The power of archives is realized across rhetorical studies, most notably in histories of rhetoric, public address studies, feminist recovery, and queer historiography. This power derives in part from a multidimensional relationship between rhetoric, archives, and information.
Certainly we may learn a good deal about rhetoric’s past through archival research. Yet archives do not function simply as neutral repositories of information. Archives themselves are rhetorical constructions; so too are the various artifacts we find in archives and rely on for information about the past. In the words of Charles Morris,
“The archive…should rightly be understood not as a passive receptacle for historical documents and their ‘truths,’ or a benign research space, but rather as a dynamic site of rhetorical power” (115).
Our course inquiry will take up this archival dynamism in critical and practical terms, asking, how do we understand the rhetorical dimensions of archives and information, particularly as they animate our research? To explore this question, we will read about and practice archival methods, including with guidance from the archival staff in Penn State’s Special Collections Library. We will also engage with archival scholarship in rhetorical studies as well as interdisciplinary theories of the archive and information. These scholarly conversations will attend to both brick-and-mortar archives and digital formations, while taking up a range of methodologies for uncovering how power is imbricated in the archive.
Ultimately each seminar participant will propose and carry out an original archival research project related to their area of specialization. Our attention to both theory and methods will thus prepare you to conduct archival research while reflecting critically on this invention via the archive’s power to inform.