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AFRICAN AMERICAN RHETORIC(S) Edited by Elaine Richardson and Ronald Jackson


African American Rhetorics—study of culturally and discursively developed knowledge-forms, communicative practices, and persuasive strategies rooted in freedom struggles by people of African ancestory in America.

 

Essays in this book attempt to:

a.)   broaden contemporary conceptionalization of AAR

b.)   dileneate debates within our field, African American lit and crit, and African American studies

c.)   explore the development, meaning, themes, strategies, and arguments of AAR as well as their connections to culture, rhetoric, poetics, comp, and literacy.

 

Introduction by Keith Gilyard:

 

In this introduction, Gilyard sketches a particlar body of rhetorical scholarship beginning with Carter G. Woodson’s (1925) documentation and catalog of African American oratory, of which Christian pulpit oratory played a major part alongside abolition oratory, slave narratives, progressive oratory.  Religious oratory was so important from the outset of African American rhetorical tradition because it was the “primary channel by which millions of Blacks came to comprehend and speculate about the social world of which they were part” (4).  From there, Gilyard describes the work of Lowell Mooseberry who analyzed a broader array of black oratory and identified the African American rhetorical tendancy to move away from the use of induction, deduction, casual reasoning  and instead what Mooseberry identifies jubilee rhetoric, which ocillates between tragedy and jubilant responses.  Gilyard then introduces the work of Boulware, who was the first to treat AAR in 20th century.  Boulware identifies 6 goals of black oratory during this period:

1.)   protest grievances

2.)   state complaints

3.)   demand rights

4.)   advocate racial cooperation

5.)   mold racial consciousness

6.)   stimulate racial pride.

 

The work of the Basmajians as well as Scott and Brockriede was also important Gilyard claims because they framed their analyses of AAR within the rhetorical and historical campaigns of the civil rights movements.  Smith’s work was especially important as it provided the most in-depth work in AAR and focused on what Smith called “agitational rhetoric”.  Smith identifies a four part strategic structure of long term agitation campaigns:

1.)   vilification—create antihero by attacking ideas, actions, and being of opposition, dominant group

2.)   Objectification—blame specific, but ill-defined group

3.)   Mythication—suggest “supranational” forces and employ religious symbolism to convey proof of spirital support  in collective efforts

4.)   Legitimation—justify one’s own actions or fellow activist’s actions by reversing blame an citing the oprressor’s “original  sin”

 

Smith also identifies four part thematic structure of secular agitational rhetorics:

1.)   all blacks face a common enemy

2.)   conspiracy exists to violate black manhood

3.)   pervasive American hypocrisy exists

4.)   black unity is requisite for Black liberation

 

Smith and Robb were also first to identify Nommo—african belief in pervasive, mystical, transformative, even life-giving power of the Word.  

 

Gilyard next points to the work of Golden and Rieke, who identified various poltical goals and rhetorical issues in AAR, and the work of Geneva Smitherman, who popularized Black modes of discourse of signification, call-response, tonal semantics, and narrative sequencing as well as conceptualized AAVE, which encompasses signification, personalization, tonal semantics, and sermonice tone. 

 

Gilyard touches on the work of others such as Shirly Logan and JJRoyster and then explains Jackson’s Afrocentric model in which Nommo is posited as center revolved around by eight other elements:  rhythm, soundin’, stylin’, improvisation, storytelling, lyrical code, image making, and call and response (17-18). 

 

Noted is Geneva Smitherman’s Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black American (1977/1986).  “Although primarily considered a linguist, Smitherman is perhaps most responsible for popularizing the “Black Modes of Discourse,” vernacular conceptions that are invaluable with respect to rhetorical analysis” (14).  The modes are (1) call-response, a series of spontaneous interactions between speaker and listener; (2) signification, the art of humorous put downs; (3) tonal semantics, the conveying of meanings in Black discourse through specifically ethnic kinds of voice rhythms and vocal inflections; and (4) narrative sequencing, the habitual use of stories to explain and/or persuade.  “Smitherman (1995) alternately conceptualizes an African American Verbal Tradition (AAVT) the encompasses (1) signification, (2) personalization, (3) tonal semantics, and (4) sermonic tone” (15).  For example, Smitherman suggests that AAVT was at play during the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill incident, and it made Thomas a “more sympathetic figure.”

