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Cobb, Amanda “Powerful Medicine: The Rhetoric of Comanche Activist LaDonna Harris”


In this article, “Powerful Medicine: The Rhetoric of Comanche Activist LaDonna Harris,” Amanda Cobb models a solid social history of American Indian rhetoric.  Cobb begins her article by articulating the need for social histories of contemporary American Indian rhetoric because these rhetorics are being practiced by contemporary leaders and activists which are “teaching our communities how to move through the processes of decolonization and nation building to more fully exercise our sovereignty” (63). Cobb focuses her attention on the rhetorical practices of Comanche Activist LaDonna Harris, a relatively unknown activist who played an important role in “shaping and influencing American Indian policy from “inside” the system during the Red Power era” (64). According to Cobb, Harris is a leader who does not fit within traditional Western conceptions of leadership, which typically valorizes persons in high positions of power.  Harris was uniquely Comanche in that she modeled leadership and enacted rhetoric that was based directly on her Comanche worldview and value system (65). Harris, according to Cobb, deserves to be credited for what she created through her rhetorical delivery and rhetorical tactics. 


As Cobb explains, part of Harris’s rhetorical tactics was to create “new networks and relationships, new social spaces for Native issues, and new words, ideas, and philosophies”–all of which were grounded in Comanche values. Like Winnemucca, Harris “reinvented the enemies language” in order to create a rhetoric of sovereignty that worked for the benefits of Native peoples. For instance, Cobb credits Harris for the positive connotations and implications of the words “self-determination and sovereignty” (66)  Harris also is credited for creating intellectual and philosophical spaces.   Operating from the concept of nation-people, Harris lives the Commanche way of life and makes life and rhetorical choices based on Commanche values. These values are:  the value of kinship and responsibilities; the value of equality; the value of contribution;  and the value of redistribution.


Harris’s rhetorical delivery was dependent on the circle of kinship developed through various publications, forums, and conferences as well as the collaborative efforts in creating these networks and texts, which reflect the Commanche values of sharing and redistribution. As Cobb explains, Harris’ organization AIO published various newsletters, position papers, and reports that were intended to inform and persuade audiences to support specific Indian issues, help Natives cope with internalized oppression, and  influence government understanding of Indian issues. These documents not only developed kinship but also contributed to the processes of decolonization and recovery. To more specifically analyze Harris’ rhetorical tactics, Cobb rhetorically analyzes This is What We want to Share–a publication put out by AIO, which demonstrates an adherence to many Comanche values. In this piece of intellectual work, AIO relies on collective wisdom and shared knowledge of tribal citizens to create a strong example of  rhetorical sovereignty (75).  Not only did Harris and friends decide on their own style of discourse, they also created a “communitist text,” which is formed “from a combination of the words community and activism or activist. Communitist texts promote the “healing of grief and sense of exile felt by native communities and the pained individuals in them” (76).  These texts also enact a “decolonizing methodology,” which in this case relies on four rhetorical acts or moves made in the texts:  self-assertion bearing witness, developing counter-consciousness and building community, and sharing gifts. The communitist text, which uses these four rhetorical tactics, demonstrates that while writing has been used as a tool of oppression against American Indians, writing is also used as the first step in the healing process.


 These rhetorical tactics are worth noting:  Self-definition comes from the identification of “core tribal values”–in this case, being a good relative, inclusive sharing, contributing, and noncoercive leadership–which act as both the foundation and method of analysis for the rest of the writing (77). Bearing witness entails the articulation of pain experienced by Native communities.  “The rhetorical act of making the pain of colonization explicit is what Gloria Bird (Spokane) has called an act of “bearing witness to colonization…a testimony aimed at undoing those processes that attempt to keep us in the grips of the colonizer’s mental bondage” (78). Cobb explains that Harris connects the act of bearing witness to the Comanche value of contribution; every one bears witness in order for collective healing to occur. The third rhetorical act, or tactic, is developing a counter-consciousness, which is a path developed by the collective of ways to adapt tradition to contemporary existence and a take action for building community.  In this particular case, Harris ironically calls for the recovery of Native histories. Other counter-consciousness raising practices entail finding solutions based on core cultural values to issues of economic development, which have previously been determined by imposed economic categories (80-82). The fourth rhetorical tactic is sharing gifts which is based on the values of contribution and redistribution. In this particular case, AOI publications attempt to share core cultural values with rest of the world. By using terms such as “co-creaters, which related to core value of being a good relative,” AOI demonstrates a strong sense of self determination and sovereignty. All of these tactics, Cobb argues, create a strong rhetoric of decolonization that arises from Native traditions.  

