Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"Gifts" of the Archives: A Pedagogy for Undergraduate Research

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

"Gifts" of the Archives: A Pedagogy for Undergraduate Research

Article excerpt

In their 2011 article "Remembering Sappho: New Perspectives on Teaching (and Writing) Women's Rhetorical History," Jessica Enoch and Jordynn Jack describe pedagogical projects that invite undergraduate students both to participate in and to question the memorialization of women's rhetorical activities. Jack developed an archival research project where undergraduate students recover southern women absent from histories of rhetoric and interrogate the politics of both disciplinary and public memory (534). Inspired by Enoch and Jack (from discussions with them at the CCCC in 2009), I piloted an archival research project in my undergraduate rhetoric courses, where students recover the rhetorical activities of Hunter College women. Initially, my goals were similar to Enoch and Jack's. Students would recover women's rhetorical practices from the archives at our college, which enlivens the students not only to engage in critical scholarship but also to confront the politics of recovery firsthand. The archive project, though, went beyond my initial pedagogical goals of moving from, as Thomas P. Miller describes, " The Rhetorical Tradition to the rhetoric of traditions" (75).

Patricia Bizzell offers a model for feminist historiography in rhetorical studies that I also use as a framework for teaching histories of rhetoric. First, students are "resisting readers" of rhetorical traditions. Reading texts from the canon of rhetorical studies, students think about whom the theorist envisions as a rhetor and what situations and speakers he or she might be ignoring. This approach also creates a solid background in traditional rhetorical analysis. We also look at rhetorical theory by women that is similar to rhetorical theory by men, such as the work of Gertrude Buck, and examine women's theory that redefines rhetoric to include work traditionally done by women, such as work treating conversation (Donawerth). Throughout the semester we also discuss how we might extrapolate rhetorical theory from a particular rhetor's practice. This approach incorporates the work of recovered rhetors and also introduces them to the major debates of the field. Current classes in rhetoric often acknowledge the existence of lost voices and help students think critically about these traditions. One of my initial goals in assigning archival research to students was to promote their understandings of the complications of recovery. Often, students work with an anthology without engaging the politics involved in such a volume. Undergraduate archival research projects promote exploration of such questions and elicit new ones, as well as make questioning "who gets recovered" a practical issue rather than only a theoretical one.

In her seminal 2002 article "Claiming the Archive for Rhetoric and Composition," Susan Wells identifies three "gifts" the archives provide the field: resistance to closure, loosening of resentment, and the possibility of reconfiguring the discipline. The work done in the field since the publication of her article has certainly solidified the promise of the archives. This essay uses her conception of these three gifts as a way to articulate a pedagogy for undergraduate research inspired by teaching undergraduate archival research projects. That is, these gifts apply not only to the scholarly field but also to what students learn by undertaking archival research of their own. These lessons have applications beyond courses in rhetoric. Thus, in addition to outlining the pedagogical possibilities of archival research, this essay explores a pedagogy that can apply to classes where an archival research project might not be feasible, such as first-year writing classrooms.

The Promise of Archival Research

Many rhetoric and composition scholars have pointed out the limited opportunities we have to train in the practicalities of archival research (FerrieraBuckley 582; Brereton 575; Miller and Bowdon 585; Buehl, Chute, and Fields 278; Gaillet, "Archival Survival" 30; L'Eplattenier 67; L'Eplattenier and Mastrangelo 218). …

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