 

Keith Gilyard presented an array of African American rhetorical accomplishments, strategies, methods, publications, and cultural style that shows the richness of the rhetoric field.  “. . . Stylin’ is the notion that a speaker has combined rhythm, excitement, and enthusiasm which propel a message and the audience. . . . Improvisation is a stylistic device which is a verbal interplay, and strategic catharsis often resulting from the hostility and frustration of a white-dominated society.  It is spontaneity. . . . Storytelling . . . is often used by a rhetor to arouse epic memory. . . . Lyrical Code is the preservation of the word through a highly codified system of lexicality.  It is the very dynamic lyrical quality which provides youth to the community usage of standard and Black English” (17).   Elaine B. Richardson and Ronald L. Jackson, II’s African American Rhetoric(s) continues the tradition and conversation.

 

 

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“An Essamplaire Essai on the Rhetoricity of Needlework Sampler-Making: A Contribution to Theorizing and Historicizing Rhetorical Praxis”

Goggin begins this article by pointing out that much scholarship in our field, particularly work in feminist and visual rhetorics, that has focused on textual artifacts emphasizes their semiotic and performative aspects. Goggin praises this work yet emphasizes the need to theorize and historicize rhetorical praxis to uncover the material practices that construct these artifacts. In this article, then, Goggin sets out to historicize and theorize needlework sampler-making in order to explore the “rhetorical force of diverse practices that create texts” and to extend “boundaries of what counts as rhetorical practice and who counts in its production” (310).

Such work is important, Goggin notes, because “Theorizing and historicizing multiple material practices is critical for contributing to our understanding how rhetorical practices are learned and conducted, where and when these practices take place, who has been admitted into the practice and who has been barred, and how both access and barriers to such practices are constructed and sustained” (311). This lack of knowledge, in turn, leads to the reification of autonomous models of literacy, the perpetuation of the literate/illiterate binary, and the limitation of what cultural artifacts the field of rhetoric deems worthy of scholarly attention.

Goggin begins historicizing needlework sampler-making by identifying ideological constructs that have prevented rhetorical scholars from investigating needleworking as a rhetorical praxis: insistence the needleworking is not the same as penmanship, demonization of needle and “distaff” as material practices, the delegation of needleworking to the private realm, and the lack of understanding needleworking as a significant cultural practice in meaning-making. More so, needleworking has been socially constructed as “woman’s work,” which prevents it from being seen as a rhetorical tool.

Goggin then turn her attention to the discursive, rhetorical nature of needleworking samplers. She begins by distinguishing between different textile practices and emphasizes that the practice of embroidery is a “form of meaning mark-making–a polysemous system of writing. Goggin then emphasizes that different types of stitching make the reading and writing of textiles a complex practice, yet at the same time, because each stitch has specific functions, the great variety of stitches increases the potential of needlework as a rhetorical tool.

After focusing on stitching, Goggin turns her attention to the genre of the sampler and identifies the transformations that occur within this genre between the 16th and 19th centuries. Goggin demonstrates that while early samplers contained animal motifs and thus served a decorative function, samplers soon became heuristics where women practiced writing the alphabet and numbers. As samplers became sites where women wrote verses, it became clear that during the 17th century, samplers served as places to learn and demonstrate stitching skills. This transformation occurred alongside a transformation in subject positions occupied by needleworkers. No longer a practice reserved for the domestic sphere, needleworking moved into schools and the public realm.

Gradually, Goggin demonstrates, sampler-making became a valued art and thus needleworking became a tool for instilling “basic secular and moral education” (323). Goggin claims sampler-making actually also served as a site to learn other subjects such as geography, math, and astronomy and thus served as a pedagogical tool.

Sampler-making did not maintain its status as an educational tool, however. By the end of the 19th century, sampler-makings as an art form practically died and instead became a site of credentialing for those professionally trained in sampler-making. Sampler-making became displaced, transformed, and erased and today, despite efforts to revive this practice, sampler-making has not yet fully recovered its once popular status.

