Octalog. “The Politics of Historiography.” Rhetoric Review: 7.1 (Autumn 1988) 5-49.
This piece is a combination of a transcript from a CCCC panel in March 1988 about the politics of historiography and reflections by all eight participants. The eight participants on the panel were James Berlin, Robert J. Connors, Sharon Crowley, Richard L. Enos, Victor Vitanza, Susan Jarratt, Nan Johnson, and Jan Swearingen, and the panel was moderated by James J. Murphy. In the hour-long conversation that took place, the particpants discussed the nature of making history, the place of rhetoric as a field in the academy, and why the history of rhetoric is a necessary pursuit. The personal philosophies and theories of history of each participant was reflected in his or her opening statement, and they ranged from understanding that a history reflects and projects a certain power relationship (Berlin), to looking for evidence outside of literary texts (Enos), to realizing that the history we operate under ignores the exclusion of women and others who did not have power (Swearingen.) Towards the end of the conversation, the question “Can history even be written?” (understanding that no history can ever be complete, that all histories reflect the historian’s and society’s values and ideologies, and that historians must work with limited evidence) was raised, and in the reflections afterwards, Connors makes the point that even though these claims are true, we must write history and do so in good faith. It is essential, as Berlin states, that we have as many histories of rhetoric as possible so that we might more fully understand it.
“There must be multiple histories of rhetoric, each identifying its unique standing place – its grounds for seeing – and the terrain made available from this perspective. Most important, each history endorese an ideology, a conception of economic, social, political, and cultural arrangements that is privileged in its interpretation…In brief, historians must become aware of the rhetoricity of their own enterprise, rhetoric here being designated the uses of language in the play of power” (Berlin 6).
“The hypotheses we evolve are all either implicitly or explicitly a commentary on what is going on in the teaching of writing and its meaning in our culture today” (Connors 7). Is this the aim of comp and rhet? I don’t think the other members of the Octalog (or many people in the field today) would think that their work always must tie back practically to the college comp classroom. Connors clarifies in his reflection that he sees a distinction between composition (which is tied to the college writing classroom) and the larger discipline of rhetoric (whose aims might not be tied to college writing.)
“As daring usurper (rather than marginalized hoarder), rhetoric could step into its role as meta-discipline and create opportunities for dialogue among historians, critics, and theorists across several disciplines” (Jarratt 9).
“Historical research and writing are archaeological and rhetorical activities” (Johnson 9).
“The ideological screen makes the historical record readable to the historical, influencing what he sees as significant and what he finds to be meaningless” (Berlin 11).
“Rhetorical histories are important to the writing teacher. They explore the relationship of discourse and power, a rhetoric again being a set of rules that privilege particular power relations” (Berlin 12).
Connors statement on pg. 13 about how he has seen history as an exercise to attack problems in college comp today by tracing how they became problems.
“A conservative orientation to what constitutes valid evidence in historiography promotes a closed system that risks limited acquisition of evidence, and ultimately an imprecise understanding that fails to account adequately for forces shaping the subject under study” (Enos 15).
“What makes us read a history is the authority that it bears, its ethos” (Crowley 21).
About the problem of realizing that you can’t cover or account for everything when writing a history, leading to a “paralysis” (Swearingen 23).
“We are 25 hundred years old. We are not a discipline. We are a meta-discipline. If we teach writing across the curriculum, doesn’t that tell us, isn’t that a self-evident experience, that we are a meta-discipline. We inform all the other disciplines. They don’t inform us” (Vitanza 31).
“We know this in our bones: To have any reasonable discourse at all, there are simply some ideas we must agree to hold in common…You agree to trust us. From there we start. You trust us not to make things up. You trust us to look carefully at the books we talk about. You trust us to try for corroborating evidence for claims. You trust us to sift evidence intelligently, not to deliberately exclude important items, not to reach closure and certainty too early. You trust us to try not to bore you when we write things up. And we try to earn your trust by doing the best job we can. Because all of us are trying, in our perhaps naive ways, to do good for you, to do good with you” (Connors 38). History is a trust relationship.
We are “the heirs of those nineteenth-century composition teachers whose specific charge was to solve a problem in the culture [literacy crisis], and we have been striving to do so ever since” (Connors 38). Composition is interested in larger social aims, so we shouldn’t sweat over doing history because we don’t want to have our knowledge stay bottled up in the academy.
“It’s time to get back to work doing what we do: history: searching in good faith through records of human experience, offering our separate, hard-won little truths to one another, and trying to approach agreement on some greater truth we can all secretly believe in” (Connors 38). I think Connors has it right on – we need to do the best we can, we need to find the foundations, and we need to just do it in good faith.
“When a history changes the way writers behave in the classroom (both instructor and student) in ways that allow for the recognition of inequity and oppression; that give voice to silence; that create the means for just action, as well as open negotiation over what constitutes “justice” – then that history is a good one” (Jarratt 45).
Enos, Richard Leo and Ann M. Blakeslee. “The Classical Period.” In The Present State of Scholarship in Historical and Contemporary Rhetoric. Revised Edition. Ed. Winifred Bryan Horner. Columbia: U of Missouri Press. 9-44.
This is a literature review on the work done in the classical period of rhetoric. It details the primary works in rhetoric in the pre-Socratic times, the work of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Seneca the Elder, and other Roman rhetoricians. It also reviews the contemporary scholarship that has been done on classical rhetoric in reviews, bibliographies, historical studies, and current rhetoricians’ use of the ancient rhetors. At the end, it discusses the holes left in the work in classical rhetoric, such as the proto-history of rhetoric and non-Western ancient rhetoric.