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Manifesto Revisited

Manifesto:  Why Study and Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?


            Social histories of rhetoric(s) study the use of rhetorical practices by communities and members of communities who haven’t been typically represented mainstream rhetorical history.  Working under this assumption, it is extremely important in my eyes to expand the rhetorical canon to account for a broader spectrum of ancient and contemporary cultural rhetorics, especially those practiced by underrepresented populations in unique, non-discursive forms that operate differently than traditional conceptions of discursive rhetorics. In order to make room for such practices, we need to “dig up” and study texts, artifacts, and discourse venues that represent ancient rhetorics practiced by various members of specific cultures on their own terms (Gaines).  We thus cannot assume that rhetoric in all ancient cultures is confined to discursive language use as traditionally conceived in classical Western rhetoric. Not only are a wide array of cultural rhetorics enacted through non-verbal mediums, such as songs, gestures, physical movements, attire, and spaces, cultural rhetorics employed in global settings often do not operate “logically” according to the Western, Greco-Roman, Enlightenment mindset. 

            In order to uncover social histories of non-discursive rhetorical practices, we must first expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its traditionally conceived discursive framework. As James Fredal convincingly argues, rhetoric should encompass the “manipulation of signs in any symbolic system, through any medium, capable of communicating meaning and value” (“Seeing” 183).  Expanding the conception of rhetoric beyond ancient Western conceptions to nearly all forms of symbolic communication has the potential to decenter the Greco-Roman tradition in the rhetorical canon.  This decentering is necessary because reasoned persuasion in the Aristotelian rhetorical sense leaves little room for oral or written texts that have their own unique rhetorical framework as well as the non-discursive symbols that behave rhetorically in many ancient (and contemporary) cultures. Thus, if social historians of ancient rhetoric truly want to investigate rhetorical practices beyond the Western canon on their own terms, social historians must not only be open to unique rhetorical frameworks but also create space within the scope of rhetoric to include non-discursive modes of communication that do not operate according to western logic and traditional western forms of communication. A move toward the non-discursive in rhetorical criticism would help us better understand the full spectrum of rhetorical transactions made by various people in various cultures at various points in their histories—a recommendation made by rhetorical scholars at the well-known Wingspread Conference back in 1970 (Ochs 2).   This movement toward non-discursivity is especially important because we must begin to embrace cultural rhetorics from perspectives that do not reify Greco-Roman classical rhetoric as the apex in the development of ancient rhetorical systems (Lipson and Binkley 2).  Excavating global, non-discursive rhetorics also exposes and challenges the tendency of canonized Western rhetoric to normalize as rhetoric the rhetorical system of one particular western culture” (Lipson and Binkley 2).  

            I am currently rethinking my argument for embracing transcultural and transhistorical research on both discursive and non-discursive rhetorical practices.  Formerly, I have strongly advocated for comparative work because of its potential to bridge the polarized thinking concerning western/non-western and literate/non-literate societies that still pervades our field, despite recent efforts to complicate this way of thinking.  I have long recognized that as Robert Oliver makes clear in his original call for scholars to study “non-western” rhetorics that received harsh criticism back in 1961, “There is not just one rhetoric—instead, there are many rhetorics…and many different modes of thinking, many different standards of value, many different ways in which influence must be exerted if it is to be effective” (qtd. in Lu 113). I understand, as Lois Agnew points out, that the last generation of historians took a major step in recognizing that such rhetorical differences exist amongst various cultures and various members within those cultures, and that there is a significant “value in conceptions of language that are different from those we have inherited through the western rhetorical tradition” (Interview). I consider this scholarship vital; we need to be aware of these differences in order not to hold prejudices against other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural rhetorics different from our own. Yet, I previously argued that by solely focusing on rhetorical differences, we often miss the opportunity to locate similarities in the ways and reasons why certain members of certain cultures communicate rhetorically—similarities that can bridge the hierarchical thinking patterns that cloud our rhetorical gaze.  I have argued that our goal should not be to develop a “General Theory” of rhetoric applicable to all cultures, as Kennedy attempts to do in Comparative Rhetoric. Rather, as Xing Lu has argued, our goal should be to “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” (“Studies and Development” 115).  By identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences, social historians of rhetoric can facilitate transcultural and transhistorical understanding of how and why people in ancient cultures communicate rhetorically.

