Academic journal article Composition Studies

Changing Research Methods, Changing History: A Reflection on Language, Location, and Archive

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Changing Research Methods, Changing History: A Reflection on Language, Location, and Archive

Article excerpt

This essay reflects on the research methods the author employed to write three Chicana teachers into the history of rhetorical education. Her reflections ultimately push beyond her experience to explore how scholars can continue to research and investigate the pedagogies composed by and for marginalized populations at non-elite institutions. In taking up this work, however, she also exposes a number of unarticulated assumptions at the heart of historiographic practice that subtly shape research activities and prevent the diversification and expansion of research, writing, and thinking.

[W]hen we resist primacy, traditional paradigms for seeing and valuing participation, even in composition studies, are inadequate. They obviously miss the experiences and achievements of many, and they privilege by this process the viewpoints and the interpretations of the ojficialized few, whether they are acknowledged as prime or not. The challenge then is to broaden the research base, the inquiry base, the knowledge base from which interpretive frameworL· can be drawn, not simply to say that we know we don't know but to do the work of finding out. We need methodologies for seeing the gaps in our knowledge and for generating the research that can help usfll those gaps.

- Jacqueline Jones Royster and Jean C. Williams, "History in the Spaces Left," 1999 (582-3)

We do not at all mean that our children should not be taught the [English] language of the land that they live in, since it is the means that will enable them to communicate directly with their neighbors, and that will equip them to appreciate their rights. What we simply meant to say was that we ought not disregard the [Spanish] language, because it is the official stamp of the race and of the people.

- Jovita Idar, "The Mexican Children in Texas," 1911 (1)

Over ten years ago, Jacqueline Jones Royster and Jean C. Williams called scholars in the field to take up two interrelated tasks. The first was to counter officialized disciplinary narratives by composing histories of Rhetoric and Composition that account for marginalized rather than enfranchised students and teachers, as well as nontraditional rather than elite writing programs and pedagogies. The second was to articulate the research methods and methodologies that enable this kind of critical work to come into being. Given the number of histories published over the last decade, the first call has been (and continues to be) answered, with scholars such as Anne Ruggles Gere, David Gold (Rhetoric), Susan Jarratt, Susan Kates, Shirley Wilson Logan (Liberating), Kelly Ritter, Lucille Schultz, and Stephen Schneider composing studies that enrich, expand, and complicate understandings of writing instruction in the United States.1 In terms of Royster and Williams's second call, however, there has not been as vociferous a response. While scholars have surely discussed larger issues of historiographie method and methodology, we have not spent as much time articulating and analyzing the particular research strategies that allow us to tell a "reconfigured, more fully textured story" of our field's past (Royster and Williams 581). 2

This essay takes up this latter challenge by identifying and reflecting on the research methods I used to write three teachers, Jovita Idar, Marta Peña, and Leonor Villegas de Magnón, into the history of rhetorical education. In the fourth chapter of Refiguring Rhetorical Education: Women Teaching African American, Native American, and Chicano/a Students, 1865-1911, I analyze the pedagogical arguments these women made through the pages of La Crónica, a turn-of-the-century, Spanish-language newspaper serving Laredo, Texas, that was owned and operated by Idar and her family. As the epigraph above indicates, Idar and her colleagues used the press to call for educational practices that embraced the Spanish language, asserted cultural knowledge, and reformulated civic duties. …

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