we begin with the assumption of a complex, multivocal past?

• What new directions are scholars taking in their exploration of rhetoric on the ground and in the body? How does such work incorporate eye-witnessing to gauge rhetoric’s practice? How does the scholar conduct research on topics such as disability, illness, and the body that may run against the grain of archivists’ interests and lie below the surface of the textual records?

• How must genre be reconsidered at this stage in rhetoric’s historiographical efforts? Where do historians find references to the role of opinion? What are the conditions and genres of response, particularly in eras of political repression? How do such political pressures alter genres?

Though the seminar leaders will be taking “next” steps, they will assist participants in taking first, second, and third steps by discussing archive navigation (both here and abroad), reading strategies for texts and images, and translation practices. A visit to KU archives may be arranged, depending on the interests of the group. Participants will be invited to submit a brief (5-page or so) piece of writing—an excerpt from a dissertation chapter or prospectus, a reflection on methodology, a set of archival notes, or some other related text—for consideration in a workshop setting.

Questions should be directed to Susan Jarratt,

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