            I am currently rethinking this position because I am in the midst of what I call a paradigm shift in my own thinking.  As of late I have been very persuaded by the work of Vizenor, Powell, Beam and others who call our attention to the imperialist tendencies of our scholarly practices.  As Powell rights about the Academy’s role in the continuous frontier tale of “America” in her essay “Blood and Scholarship,”

The ‘rules’ of scholarly discourse—the legitimizing discourse of the discipline             of rhetoric and composition—require us to write ourselves into this frontier             story.  Scholars are to set forth on the fringes of ‘the unknown’ in order to                 stake out and define a piece of ‘unoccupied’ scholarly territory that, through             our skill at explicating and analyzing, will become our own scholarly             homestead, our area of concentration.  We are trained to identify our object of study in terms of its boundaries, its difference from other objects of study, and then to do everything within our power to bring that object into the realm of other ‘known’ objects.  In effect, we ‘civilize’ unruly topics.  And it is our distance from those topics, the fact of our displacement from the materiality of these areas of study, that lends legitimacy to our efforts (3-4).           

I think comparative analysis is part of the Academy’s imperialist practices.  I am currently then in the process of examining my desire and my inclination to compare.  Does comparative analysis have to be a means to transcultural understanding? How can we “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” without identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences?  I think social histories of cultural rhetorics have the potential to achieve these goals without employing comparative analysis….

            I am also growing fond of social history as a means to study contemporary cultural rhetorical practices because of its potential to affect real social change.  As I wrote in the first draft of my manifesto, by uncovering the rhetorical practices currently employed to marginalize communities, such as women marked as “Third World,” social historians of rhetorical practices can identify and challenge existing rhetorics that both explicitly and implicitly oppress and discriminate. Simultaneously, we can identify and support contemporary rhetorical practices employed by marginal communities to resist those oppressive and discriminatory rhetorics.  Through such investigations, we will deepen our understanding of how rhetoric operates beyond our own borders and contributes to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics at work in our increasingly globalized world.  We also will also deepen our understanding and learn from cultural rhetorical practices employed effectively to resist, challenge, and subvert oppressive powers.  Rather than just deepen our understanding, however, we can use our new “understandings” to help activate change on the ground if we devote some of our scholarly energy to work outside the academy.  I am currently working on a project, for instance, that analyzes the promotional materials of ProLiteracy, which through rhetorical analysis I have discovered to be so extremely problematic that they actually undermine the very women their Women in Literacy Initiative aims to “empower.”  This work has the potential to disrupt malevolent promotional practices but only if I both share my findings with the organization and offer solutions to counteract their current promotional strategies.  We need, or should I say, I need to focus my work on scholarship that has the potential to both create transcultural understanding and enact real change.

            Anyway, as idealistic as it sounds, social historians focusing on rhetorical practices in the global world can use our scholarship to not only create a more diverse and equitable discipline, we can also play an important role in creating a safer and more equitable globalized world. As our field takes the global turn, we have this responsibility; social history projects might be a useful vehicle for enacting this responsibility.


Works Cited:

Fredal, James.  “Seeing Ancient Rhetoric, Easily at a Glance.”  Rhetoric Society Quarterly.  Vol. 36 (2006), pp. 181-189.


