Historiography

Response to:

  • Berlin, “Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric”
  • Cruikshank, “Oral History, Narrative Strategies,…”
  • De Certeau, Preface & Introduction from The Writing of History
  • Foucault, Introduction from The Archaeology of Knowledge
  • Oravec & Salvador, “The Duality of Rhetoric”
  • White, Chapter 1 from The Content of the Form

I’ve attempted to organize my thoughts this week in terms of what each writer seems to be doing; that is, my way of seeing threads between each work, hoping to locate common methodologies, and presenting a few questions that I found myself asking while I read.

In “Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric,” Berlin presents me an overview of the way rhetorical history has been positioned, that is, the way traditionalist accounts of rhetoric have emphasized Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintillian, Augustine, a so-called “gap” until the Reniassance when Aristotle, Quintillian, and Cicero are once again revived. Berlin interrogates this traditionalist view of rhetorical history. His description of these powerful figures of Greece and Rome – who in their interests of that power were enemies of democracy and sought to protect the elite however possible – puts this traditionalist view into question. I found it incredibly interesting that the Sophists, according to Berlin, “supported radical democracy in social, economic, and political arrangements” (114). The fact that the Sophists have been continuously denounced, or at least not given nearly the same attention as Plato and Aristotle, is just one example of the way that one influential group of thinkers have been consumed by narratives that have selected the most powerful fragments of history in the best interest of the powerful. To me, the most powerful part of Berlin’s article is that all history is rhetorical and that there is a plurality of rhetorics—this theme I found threaded into the work of all authors this week.

I choose to reflect on de Certeau and Foucault in the same paragraph here, not to assert that they have similar ideas, but I do think that their writing has a similar energy, a similar rhetorical thrust, and a style that is distinctly separate from the other writers this week. I found their writing challenging and dense, but their ideas of course present many opportunities for us to discuss approaches to historiography. I am interested in Foucault’s discussion of history as creating a path for the document:

“The document is not the fortunate tool of a history that is primarily and fundamentally memory; history is one way in which a society recognizes and develops a mass of documentation with which it is inextricably linked.”

I want to learn more about how history can be one way that society recognizes and develops a conversation among people, narratives, oral history, objects, and documents—and together form an inextricably linked story that accounts for the choices made in developing that story, the choices not made, and those who are not part of that story.

Cruikshank’s “Oral History, Narrative Strategies” was incredibly interesting to me—as I read, could see both importance of documenting oral history and the need for creating a location for spaces that encourage the unexpected, the nonlinear, and the fragmented nature or oral history narratives. In making the case for oral history narrative as methodology, I especially enjoyed Cruikshank’s resistance to oral history as “archive” – “They challenge the authority of institutions like archives or courts without conceding complete relativism” (23). Instead, an emphasis on spaces for those narratives –locations for conversation with the aid of objects to evoke memory– as opposed to the archive is fascinating to me. The majority of a historian’s work has traditionally involved a distance from the history written (time, place, cultural distance), which is indeed an issue, but the creation of a space for dialogue does much more than create an opportunity for gathering oral history narratives. To me, this space encourages conversation, a process of learning about each other and those who we’re writing our history about; actively engaging in dialogue with the narratives is absolutely vital for the historian, historiographer, rhetorician to learn something.

Notes from class