Bacon, Jacqueline

“Reinventing the Master’s Tools:  Nineteenth-Century African-American Literary Societies of Philadelphia and Rhetorical Education” Jacqueline Bacon and Glen McCish


In this article, Bacon and McCish analyzes six speeches delivered by African Americans at literary society meetings held in Philadelphia to promote rhetorical education in the 1820 and 30s.  Their analyses finds that traditional Anglo-American principles of 19th century university rhetorical education on theory and pratice, particularly the work by Blair, Smith, and Campbell, were “infused with new purposes, deployed for radical ends, and reinvented in ways that transform and redefine nineteenth- century rhetorical practice” (19).  Thus adaptation, revision(reinvention), and appropriation were key rhetorical strategies, which “help to emphasize that when a group gains power through the mastery of the oppressor’s discourse, lanlguage use itself—originally one of the master’s tools—becomes a weapon with which to fight oppression” (21).  Archival work allowed Bacon and McCish to stumble upon surviving, fragmented texts of these societies, which were originally published in pamphlets, African-American and anti-slavery newspaper articles.  Their work thus reaffirms Linda Ferriera-Buckley’s call for more archival research and contributes to the archival work and rhetorical analysis of Shirley Logan and JJ Royster.  It callenges others to continue to locate texts of African-American rhetors who have yet to be studied but are important pieces of 19th century African American Rhetorics. 


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Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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