Gaines, Robert N. “De-Canonizing Ancient Rhetoric.” The Viability of the Rhetorical             Tradition.  Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill.  New York:  State University of New York Press, 2005. 61-73. 


Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley.  Eds.  Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks.              Albany:  State University of New York Press, 2004.


Lu, Xing.  “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetorics in the U.S.A.:  Chinese and Western rhetoric in Focus.”  China Media Research.  2 (2), 2006, pp. 112-116.


Ochs, Donovan J.  Consolatory Rhetoric:  Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman             Era.  Columbia, South Carolina:  University of South Carolina Press, 1993.     


Powell, Malea.  “Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Dilemma.” Race, Rhetoric,             and Composition. Ed. Keith Gilyard. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1999.


Stearns, Peter N.  “Why Study History?” American Historical Association.  1998.  August 30 2007.  <http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm&gt;


By symbol, I refer to Clifford Geertz’s definition:  “any object, event, quality, or relation which serves as a vehicle for a conception” (“Religion” 5).

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Progress on My Social History of Rhetorics Project

In thinking of how to organize my social history of rhetoric project, I have been tinkering with the idea of collage.  Beam essentially rewrites history through collage and montage of seemingly unrelated icons, indices, and symbols.  These techniques allow him to construct history in a nonlinear fashion–an important move for Beam since his work, in part, is intended to disrupt master narratives based on linear ways of viewing the world.  As he writes in speaking about the American Indian perspective, “We have the collage aspect to looking at life, which we could call cyclical—with no single viewpoint predominating.”  The Renaissance linear way of looking “depicted reality within a scientific viewpoint; there was a science to looking and reality….[Y]ou can look at things from more than one point of view and not be threatened.” This point in his work is provocative to me and reminds me of Vitanza’s work in the Octalog in which he argues that rather than try to create a better world through the work of historiography (as Robert Conners proposes), scholars ought to be looking for ways to deconstruct homogeneous methodologies of inquiry and production of texts. Collage as a method of producing texts is being used more and more in the academy under the guise of multi-modal writing.  I played with this genre in my seminar paper in my visual culture course last semester, mostly because I find it to be a creative and stimulating outlet.  (For those of you who don’t know, I am a creative writer at heart.  Short stories.)  Beam and Vitanza, however, have really made me rethink the political value of multimodal historiography.   It seems to me that a multimodal social history of Beam’s rhetorical art would be a means to present his work rather than represent it. It would be a means to talk beside Beam rather than for him.  It would be a way for his art and his words to speak for themselves as well as a means for the scholars I will draw on to speak for themselves.  A multimodal social history, in other words, is a way to write history in ways that honor the rhetorical voice, to whom I want scholars in our field to listen. For my first draft then, I am thinking of trying to create the draft in multimodal form to see what everyone thinks.   Any thoughts????  


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“’A Philosophy of Handicap’: The Origins of Randolph Bourne’s Radicalism” Paul K. Longmore and Paul Steven Miller

In this article, Longmore and Miller revise contemporary interpretations of Randolph Bourne’s radicalism and situate it in firmly within not only his own philosophy on disability but also the moment of the Progressive Era. Longmore and Miller claim that scholars often do not see the sociological, cultural, and political elements of disability, which they imply is one reason why scholars in the past have missed the connection between Bourne’s radicalism and his identity as handicapped. Longmore and Miller explain that “social category” as a term and concept was just coming into use in the Progressive era (59). Bourne, they claim, took up the social category of “the handicapped” and demonstrated how it is something other than a physical, biological condition; it is a sociocultural and political construct employed to preserve and perpetuate the modern social order.

Longmore and Miller rhetorically analyzing Bourne’s writing and comparing his original essay “The Handicapped” to its revision “A Philosophy of Handicap,” which was published in Youth and Life, to demonstrate that Bourne’s radical philosophy articulated therein indeed originates in his identity as “handicapped.” Longmore and Miller admit that handicap as the foundation of radical ideas is ignored, perhaps, in part because Bourne never spoke of his handicap in any other of his writings on immigration, class, education and diversity, yet rhetorical analysis of his work demonstrates that the source of his philosophy in indeed embedded in his experience of handicap.

