Tuesday, April 9, 2013

History/Historiography Review

Hello, Everyone:

In advance of Thursday's class session, please take some time to quickly review the following texts (and be sure to bring them to class):
  • de Certeau
  • Graff and Leff
  • Royster and Williams
  • Enoch or Campbell (depending on what you read)
  • Carr, Carr, Schultz
  • Brereton

By "review," perhaps my expectation is that you would remind yourself of the main argument and principal claims in each text, a.k.a., the text's agenda and methodology.

Also, I offer in advance some questions that may drive our discussion. Please select one question and spend some time composing a blog post in response, prior to Thursday's class. Your response need not be a full-fledged essay, but it should reflect more than a casual try. In other words, it should put us all in a good enough position to do more with these questions than we might have done earlier in the semester:

  1. How is Graff and Leff's understanding of "critical historiography" either complicated by or taken up in (or both) Royster and Williams' project? In Enoch's or Campbell's?
  2. What would we name Gertrude Buck's "noetic field" if we were challenged by other historians to do so?
  3. Think back to the day we composed a Brereton grid. If the only texts surviving from this era were the ones you traced for the grid, how would you view the teaching of rhetoric and composition in late 19th-century American colleges? What stories would you construct, or did you construct in your grid, that other historians might see to take up?
  4. If "Terministic screens" were the primary way we got to know Kenneth Burke as a rhetorical theorist, how could we justify positioning him at the (historical) "end" of our trajectory? In truth, Burke comes much later than the historical "end" of Modernity -- if we want to think of Modernity as an historical movement -- but his essay completes our syllabus nonetheless. Is this viable, or is it misguided? Having read what we have and explored the methodologies that we have, in what ways does ending with Burke make sense? In what ways doesn't it make sense? How would others viewing our course assume we were positioning Burke?
  5. Before the semester began, I invited you to read the Dissoi Logoi (B/H 47-55) for several things. If you were to return to it now, what do you know with more certainty than before about some of the issues this text takes up? What does (or what could) the Dissoi Logoi represent to you, as a seasoned historian of Modern Rhetoric?
  6.  If you were to return to de Certeau with fresh eyes (albeit tired ones), how would you explain to a novice historian any of his defining statements about "history," "historical discourse," or "historiography" on pp. 19-21, 29-49?
  7.  Where might we fall on the "Cacophony of Historiography Theories" handout? Given that the handout was a first draft of what should be a more careful taxonomy, it's possible we don't fit comfortably anywhere, but I'd be interested in knowing what you think defines our historiographic approach to rhetoric studies. What might we call its "watersheds" (see Carr, Carr, Schultz 202-204)? Alternatively, what could we offer future classes as our unique "methodology" (see Carr, Carr, Schultz 205-206)?

I'm really looking forward to this,

-Dr. Graban


  1. Here's a stab at question 6.
    History, according to de Certeau is both a science and that which it studies. In other words, it is the practice of narrativizing the past, the result of that, and the relationship between the two. Inevitably, it is an endless labor of differentiation (past from present, time periods, social movements, etc.). De Certeau’s best example of this complex theory is theology, which he argues is the practice of religious history; it is the result of doing history – putting history into practice. In other words, de Certeau’s history is not the recovery of “lost” events, people, places, or truths. In this perspective, the positionality of the historian is extremely important, because those biases will inform the history that s/he constructs. The reflective practice of acknowledging those positions and biases is what de Certeau would term historiography. Essentially, this is acknowledgement of the relationship between time, place, the historian, and the object of study – the ways in which they interact with and inform one another. The most intriguing way of thinking about de Certeau’s theory of history is that history is in the making – it’s what one discovers, finds, or makes connections to in the process. I plan to invoke this theory for the Critical Nugget and presentation. I want to propose a way of conceiving of these constellations (between historian, subject, place, time) using multimodal theory.

  2. Question #1: In envisioning a critical historiography, Graff and Leff imagine applying a “critical sensibility to the act of writing history” (21). They tell us that “The” rhetorical tradition is a rhetorical production (23). In essence, historiographers enacting a critical historiography should be aware of, among other things, the choices they make in regards to their research methods, the people/times/places they study, how they frame their findings, and how they pose their research questions. These specific choices impact the histories that are presented and the stories that are privileged in these “act[s] of writing history.” Perhaps this is precisely what Royster and Williams are advocating in their article. They tell us that, as historians, we need to recognize our own identity and politics of location and let these be visible in the histories as well. In other words, we need to practice critical historiography.

    While I agree with this idea in the abstract, I’m not sure how to apply it in the practical. That is, as a historiographer, what does it look like to practice critical historiography? Maybe Campbell’s concept of agency can bring us one step closer to this in practice. Campbell provides 5 characteristics of agency so that we might understand agency as a networked system of activity. Campbell tells us that the community that defines constructs such as gender, race, and class also, as an extension, define/constrain agency – “who can speak and with what force” (3). Perhaps, then, as historiographers, we would consider how the specific individual and/or historical time period understands a construct such as gender, race, or class and then see how this understanding informed the individual/time period, the stories they privileged, the voices they heard, etc. Additionally, we must apply this analysis to our own conceptions of gender, race, or class and consider how our modern conceptions frame our work as historiographers. Another one of Campbell’s characteristics of agency is that texts have agency and the form of a text can signal when “a particular stratagem, formal, tropic, argumentative, will have salience” (7). Applying this to a practice of critical historiography might mean considering the agency of both the text we are reading/analyzing and the agency of the text(s) we produce. It might also mean asking when a text will have salience and for whom.

    Campbell also tells us that agency can be destructive (7). It seems that this is important to consider in a practice of critical historiography. Specifically, enacting a critical historiography does not mean enacting a positive critical historiography. Graff and Leff encourage us to be aware of the choices we make, and considering Campbell’s framework allows us to see how the choices we make can be destructive for certain groups of people, in certain situations, etc.