Social Histories of Rhetoric Manifesto—Take Two

December 9, 2007


What is Social Histories of Rhetoric?


Social Histories of Rhetoric is a space that recognizes the past moments and events of ordinary people who facilitated change.  It is the space that gives voice to those who were silenced and/or overlooked but were compelled to social action.  It is the rhetorical depository of hopes, dreams, failures, and accomplishments of all peoples, which allows for excavations, discoveries, rediscoveries, and possibilities.  It is a portal that defines our past, celebrates our present, and anticipates our future.  Social Histories of Rhetoric is the key that unlocks the many gateways to understanding.

 Why Study Social Histories of Rhetoric? 

Where do I stop and my sister and brother begin? 

When I am fed, will my sister and brother eat? 

How many received an invitation?  

What must they leave outside? 

 Who is able to sit at the table? 

Why is there so little room?

Has that door always been locked? 

When anguish drifts on the wind as if dried leaves of Autumn, and blazing faces are turned away under flashing ‘No Vacancy’ signs amidst overwhelming complacency, we must look down and find that line in the sand and decide on which side of it will we stand. 

When through the passage of time the voices of all people are not embodied in the fabric of discourse, we must challenge the barriers against fraternal understanding and hear the whispers of the one who stands for the many who are forgotten across gendered, racial, ethnic, religious, national, and economic lines and tell their stories.   

Social Histories of Rhetoric is a mechanism to open closed door of the past that shape our understandings of today.  To study Social Histories of Rhetoric is to enable difference, diversity, empowerment, respect of all people.


Why Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?


Although Social Histories of Rhetoric is the embodiment of performed, rhetorical actions of peoples, writing is a necessary medium to record and preserve the voices of the past.

 We must write Social Histories of Rhetoric to enter into a reciprocal relationship between writer and living artifacts of those who would speak, to memorialize the crucial moment when paradigms were tested by the “everyday” man or woman who demanded change.  We must give voice to the social actions of individuals who were determined to alter the course of existence against the satisfaction of the status quo. 

We must write of goals, whether those aims were achieved or lost.  Writing of the Social Histories of Rhetoric facilitates the inclusive documentation of people and events that allow time and space to come alive, without bowing to an egocentric interpretation of actions.  We must, with this absolute point of consideration, be responsible scholars of Rhetoric and present the most accurate, yet passionate, narratives of people.  It will allow readers and hearers the opportunity to witness the moment in question with vicarious wonder. 

Social historians must be sensitive to human relations, political and economic constrains, and social momentums of the time, which allows him or her to piece together claims that pushes us to understanding. Since writing Social Histories of Rhetoric is a reflection of life, time, and space, which has value beyond the static presentations of traditional History, practitioners must be able to draw from other disciplines such as Psychology, Anthropology, English, and other social science, while maintaining historical integrity of the original authors’ intent.  Its continued scrutiny has promoted the evolution of subfields of peoples who were previously marginalized and/or omitted from traditional histories.  Through illumination of sample groups, events, and/or individuals, measurable growths and declines are recorded through the written accounts.  Therefore, Social Histories of Rhetoric have an intrinsic value that must not be silenced. 


Social Histories Project Notes #2

December 4, 2007

Hi All,

I am reading for various projects, with the hope of providing more social and historical context.  Within my reading, I found a very interesting fact that seemed to be “understated” when we visited Seneca Falls, or either I missed it.  This also goes back to a conversation that I had with Eileen concerning some noted African American figures of that time.  I was surprised that I was able to find that some African American individuals of that time came in contact on their speaking tours.  I told Eileen that, in my mind, the efforts of African Americans and Whites of that time were separate.  This goes back to my earliest childhood teachings and readings; but to the life of me, I was unable to verbalize to Eileen why that was. 

In my mind, I am able to compartmentalize the figures when it is related to the abolition and equal rights movements of the 19th century.  I will agree that there was limited “membership overlaps” within both the black and white abolition and equal rights groups, but such overlap was not the norm at that time due to racial constraints and prejudices.  Most historical accounts do not seem to relate this fact, but it is true that they seem to only relate the “same” “few” “most recognized” black names.  But it is clear to me that the efforts, on both fronts, were began by African American females prior to the efforts of White females, who later joined with African American men, to push thier own agendas.

In Shirley J. Yee’s _Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828-1860_, she asserts that there were no black women in attendance at the first Women’s Rights convention in Seneca Falls (1848).  She further explains, and is back up by my other readings and breifly stated in the Bacon book, that 18th and 19th century African American women were forced to start their own Women’s Rights and Aboltionists/Aid Societies.  “By the 1850’s, the effort by many white feminists to dissociate women’s rights from antislavery was self evident.  Discouraging black women from participating with white women in the movement was not difficult, because white feminist had ignored the concerns of black women from the beginning” (139-140).  Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, “She,” and a “handful” of other African Americans were among the few who participated in predominantly white meetings.

On the abolition front:  “While white women fought for female equality in predominantly white antislavery organizations, black women abolitionists campaigned for equal rights within the context of organized black abolitionism” (151).  “Black women had been involved in organized antislavery since February 1832, when a group of “females of color” in Salem, Massachusetts formed the first women’s antislavery society in the United States, the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, just one year after the emergence of Garrison and the establishment of the New England Anti-Slavery Society as the regional parent organization” (87). The FASS of Salem preceeded other African American Female groups, established between 1833-1860, such as Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, the Female Colored Union Society of Nantucket, the Union Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, the Female Wesleyan Anti-Slavery Society of the Methodist Episcople Church of NYC, and the Ladies’ New York Antislavery Society of Manhatten (88).  The aims of African American females were for the push of “self-help” and the uplift of the people.  Yet, figures like Maria Stewart, the Grimke’ sisters, Mary Shadd, Frances Harper, and other African American women worked, spoke, preached, taught, and provided aid through black organizations.

 All of this information make me say, “Hmmmm . . .”  The display of the life-size figures at the Women’s Rights Museum makes sense to me now.  As I said before, I was bothered by the “ommissions” of African American figures, males and females, that were not on display that I hold to be important to both 19th century movements.