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Rhetorical Studies Reading Group

at the university of illinois

Category Archives: notes

We hope you all are surviving the end-of-semester. We write bearing news of news of some upcoming events of interest:

Next RSRG Meeting: Thursday, April 25 from 6-7:30. Join us for a special Rhetorical Studies Reading group with guest Christa J. Olson. We will be discussing two pieces by Dr. Olson and you will find them below (along with with some images for reference).

Olson Places to Stand

Olson Chapter 4 Constitutive Visions

Chapter 4 Figures

Dr. Olson will also be delivering a keynote speech the very next day at the Gesa E. Kirsch Graduate Student Symposium, sponsored by the Center for Writing Studies. Her talk will take place at 2pm in GSLIS Building, room 126 and it is entitled “The Persuasions of Travel: Andean Landscapes and U.S. National Vision.”

Here is the description of Dr. Olson’s talk:

The assumption that “America” means “the United States of America” is so ubiquitous—within and beyond the borders of this country—that it hardly occasions comment. And yet, the fact that the U.S. claim to America is unmarked ought to call our attention to the remarkable, long-term, and ongoing rhetorical processes that make that claim possible: the not so hidden work of American exceptionalism. This talk enacts that attention, turning to a relatively early moment in U.S. hemispheric power to track how U.S. publics looking at Latin America learned to see themselves instead of Latin America. It explores how two travelers, the artist Frederic Church and the explorer Hiram Bingham, used visual accounts of their adventures in the Andes to shape U.S. national vision. Church’s spectacular exhibition of his “great painting,” The Heart of the Andes, in 1859 and Bingham’s lavishly illustrated accounts of his 1911 re-discovery of Machu Picchu appeared more than fifty years apart, used quite different media, and circulated through distinct means. Together, however, they speak to how U.S. publics in the first era of U.S. empire came to imagine themselves as [partial] proprietors of the American hemisphere and as the inevitable subjects of inspiring landscapes and impressive cultures. By seeing the Andes through Church and Bingham’s eyes, U.S. audiences learned new national visions appropriate to a period of growing global influence. Ultimately, the talk suggests, examining how those audiences and image makers accomplished the invisibility of Latin America through extensive imagining of it sheds useful light on the subtle, pervasive force of American exceptionalism and the claim to America.

Finally, all rhetoricians of the graduate student variety are invited to attend any or all of the CWS Symposium. The event will last from 8:30 to 4pm in GSLIS Building Room 126 and will feature presentations of graduate student works in progress. RSVP to if you are interested in attending!

Hope to see you at any or all of these great events!

Rohini, Jon, Paul, and Katie


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On Monday, graduate students from the RSA Chapter at the University of Illinois gathered again in Lincoln Hall to participate in the second session of the RSA Webinar on Archival Research organized by Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer over at Penn State.

Session 2 featured Jordynn Jack as well as fellow Illini Ned O’Gorman. The theme of the discussion was “The Archive as Heuristic.” Some of my notes follow below.

O’Gorman and Jack presented a fascinating way of looking at the archives. Rather than seeing the archive as a repository of information to be mined, O’Gorman and Jack considered what it would mean to think of the archive as a source of invention. Thinking of the archive in this way gets at the ways in which the archive often presents us with surprising artifacts that lead us to more questions. O’Gorman described this as the practice of finding “provocations” within the archives. These provocations present us with fundamental questions that lead to further inquiry.

Sometimes, those artifacts in the archive that provoke us lead us outside of the archive to answer the questions they raise.

Thus, both scholars discussed the ways in which archival research gives us opportunities for “undirected research” and the ability to be surprised by what we find. As researchers, we should be open to these provocations and see where they lead us. Seeing the archive as heuristic keeps us open and ready to embrace these opportunities.

The discussion was lively and fascinating, as always. Thanks to Rohini Singh for reserving the room and the equipment, thanks to Dr. O’Gorman and Dr. Jack for sharing their insights, and thanks to Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer for bringing all of us into these discussions!

The next “Archival Encounters” webinar will take place on March 25th, and will examine the question of “Reading Archival Documents” with Ann George and Dave Tell.