Goggin’s study demonstrates that “praxis, the artifacts created, the discourse participants, and the avenues of circulation are interdynamic and historically specific” (326). She claims we have obligations to explore these shifting interdynamics within broader contexts. Sampler-making declined, for instance, as printing patterns flourished in pattern books and magazines made possible by the printing press. More so, the turn to texts for instruction in sampler-making reflected a transformation in epistemology, more specifically to the Cartesian notion that “separated knowing from doing” and the modern ideology that language is container of knowledge (326-7). Also, some displacement of sampler-making can be attributed to rise of technology, ie. the sewing machine.

In order to fully understand the displacement and near erasure of sampler-making, however, Goggin insists we understand the episteme (Foucault) during which sampler-making so radically changed. Although a plethora of descriptions of this episteme are, perhaps, responsible for the radical change, Goggin explores the effect the rise of individualism in late 17th and early 18th centuries had on sampler-making. Goggin also poses a number of compelling questions, which model ways in which we can theorize and historicize the historical praxis of sampler-making in other ways. Such questions include: “In what ways did the changing ideological definitions of femininity and masculinity create the conditions that led to radical changes of who participated in sampler-making and the purposes for which they did so?…What correlations may be drawn between the discontinuities in sampler-making and those that co-occurred in rhetorical theory?…What impact did the early modernist hierarchical division and subsequent gendering of arts and crafts as well as that of creative territories have on sampler-making as a practice?” (328).

Goggin ends her article with a discussion of the methodological limits of conducting such scholarship due to political, cultural, social, ideological, and theoretical forces that impact our scholarship. Such limitations also arise from: contestations over origins of cultural, rhetorical artifacts; decay and discarding of material artifacts, which reflects what prior groups deem valuable and worthy of preservation. In relation to this last limitation, Goggin claims scholars must identify the social, cultural, class, race, gender, ethinicity, political, and economic forces that privilege some rhetorical material artifacts and marginalize others. We should also attend to how these artifacts have been “discursively circumscribed and imbued with meaning before we even set our critical gaze on them” (330).

In her “finishing touches,” Goggin underscores the importance of investigating rhetorical praxes that are not typically theorized, historicized in our field. She ends by reiterating the need to investigate how and why unique discursive practices that were once popular have been displaced, transformed, and erased. This work has the potential to “better understand other discursive formations and practices, including our own as rhetoric scholars and historians”

Thoughts:

Last week I posed a question that Eileen asks on our course syllabus: What are the standards for good historical scholarship? I think Goggin’s work on needleworking samplers demonstrates many high standards for writing social history. One, she historicizes needleworking while at the same time points out the limitations in attempting to define the origins of this genre. Two, she attempts to uncover some of the political, social, cultural, and economic forces that create and transform needleworking as a rhetorical praxis. Three, she articulates the methodolgical limitations of conducting such scholarship. Four, she defines her methodological goals and political motivations for enaging in this work. Five, she explores a rhetorical site that has previously been untouched by rhetorical scholars and thus pushes the boundaries of texts worthy of being studied in our field. Six, she recovers a rhetorical praxis important for everyday women throughout three centuries.

For someone interested in studying Peruvian tapestries as rhetorical, material artifacts, Goggin does an excellent job modeling both rhetorical and methodological strategies for conducting such work. Some may argue that in this particular article, Goggin does not actually demonstrate how needlework samplers were in fact “rhetorical” in nature, which is true. But I have read two other articles by Goggin about this same genre in which she more clearly identifies its rhetorical nature. Her purpose in this article is to theorize and historicize rather than rhetorically analyze. In doing so, she offers methodological alternatives to a traditional rhetorical analysis and models how to write a good social history. We must remember that writing social history demands investigations of the social, cultural, political, and economic conditions which influence the rhetorical practices of everyday people. Goggin does a fine job of exploring some of those conditions by situating needleworking samplers in the specific episteme in which they were produced. In doing so, we not only discover a previously unexplored, unique rhetorical praxis, we also, begin to better understand the poltical, social, and cultural attitudes about epistemology, language, and gender–all of which influenced the way this particular praxis was enacted and transformed.