In Bourne’s first book called YOUTH AND LIFE, he published an article he wrote originally titled “The Handicapped” as “A Philosophy of Handicap.” This alteration of the title alone, the authors argue, signals a conscious effort to declare disability as a social category and condition (64). In this book, Bourne also refused to use popular, prejudicial terms such as “deformed” and embraced terms such as “disabled” and “handicapped,” a rhetorical move aimed to “represent the physicality and social totality of handicap, realistically and without shame, accurately, not prejudicially” (64). Bourne also employs omission as a rhetorical strategy in his revision of “The Handicapped.” In “A Philosophy,” Bourne omits physical descriptions of himself, which prevents reader from dwelling on his physical condition so reader can instead focus on the social condition of “the handicapped man” (64). In the same vain, Bourne omits use of personal pronouns in favor of “the handicapped man.” He provides a social psychology of “the handicapped man” in order to explain “the handicapped man’s relation to the how the world views him, and how he, in turn, reacts to both the world and himself” (qtd. on 65).

Longmore and Miller point out that in “A Philosophy,” Bourne explains that while “the handicapped man” does feel the need to strive for success in light of his disability and discrimination, the discrimination also makes him feel powerless-a double message, which constantly hangs over “the handicapped man’s” head (65). Essentially, what made his work so profound, they argue, is that, “Bourne extrapolated from his experience of the oppressive ideology of handicap to fashion some of his most profound criticisms of modern life: the preoccupation with externals, the corresponding disregard of the interior person, the stifling of individual personalities” (65). The recurrent imag of confinement is a rhetorical strategy used to signal this oppression.

The authors make clear that in YOUTH AND LIFE, Bourne does rely on his personal, painful experiences to achieve his rhetorical purpose. For instance, he analyzes the difficulties of the handicapped boy and adolescent by relating his own encounters with discrimination, he reactions to those discriminations, and the long-term psychological implications that result from years of oppression. In doing so, the authors claim, Bourne “questions inherited pieties and moralisms, spurns conformity to the modern herd mentality, calls for grounding values in real-life experiences, and seeks a community that supports individuals in realizing and expressing heir own personalities” (66). He also identifies the rhetorical strategies of irony, charm, and control of conversation he used in face-to-face conversations to make sure he was heard. Bourne’s intention here is not to simply layout a means of escape from the oppression for handicapped youth. Bourne offers a “social analysis that explains the experience of the handicap and locates it with larger patterns and structure of the unjust modern social order. He shows how that experience can furnish materials for a radical social philosophy and a transformative engagement with the world” (71).

Also, in “A Philosophy,” Longmore and Miller claim that Bourne points out that the dichotomy between normal and abnormal was a “socially invented ‘signifier for relations of power.’ [Thus,] Bourne’s understanding of handicap has broad implications beyond the experience of people with ‘disabilities'” (72). These implications have everything to do with class-based judgments about social status and worth since whole classes of people are discriminated against due to an unjust social order (72-3). Modern order then is to blame for the unjust treatment of people with disabilities as well as those that do not “belong” to the elite social class. Bourne does not just concern himself with social critique, however. He also, Longmore and Miller point out, advocates for social transformation; therefore, he also provides a means of resistance.

Overall then, Longmore and Miller demonstrate that in “A Philosophy,” Bourne both looks critically outward at disability as a social construct and offers a possibility of resistance and reform and looks inward to lay out individualistic modes of coping (75). Bourne was also a champion of progressive education, which included the establishment of special education in public schools, as well as foreign immigration reform. Although Bourne did not link modern conceptions of handicap with discriminatory immigration policies, he did advocated for what he called a “Trans-National America,” which encompassed a vision of American diversity (77).

Longmore and Miller move toward their conclusion with wonderings about why Bourne did not write more about handicap. Was it his fear to marginalize himself further through his writing? Did he not want to be labeled as an author who was the advocate for “the handicapped”? Longmore and Miller express disappointment that Bourne did not publish more on the role the ideology of handicap played in making of modern American; nonetheless, they challenge other scholars to revisit Bourne’s work and recover his radical ideas pertaining to class and transnational American, education and feminism, and the modern industrial state.

