“Recovering the Lost Art of Researching the History of Rhetoric” Richard Enos

“Recovering the Lost Art of Researching the History of Rhetoric” Richard Enos

In this article, Enos laments our discipline’s lost art of researching the history of rhetoric to our field’s ubiquitous practice of critiquing secondary texts. Enos claims our job as historians of rhetoric is to a.) locate new kinds of information, data, and evidence that contributes in meaningful ways to our field; b.) theorize about this evidence; and c.) develop new research methods. We need, in other words, to resume doing archival work, field work, translating primary material, and making theoretical interpretations about that primary work. Rather than critique secondary texts, we should use tools of criticism and interpretation to understand newly discovered evidence and develop new methods to refine our theories and analyses and acquire and analyze info this new information. Student must learn to actively produce research rather than passively respond to it. We need to stop talking about what it means to do historiography and begin discussing how to do historiography and begin doing historiography. New research methods will enable us to get up from our comfy, cozy arm-chairs where we repeatedly practice our preferred method of analysis.

Enos’ argument is similar to the one he proposed in the Octalog where he urges us to get our hands dirty and dig up new kinds of evidence. I wholeheartedly hear Enos’ argument and think he is absolutely right. As a student interested in digging up new kinds of evidence, I think the most difficult challenge is to create new methodologies for this work, especially when I am not even familiar with existing methodologies and their benefits/limitations. In our program, we have one class that focuses on methodologies and from my understanding, that course is simply a survey of methodologies. If Enos is right and that research is at the heart of our discipline or any discipline, why is it that our graduate program does not make teaching research a priority??? I don’t mean to critique our program here, for I am sure we are only one of many programs where methodology seems to be low on the priority lists. But how can we learn to become better researchers if we art not exposed to the tools needed to conduct research? Is Enos right in that students are being trained purely to be critics rather than researchers???

I appreciate how Enos attempts to end his article with uplifting incidents intended to demonstrate that the art of basic research is not totally lost; I wonder why he chose, however, to spend so much of the time explaining his role in this new promising work rather than pointing out exactly what new theories, methods, etc., Lunsford, Ede, and Crowell enacted so we can all learn from them. As a newbie on our discipline’s block, I want to learn from example. I think Enos missed an opportunity here to demonstrate exemplary research in action.



Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

2 responses to ““Recovering the Lost Art of Researching the History of Rhetoric” Richard Enos

  1. This was a really important article to read this week… Because I think your question about graduate curriculum is a crucial part of the “research crisis” that seems somewhat apparent in Cs discussions/ caucuses/ publications.
    I agree that we need to attend to this first question – how is research prioritized in grad curriculum? And what do we mean by “research”?
    Enos offers some useful ways to think about research when he defines the role of a historian you mention above – “a.) locate new kinds of information, data, and evidence that contribute in meaningful ways to our field; b.) theorize about this evidence; and c.) develop new research methods.”
    I’m thinking about the ways in which our field struggles to “explain” itself to the world outside – especially in terms of our “progressive” ideas – when we lack the kind of “research” that can be translated into public discourse.
    I’m also thinking about our weekend at Minnowbrook and the ways in which several other grad students, from other programs, seemed to think about their diss explicitly in terms of the methodologies they study and begin the project with. Where does this discussion of methodologies come into our own discussions of interests, exams, and diss ideas?
    And, like you, I wonder what Enos would recognize as this kind of research in action…

  2. Lois Agnew

    Your lament about the lack of emphasis on methodology is certainly a common feature of graduate education. Our program is actually somewhat unique in offering an entire course focused on methodology; many programs don’t even allow that much space for this type of inquiry. Perhaps the problem relates to the tendency of “content” to overtake other portions of the educational experience, including processes and research methods.

    In our class discussion, we noted that many graduate students might hesitate to take on the type of complex research projects Enos describes simply because of lack of time and resources. This point, along with your call for more room in the curriculum for attention to method, calls for widespread institutional attention.

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