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On January 30, the Rhetorical Studies Reading Group was lucky enough to have some time to chat with Dr. Richard Graff from the University of Minnesota while he was on campus to deliver the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities lecture. We were joined by several students from the Department of Communication and the Center for Writing Studies as well as faculty from the Department of Communication to discuss several articles related to Dr. Graff’s research (you can check out the pieces we discussed below).

Dr. Graff discussed several issues and questions that animate his research interests in the oratorical spaces of classical Greece and Rome, including visuality and orality, performance, rhetorical style, and what he called a “synesthetic” approach to studying rhetoric (one that encompasses and connects the multiple senses in sometimes contradictory ways). Graff also noted some of the potential challenges associated with the study classical rhetoric, and a key theme throughout the discussion was the ways in which archaeological evidence informs this research. For Graff, studying the oratorical spaces of classical Greece and Rome is like a puzzle–one must put together a coherent picture based on the evidence available from a variety of sources.

Overall, the discussion was an exciting prelude to Dr. Graff’s fascinating talk later that afternoon. We appreciate the time Dr. Graff took to meet with us, and all the students and faculty who joined the conversation.

The Rhetorical Studies Reading Group is an IPRH sponsored group of students and faculty from a variety of disciplines and departments who are interested in the study of rhetoric. Several times a semester, the group comes together to discuss issues and research in rhetorical studies. We are often joined by guest scholars from across the country. Our next RSRG meeting will take place March 1st. Watch this space for updated information and readings. 

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Tonight, members from the RSA Chapter at the University of Illinois gathered together in Lincoln Hall to watch the first session of the Webinar on Archival Research that has been organized by Dr. Debra Hawhee and Dr. Jack Selzer over at Penn State. Session 1 featured two archivists from the Penn State Burke Archive, who shared some great practical tips about how to engage with an archive, and included some great resources for archival researchers. I’ve included links to these resources as well as some of their tips below.

Archival Research Databases and Directories:

  • Archive Grid ( – a database that links to finding aids, archive locations, contact information etc. Type in a variety of search terms (use their search tips for more information) and get connected to material located in archives across the country. Sometimes features direct links to digital material, but these links will occasionally be broken (feel free to email the archivist if the material is unavailable).
  • Archive Finder ( – A archive directory featuring sources from the US and the UK. Click on “Login through your library or institution” to get access through the U of I library).
  • Online Archive of California ( – Regional focus, but has great digital material.

Information on Copyright

  • WATCH ( – this site identifies the copyright holders for some authors. The archivists noted that this site is not exhaustive, but is continually updated and can be a good way to check who holds a copyright on a particular author’s material.
  • Digital Copyright Slider ( – a guide to copyright rules. Answers the basic question “Is it protected by copyright?” for various categories of material.

Glossary of Archival Lingo

Four Common Mistakes Made by New Archival Researchers (and how to not make them)

  1. Not writing down where material comes from in the archive
    • How to fix: Document everything! Bring a camera and take pictures of the folder, boxes, etc.
  2. Not getting in touch with an archive ahead of time
    • How to fix: Contact an archive before your visit to make sure that all the materials you need are available and ready for you to use.
  3. Not checking up on copyright concerns / not crediting copyright appropriately
    • How to fix: Always ask an archivist to make sure that you have the proper permission to use archival material in your work, especially when quoting or excerpting archival material.
  4. Not anticipating how long archival research will take
    • How to fix: Always double your anticipated timeline, especially when visiting an out-of-state archive.

Thanks to Anita Mixon for reserving a room and organizing our group viewing! Thanks to Professors Hawhee and Selzer for organizing the webinar series!

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Last night, a few us got together to discuss what RSRG will be up to this semester. We apologize for the scheduling conflicts for the Writing Studies folks, but we were happy to hear that there is a lot of interest in the group.

