Notes: Nicole H. Gray, “Recording the Sounds of ‘Word Burns’: Reproductions of Public Discourse in Abolitionist Journalism”

Gray, Nicole H. (2011). Recording the sounds of ‘word burns’: Reproductions of public discourse in abolitionist journalism. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 41(4): 363-386.

Summary:

Gray highlights the use of phonography, a speech recording technology in which a writer uses a phonetic alphabet, constructs reports of abolitionist speech events, that the construction of the phonographer as accurate operated as a rhetorical tactic.

Keywords: history, historiography, social histories

Quotations:

“Ultimately, the reader was presented with a text that incorporated a self-verifying apparatus, in that it could represent itself as transparent, objective, a ‘deguerrotype’ of an event, removing the necessity for interpretation, and thereby facilitating informed identification” (p. 384).

Reflection:

Gray’s work with the phonographic reporting to interrogate the role of the phonographer as creator that expands representation to the audience interaction is smart work. Gray traces the phonographic report through its uses with the abolitionist presses and how the phonographer was utilized rhetorically to undermine arguments of pro-slavery presses. Gray notes the way the aurality of the speeches plays a part in constructing the presence of the event itself and creates moments of interpretation for the phonographer representing the noise of the audience members.

It’s helpful to read this, and other examples, before setting out to do social histories work. Getting a sense for what the scope of a social histories project and how others are incorporating the source material into the text. It makes sense, in this case, just how a close of a reading is being performed on the source material, given that Gray is discussing how the phonographers represent the speech event, in which case seeing the source material as best we can helps follow along with her claims.

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