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Carr, Carr, and Schultz–Chapter 2: Reading School Readers

Chapter Two, pages 81-116 “Reading School Readers”

As Carr, Carr, and Schultz (CCS) write in the coda toward the back of the book, “Every textbook is an archive of instruction—it holds traces of past books and traditions, sometimes literally in silent borrowings or explicit citations, and sometimes in more deeply embedded ways. It carries out inherited attitudes, visible, for example, in a proposed sequence of learning, in notions about student work or progress, in evaluative terms or standards, in its pedagogical routines” (209). In Chapter 2, CCS illustrate how readers from the 19th century, especially, reveal inherited values and traces of past traditions. Readers, textbooks designed specifically to teach reading, were used both inside and outside of schools. During this century, readers changed from elocutionary—reading aloud with the focus on pronunciation, emphasis, and gesture—to literary—reading silently with the focus on meaning and interpretation (115). Thus while earlier elocutionary readers emphasized genres of oral delivery such as dialogues, orations, and dramatic speeches and the physicality of reading (posture, gesture, and breath), later literary readers focused on a wide spectrum of literary genres and emphasized the historical and literary context of specific texts, authors’ biographies, interpretations, and issues of style (115). Most readers were not restricted to elocution or literary, however. It is more accurate to describe 19th century readers as a hybrid between the two with much shared materials such as a strong focus on poetry and inclusions of certain authors such as Shakespeare; the main difference is how readers took up these materials in order to teach reading.

The early elocutionary readers reveal that reading was general thought to be and thus taught as an oral practice, which reflected older rhetorical and elocutionary traditions. The rise of literary readers indicate a shift to reading as a written practice.

Also, school readers in the 19th century reflect cultural values and expectations guided by institutions of school, church, and liberty. Because reading is a national project aimed at developing a “reading public,” reading is strongly linked to religion and morality in the 19th century. In school, for instance, reading played a significant role in socializing students according to their class and status. Reading also acted as a gateway into the literary culture. Many readers thus were made for both public and private use. Reading materials and methods became class markers. As readers became broadly disseminated across social lines, ideas of literacy changed and thus so did readers. While schools emphasized the need to be able to spell, recite, and perform in order to read well, reading for pleasure became a symbol of being cultured in the private realm. “Books and reading were thus understood as a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91).

Because reading became a national and professional concern, reading pedagogies, theories, and practices proliferated. Uniform pedagogical materials, by the 1870s, were sold separately than readers in the form of teaching manuals and how to books.

Yet early readers were instructional as they focused on alphabet, syntax, and oral performance. Topics covered in readers ranged from all subject areas (omnibus textbooks) to topical books that attempted to making reading more amusing. Atttention to the alphabet, syllables, words, spelling, and grammar was popular in readers. The spelling bee became the latest rage. Readers presented the “finest” examples of well-written sentences from the “finest” speeches and literature from literary culture. By end of century, modern readers had distinguished themselves from classic readers. In these more modern readers, pedagogical intervention was replaced with anthologies of readings in a variety of literary forms. The shift had been made from the elocutionary to the literary reader.

Thoughts:

As a rhetoric and composition scholar, I am always thinking about the ways in which our field is “a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91). Now that we are studying the ways in which histories are created, I am beginning to focus my attention on how history itself is “a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method of self-development” (91). I wonder, especially, how does the history CCS “fabricate” through their archival project act as a mechanism of educational and social control and as a method for the self-development of our field? What traditions and values in our field are being protected in this archival project? Who benefits most from this collection? Who doesn’t it? These latter questions are begining to sound like a cliche, but anytime we study archives, we must ask them.

Another burning related question for me this week seems to be one touched upon by a number of others and is broached on our course syllabus: What are the standards for good historical scholarship? Do CCS’s historical scholarship meet those standards?

In order to more clearly define social history as the semester proceeds, it is imperative we begin to define those explicit and implicit standards. Accuracy–one glaring standard– is a relative term. Who determines whether a certain representation of the social, cultural, and political conditions affecting a rhetorical practice such as writing textbooks is accurate? It seems to me that once we take a particular stance in representing history that we are always sacrificing the possibility of writing accuracy. How do we stand at multiple postions when writing history to present a more accurate representation of those conditions? Would telling history from a multitude of stances reconcile the impossibilty of accuracy and the unavoidable tendency to fabricate when writing social histories? What stances are CCS bringing to the table, to steal Eileen’s question, in this archival project?

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