If you weren’t able to make the meeting, here are some notes from our meeting:

  • Philosophy behind RSRG:
    • a chance to develop as scholars; professional development; networking rhetoricians from across campus
  • Ideas:
    • Reading Group: student-centered but faculty participate; discuss readings but don’t feel like an extra class; informal and inclusive; pizza and treats!
    • Bring speaker to campus / to RSRG in Spring
    • Lyceum Brown Bag series: give students a chance to present research-in-progress (completed seminar papers, seminar papers in development, conference papers, dissertation research, etc.); informal; hold during lunch time?; one hour (10-15 minute presentations with Q&A); time for feedback, suggestions, and questions
  • Upcoming events:
    • First Reading Group meeting
      • Last week of November / first week of December?
      • Writing Studies folks curate readings
      • Look for Doodle poll for dates / times
    • First Lyceum Brown Bag meeting
      • First week of November?
      • NCA practice presentations?
      • Look for Doodle poll for dates / times
  • Midwest Winter Workshop
    • Productive, informal, and fun conference opportunity
    • Free, January 26th at Indiana University
    • Send abstract of a paper to discuss. Get great feedback from leading scholars in the field.
    • Deadline for abstract: November 1st  (see email for more details!)
    • Do it!

If you weren’t able to make the meeting, we would love to hear any and all ideas / feedback / questions you have about the group. Feel free to contact any of us below.

Rohini Singh:  

Paul McKean:

Katie Irwin: 

Thanks for sharing your insights!

Some #OWS Highlights:

• Theme of occupying, inhabiting, performing in public space. Cara: This is a movement about cities, centers of power. Action takes place in cities.

• Is this a movement? A meme? A protest?

•We are the the 99% blog: tension between individual faces and the collective. What is highlighted / missed? Can we identify with the faces? Rohini: Why can’t our students identify / empathize with the faces? Cara: Low tech images with high tech (web cams) media-highlights privilege.

• Ned: “We are the 99%” is an anti-class discourse. Universalizing, but also self-defeating- Ned: won’t confront real class issues. Arie: analogue to colorblindness, but for class. You can see people staking claims in terms of class status on the Tumblr site (“I am homeless and on food stamps” vs. “I am doing just fine”)

• Declaration of the Occupation: How does it fit the Declaration genre? Cara: this is more like the Declaration of Sentiments than Declaration of Independence.

• Is this movement about about creating a space for alternative to America? Ned: How can the movement free itself from the context of America? — Bercovitch.

• Courtney: Movement’s use of “Union-Speak” (i.e. solidarity). Vernacular speaks to a certain audience? Is that legitimizing or divisive?

• OWS vs. the Tea Party: (How) Will the movement gain effectual power in American politics? Or is it just a rejection of American political system (i.e. rebuking Democratic Party endorsements)

• Marie: Can our analytical tools as rhetoricians address this? What tools can we use?

• How can / will the movement evaluate “success”? Proliferation of OWS talking points in American politics (i.e. congressional committee hearings, etc.?)

• How can we engage our students on OWS / politics in general?

Ideas for future meetings:

-contemporary issues: perspectives on “Occupy Wallstreet;” presidential campaign, etc.

-topics: session on on rhetorics of “rogues and troll;” non-western rhetorics/ comparative rhetorics; regional rhetorics;

-journal-devoted sessions: for example, read 2 or 3 articles “representative” of what a particular journal does; let’s us learn more about what particular journals do, publish, etc

-guests: alumni, others


Discussion of the essays on human rights:

-CARA: RSQ a journal that intentionally ‘bridges’ communication and english; and ‘human rights’ is ‘hot’ right now

-Mark/Rohini: Royster essay connects “civil rights” to “human rights” rhetoric ; also opens up a clear international discourse with regard to “civil rights”;

-David: asks if we can apply of “human dignity” relatively fluidly to non-American, non-European peoples? More generally, others ask, what are the boundaries of “civil rights?” And what are the connections and/or differences b/t “civil rights” and “human rights”?

-General discussion about distinction b/t ‘witnessing’ and ‘testifying,’ or their conflation.

-Jillian asks about “regional bleedover” within the scholarship.

-Melissa: “feel good” nature of scholarship; ethics of scholarship–or ethical orientation of our scholarship.

-Peter discusses Patton’s quote: “As Eurocentric as is the human rights discourse in which such international collaborations do their work, when compared to the technocratic Western science whose statistical simulation of population is historically intertwined with a eugenicist impulse, the bricolage of interests assembled underneath the UN proclamations remain the most viable, or at least the most continuous, for creating the linkage that might begin to level the global health playing field (Said).” [254] Cara asks, “Can rhetoric scholarship account for the bricolage?”