Thoughts and Questions:

Thinking back on our discussion from Thursday, I am still wondering about and contemplating the ethics of comparative and contrastive rhetorics. I wonder what ya’ll think about appropriating Vizenor’s concept of socioacupuncture to interpret Longmore and Miller’s social history of Bourne’s rhetoric as a form of socioacupuncture. And/or think of both Bourne and Longmore and Miller enacting a Trickster hermeneutic of sorts? Is it not appropriate to try to appropriate the concepts of socioacupuncture and Trickster hermeneutic and apply it to “Other” forms of scholarship? If not, why not? And if not, what concepts might we use to describe the “invasive technique of reinterpretation” of past scholarship or the “self-conscious teasing that allows access to presence” of hidden identities to describe the work that both Bourne and Longmore and Miller do? Do the terms social history of rhetoric, revisionary, and recovery constitute these actions already?

I also wonder about the ethics of comparing and contrasting the social and political construction of “Handicap” to the social and political construction of the “Indian”? What do we risk/benefit/lose in asking such a question?

Finally, what about comparing and contrasting the rhetorical strategies Bourne employs to the American Indian, African American, and feminist rhetors we have read about in this course? Should we avoid or attempt conducting comparative and contrastive rhetorics employed by minority groups? What is danger/benefit??


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Chapter 1 of Regendering Delivery—“Readers and Rhetors: Schoolgirl’s Formal Elocutionary Instruction”—Lindal Buchanan

In this chapter, Buchanon demonstrates how the site of education can be a useful topoi for tracing gender’s influence on delivery–the fifth rhetorical canon. In all the chapters of this text, Buchanan illustrates that delivery is grounded in social context and is, in fact, contingent on an individual or group’s social environment. In this chapter, specifically, Buchanan shows that education in the late 18th and early 19th century played a significant role in shaping women’s participation in public speaking. Buchanan begins the chapter by demystifying the notion that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. Buchanan argues that, actually schoolgirls in the late 18th and 19th centuries were educated in elocution and civic discourse through reading classes, in which they practiced oral reading and received elocution instruction from various kinds of readers. Reading aloud from readers that were directed to male, female, and mixed audiences gave schoolgirls opportunity to practice delivery by attending to their voice, gestures, and expressions. Buchanan argues that women’s education in elocution eventually increased their rhetorical performance in public settings so much, in fact, that an educational backlash occurred. This backlash “led to the truncation of the elocutionary coverage and oratorical contents of school readers likely to be consumed by a female audience, an attempt to restrict women’s eloquence to the private sphere by limiting their knowledge of the arts of oral expression” (13).

Buchanan traces literacy instruction in US Northeast schools during the colonial period and explains that not only was ones education determined by gender but also by class. While wealthy, male boys attended second tier schools where they received a classical education, boys “destined” for careers in specific trades and crafts as well as girls attended first tier schools, which focused on basic English literacy and numeracy skills (13). Gender determined what subject were taught; while wealthy boys were taught to read and write, girls were taught to read and sew(14).

In the late 18th century, elocution became part of reading instruction under the influence of the British elocutionary movement, which was sparked in response to a crisis in poor pulpit oratory that was thought to derive from poor reading instruction(15). The rationale behind this movement was that if you can read well, you can speak well, (which in contemporary US education seems to have been transformed to the notion that if you can read well, you can write well.) 18th century readers, thus, utilized elocutionary pedagogy under the belief that reading instruction, with a particular emphasis on its oral delivery, would lead to strong oratory (16).

Buchanan compares and contrasts three landmark readers published in the 18th century that prove the readers were aware of girls’ presence in the classroom and directed elocutionary instruction at them. In Webster’ reader, for instance, women’s domestic place and role in the nation was emphasized through the female characters in the selected prose. Playing off the Republican Motherhood, women’s domestic purpose was to instill civic, moral, patriotism in their children and families. In Bingham’s reader, girls were introduced to contemporary debates over women’s education and to civic rhetoric, both of which illustrated the power of public oratory even though the reader did not advocate for female students to use elocution outside the home. Moving away from the focus on patriotism, Murray’s reader focused on morality, religion, and proper conduct in its prose sections while the elocution instructional section taught elocutionary techniques and strategies that became useful in the parlor and eventually the platform. These three texts provide several insights into US schoolgirls’ rhetorical education:
1.) young female students were perceived as consumers
2.) instruction in elocution was directed specifically at girls
3.) young females were offered rationales for their education
4.) young girls were introduced to oratory and civic rhetoric
5.) therefore, girls received “real” opportunities in rhetorical education(25-26).

This opportunity, according to Buchanan did not last, however, as a trend in decreasing instruction on elocution became apparent in 19th century readers directed specifically at girls.

With the rise of industrialization, antebellum working class women began to work outside the home, which gave women exigency to defy social norms of womanhood in public, yet white women in the middle to upper classes bought into the cult of true womanhood, adopted a new feminine ideal, and constrained those opportunities. Moreso, while women were still provided with elocutionary knowledge through some readers and thus had the rhetorical and elocutionary competence to challenge gender norms in public, women’s speech stayed in private spaces in a large part because many readers encouraged women to learn elocution simply as a means for social respectability to be used in the private sphere and portrayed female characters who spoke in public in a negative light. Also, many readers directly aimed at women curtailed elocutionary instruction, especially actio. Thus, while women learned to read aloud well, they were excluded from learning how to use their bodies in oratorical performance, which in turn constrained their ability to speak persuasively in public settings.

Buchanan claims the exclusion of actio and diminishing of elocution instruction resulted from the rise of female orators in evangelical, legislative, and other public realms, which caused conservatives to deem rhetorical education for women a “contagious disease.” Although antebellum’s rhetorical performance stayed in the parlor to some extent, Buchanan ends this chapter by pointing out that many female rhetors fortunately found their way to the platform….


This chapter did some of the work I believe we all wanted Carr, Carr, and Schultz to do—namely to attend to politics of representation in 19th century readers. Although Buchanan does not really attend to issues of race and or ability in this chapter, she does illustrate how readers represented 18th and 19th century women and makes an argument as to how these representations affected women’s rhetorical education and rhetorical opportunities. (She also, of course, makes an argument about how the content or lack of content I should say affected women’s rhetorical education and opportunities to speak in public.) I am interested in the role that argument plays in this chapter as well as the rest of the book, which leads me to ask: What role does argument play in social history? What risks does Buchanan take by making explicit arguments in this social history?

Related, Buchanan begins this chapter by dispelling the myth that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. She begins most, if not all, of her other chapters in a similar fashion. I found this repeated practice effective; she is clearly attempting to revise our notions of rhetorical history by attending to the social forces and cultural networks surrounding 19th century female rhetors. By dispelling certain myths and regendering delivery in each chapter, she thus weaves together a coherent argument throughout the entire book. The back cover describes this structure and rhetorical study as a “bold” project because in a sense she challenges the histories that other scholars have produced before her. I am curious as to how this book would be reviewed by social historians. Going back to a smart question Jannell asked earlier in semester, is this text a revisionary history or a social history? Both? What is difference again???

Lastly, I really admire how Buchanan carved out a space for her scholarship and opens doors, as Zosha notes, for similar revisionary projects. Her focus on delivery makes me wonder about historical non-discursive forms of delivery employed by 19th century US women. A nice extension of this work would be to investigate how 19th century social, cultural, and political forces necessitated/engendered/constrained non-discursive delivery practices/genres by female rhetors. This research would help us better understand how gender impacted delivery and complicate the rhetorical canon which privileges discursive, public rhetorics. It would also create a new topoi or at least expand the fourth topoi of genre from which explore the nexus of gender, power, and rhetoric.

Speaking of genre, genre analysis seems as if it might be a very useful methodology for social history…..


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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”


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.


Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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.


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?


Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam