I Don’t Need Cs

I have been told that I need Cs. I’ve been told that, as a graduate student in rhetoric and composition/writing studies, that the 4Cs is the threshold of access to a job after graduate school. I’ve been told that Cs is the only way to network successfully, demonstrate or continue one’s professionalization, and that Cs is where the most engaging conversations about research are happening in the field.

I am sure that those voices that told me this did so out of concern. Sitting across from me as I told them how I was planning on not attending, different faculty from different universities—friends and mentors alike—all said nearly the same thing: you need Cs. They say this all nearly in the same breath as they would say how graduate students are the discipline, shape the discipline, and determine the discipline’s future.

Here are the things that I need: I need an organization that is willing to own and act on their own problems, I need the people within an organization to hold themselves responsible for the actions of that organization and the bodies that the organization represents, I need an organization that concerns itself more with the well-being of those that it serves than the organization itself.

I don’t need Cs.

Here are more things that I need: I need a field that recognizes more ways of accessing and participating in its enterprise, I need a discipline that encourages and values multiple venues as much as it purports valuing multiple ways of knowing, I need a field that is willing to engage in inter/transdisciplinary work and is willing to find and create venues to do that.

I don’t need Cs.

Here are other things that I need: I need faculty that are mindful of how they are positioning graduate students, faculty that are willing to engage in collective action with their students and with each other, faculty that are willing to call out complicity more than they are willing to believe that problems cannot change or are too large for them.

I don’t need Cs.

When engaging a situation or an organization is toxic and violent, it comes time to leave.

I’m a graduate student who has only attended twice. My leaving will not be noticed, it will not create some grad avalanche, and it is not something that I wish to valorize. But as someone who bought into the only narrative I had access to (that I ‘needed’ Cs), I want to create another option and another story. And, as there are tactics in place to dismantle collective action, I want to call attention to the violences that have led to this decision.

To better address even fragments of the complexity surrounding recent events at the 4Cs, I’m including copies of the emails sent out to their members. Even if you are already familiar with these documents, I would encourage you to reread them with me. Further, what I’m assembling here is just a fragment of the institutional work happening at Cs. If this feels like it under-represents the work of the organization, perhaps we, as rhetoricians can engage the questions and problems of how this was communicated to the organization’s membership.

Text One: “Update on CCCC at Kansas City,” 8/28/2017 at 6:00pm. An email.

The Costs of Staying

If an organization wishes to demean legislation of being dehumanizing, it ought to look at the choices it is making as possibly guilty of the same. What we have presented in the first email is a simple equation: We might lose a chunk of the discretionary fund, have to cut back for a conference cycle, and lose possible revenue versus the risk of violence against members and possible member boycotts. But, as presented here, there are no costs of staying, only risks. The costs of staying, the trauma, the precarity, the violence against brown and black bodies is not a cost here—it is framed as a personal risk that members might choose to undertake (which also doesn’t necessarily account for the institutional pressures surrounding attending CCCC, the narrative of “needing CCCC.”).

We are asking members to pay for the conference both with their finances and with their lives.

Now, it might be easy to say “brown and black bodies are precariously located across the country—this is not a Missouri-isolated condition.”

Sure, but what if it’s not even about that? What if it’s about acknowledging the collective action made by persons whose bodies and lives this effects? What if this is about valuing the voices of people of color who have created a travel advisory?

Staying isn’t just “conferencing as usual” but it is white supremacy as usual. When we as an organized body with a mostly white EC and officer community—and a largely white field—decide that the financial costs, that would not situate our organization in a way that the threat of dissolving would be considered is greater than the cost of violence against its members, then let us make no mistake that this is white privilege and our collective benefiting from white supremacy.

Oh, and while we’re here, let’s talk about this representative from the NAACP. Which, before I begin, if you haven’t read Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included or Living a Feminist Life, you should. Mr. Pruitt has been very vocal in the state of Missouri and his work there instrumental to the national conversation surrounding the NAACP travel advisory. And his comments that are included addressed to the EC are valuable comments. But that is not what is being done here. It is an all too familiar tactic of hearing and including the voices that assent, to include the voices of people of color insofar as they do not disrupt the institution from which they are being ‘included.’

So, inasmuch as the NAACP is invoked here to look like color to appease a membership that may not have access to the complexities of the events or what dissenting voices are saying, this exercise is only another violence.

Text Two: “Decision on the 2018 CCCC Convention,” 9/11/2017 at 4:00pm. An email.

The Value of Color and Other Institutional Tactics

As part of  this year’s ‘transforming’ of the conference, the conference has expanded the Scholars for the Dream, which was designed to provide money for first time presenters of color to pay for travel and the cost of attendance. This is the first year that the scholarship has been expanded: doubling the number of recipients, raising the amount received to $1,000 per awardee, and allowing returning presenters to apply for the award.

This misguided, attempted band-aid, like the single narrative of “you need Cs,” is part of the way that institutions can destabilize ability to engage in collective action. And even the scarcest scrutiny, when weighed against the cost of leaving Cs shows how much the institution values its members of color.

Now of course, this minor expansion is not guaranteed to happen in future years and its money can come out of the discretionary fund.

To be clear, I am not against expanding the scholarship. Please do. But in the wake of attempts of scholars of color to organize boycotts, this tactic undermines collective action for those that may not have access to the information surrounding the organization’s activities.

Please tell me how this purchases security for brown and black bodies. Please tell me how this confronts the institutional racism that creates these conditions. Please tell me how this does not say that your color is worth $1,000 to us. Please tell me how you would spend $10,000 to not confront your own racism.

This is “conferencing as usual,” but with the airs of progress: a triumph of the white institution’s ‘turning to action’ in the face of racist legislation at the expense of its members of color. This conference will continue to be invested in its own interests and benefiting from white privilege. This conference will continue to project a field that is largely white and not challenge structurally the ways in which whiteness and race are embedded in our meetings or our practice.

What’s more is that the Executive Committee is now under nondisclosure agreements, after a measure made by Joyce Locke Carter, limiting the already scarce access that certain members have to the conversations that determine futures for our bodies and our discipline. As graduate students, newcomers to the field, or even long-time members of the field that are not privy to members of the EC, NDAs further disallow access to other narratives that allow us to challenge institutional practices.

Now, as someone less privy to these conversations, the best I can figure is that these nondisclosure agreements were instituted after the EC’s battle over a position statement on sexual conduct that started in its 2016 Houston conference, but before the current conversation surrounding its decision to stay in Kansas City, MO for its 2018 conference.

Nondisclosure agreements only attempt to define a barrier between the organization’s actions and the statements and discourse used by those whom it protects. After people said sexist, violent things in the EC committee over the sexual conduct statement, which could easily be traced back and affiliated with them, I can only imagine why there might be an impulse to institute nondisclosure agreements.

But let there be no mistake,  I am not disgusted with the fiction of an organization, I am disgusted with the members who have done this. We cannot hide behind the invisible wall of an organization: you. did. this.

The theme of the 2016 4Cs was activism, but as the EC and officer’s, like Joyce Locke Carter and Linda Adler-Kassner, demonstrated, that activism was only meant to be the convenient, low-stakes, low-cost, white liberalism variety whose investment in the incremental change of their own institution is threatened by disruption of those institutions from which they benefit. As we continue to hear that this conference will make activism its priority as an after-the-fact addition to the conference, I can only think it is the same ineffectual and self-congratulatory nod the organization’s members have been getting for years.

I cannot attend Cs. And I will not attend Cs for the foreseeable future. And I will continue to withdraw any affiliations with CCCC, NCTE, and its affiliate organizations from myself. The talk I was slated to give, “Safe Spaces, Queer Places, and the Labor of Sustained Attention,” was on the ways in which our students’ bodies and our own bodies are situated precariously and subject to institutional violence. I had hoped to encourage, through my talk, instructors to consider mobilizing our collective vulnerabilities to levy change. I will continue to make that claim—and I will do so in other venues, through my absence, and by attempting here to create another story than “You need Cs.”

I hope to meet and work with many of you in the future, and I hope we can strive together to create spaces of activism for this field and for productive change.

Thank you,


Notes: Rhea Estelle Lathan, Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955-1967

Lathan, Rhea E. (2015). Freedom writing: African American civil rights literacy activism 1955-1967. Urbana-Champagne, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication.


Logan considers the pedagogical and literacy acquisition strategies of African Americans of the Civil Rights Movement, locating histories in interviews both personally conducted and archive-located.

Keywords: social histories, literacy, rhetoric


“Finding redemption, for my purposes, is a means of explaining how deep cultural resources that develop in the church and spiritual life transfer to a secular context as intellectual and spiritual strategies that enhance literacy activism” (p. 24).

“Finding redemption is the overarching theme of gospel literacy. It’s a theoretical interpretive concept centered on recovery, a means of dispelling the myth of grassroots literacy acquisition and use as basic, simple, or mechanical” (p. 106).


One of the things that I’m struck by in this book is the “Memory itself can be considered composition” (p. 109). For Lathan (2015), memory can give “special attention to illogical, supernatural, spiritual, or otherwise unexplainable events” and “puts the unexpected, unpredictable incidents and directions of our lives into perspective” (p. 109). This allows for “making intuitive connections to articulate truth that cannot be directly spoken” (p. 109).

This made me think of Castiglia and Reed’s (2012) If Memory Serves about gay culture and the AIDS Crisis in which they discuss cultural imperatives to forget the ‘crisis’ and to cast the past in the light of sexual irresponsibility. Instead, they argue, a queer counter-memory would allow for the radical sexual potentialities without painting the past as utopian: rather, queer counter-memories allow for productive disruptions and imaginations within dominant cultures. This makes me think, too, of “the refusal to submit to the burdens of history” (Lathan, 2015 p. 25).

These two texts seem to tend to the ways in which memory can be a productive way to conceive of histories in that they encounter the rhetorical constraints and material conditions that surround ideas of remembering and forgetting—which is making me think of Enoch’s (2013) idea of feminist memory studies approaches as attending to scholarly inattentions and also the rhetorical act of forgetting.

We’ve read a lot this semester about encountering forgetting or recovery projects, but I’m not sure that we’ve talked so much about negotiating forgetting with power, which is something that I see this text trying to do by both highlighting how the subjects themselves were writing those negotiations within their daily lives but also how larger culture forgets these figures due to elements of power.

Notes: Josue D. Cisneros, The Border Crossed Us: Rhetorics of Borders, Citizenship, and Latina/o Identity.

Cisneros, Josue D. (2014). The border crossed us: Rhetorics of borders, citizenship, and Latina/o identity. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.


Cisneros argues that both registers of borders, the geographic and the civic, have historically defined citizenship in racialized terms, crossing and (re)crossing Latina/o communities. Cineros traces the use of vernacular performances of citizenship and border rhetorics throughout Latina/o rights struggles.

Keywords: rhetoric, social histories, history, borders, Latina/o


“[B]ecause they faced not only institutional barriers but also cultural and historical antagonism and outright persecution, the aliancistas deployed a tactical subjectivity as both citizen-subjects and noncitizen radicals. This border rhetoric oscillated between enacting citizenship through civil rights discourse and reformist appeals and performing a separate identity through ethno-nationalist discourse and radical activism” (p. 78).

“Vernacular enactments of citizenship are always momentary and confluent; vernaculars are neither wholly liberatory nor constraining but enact complex relationships of agency and identity” (p. 106).

“That border rhetorics and particular civic imaginaries are naturalized through rhetoric masks the fact that the border moves and materializes differently across space and time, that the borders of citizenship as they are conceived in any one space and time are unnatural” (p. 147).

“A backlash against identity and identity politics (on the right and the left) contributes to the difficulty of speaking of identity in concrete political terms and occludes the fact that identity is a reality of social location and part of a potential program for liberation and social change” (p. 152).


Cisneros, in many ways, does the kind of social history work that I would like to do. The work that he does highlights the rhetorical performances of Latina/o activists in key moments of Latina/o struggles for basic rights. He writes about how the Latina/o identity is constructed by coloniality  and deployed strategically in these moments he examines. Borders are material/social space of contestability and citizenship is performing belonging within bordered spaces: performing a racialized Latina/o identity in particular ways is performing as well as challenging that bordered space.

So I’m thinking a little about what citizenship means as an archive, as an archive of belonging and an archive of belongings. I’m finding this to be a productive metaphor for me to think through. I’m thinking about Enoch’s (2013) “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition” that suggested inquiry into how the archive does the rhetorical work of remembering, but also the work of forgetting. I’m wondering how this might be useful in thinking about citizenship as being constructed toward particular identity performances even as Cisneros (2014) notes Latina/o identity has been prevented from developing concrete identity terms. This could explain that inability to discuss “identity in concrete political terms” (p. 152).

But I’m also thinking about this in terms of Archive Fever and the anxiety that surrounds this archive. The dust. The dust as these contestations, right? So how is the archive constructed in such a way to mask the rhetorical work of that archive? Of sustaining citizenship. Of collecting dust of the same in the fear of ‘death.’ Borders as the materialization of these anxieties. How might Steedman’s treatment of Michelet’s fever of the dust that kills complicate that? I think she, in seeing everything in the archives as having no beginnings, but seeing them ‘in medias res’, could highlight some of the ways that borders are contested and how citizenship, far from essentialist, is shifting.

But this is just a metaphor to help me process some of this.

There are easy connections to some of the work that I’m doing myself, looking at queer activists between 1987-1990, where I can see similar rhetorical moves being made, where what does it mean to be an American citizen is contested, where there’s a move to develop concrete terms to discuss identity—to perform identity in particular ways to address needs of basic human rights. There are similar differences in performances by activists within ACT UP as performing radical activisms and other LGBTQ activist organizations who wish to perform activist activity framed heavily in ‘civil disobedience’ discourses that heavily appeal to the dominant culture’s sensibilities of what it means to be a citizen.

My Long View is Broken. No Hope, No Answers, No Answerability.

I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope goes to die—maybe not die, maybe where I realize that hope is so thin that fluorescent lighting can pierce it. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope mixes between students and faculty and staff and the air vents that never turn off and the shivers that run down your spine because it’s hot outside in September and the sweat meets the bone in the cold. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse where I’m surrounded by white walls and neutral blues, staring at some rainbow pins and a pin with Judith Butler’s face on it that ask me to believe—to hope in the work that I’m doing, in survival, that the world won’t be flooded (but global warming and it’s hot outside in September). I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse—

I spend a lot of time in the basement.

And I’m talking with a new friend, and we’re talking about how our minds are elsewhere, about how we’re checked out of this PhD work project that we’re both involved in and he says to me “My long-term view operating system is busted” and I can hear it in my own heart that same beat that I didn’t download that patch either.

And I say yes, yes there’s a certain amount of irrelevance to the work that we do. When I can’t see the future, when I can’t see the long view that this academic project is, when hope isn’t, what is teaching, what is research, what is the doing of being here when here is always out of reach in this academic enterprise?

Our work has no answers. It shouldn’t. But what are we doing if we aren’t answering to? Or what is it that we are answering to? What answerability does our work have? What hope can we have—and for what can we have hope–when we do not answer to?

At least 21 trans lives have been taken in 2017. Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, JoJo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen, Jaquarius Holland, Alphonza Watson, Chay Reed, Kenneth Bostick, Sharrell Faulkner, Kenne McFadden, Kendra Marie Adams, Ava Le’Ray Barrin, Ebony Morgan, TeeTee Dangerfield, Gwynevere River Song, Kiwi Herring, Kashmire Nazier Redd, Derricka Banner, Ally Steinfeld. But I’ve wrote smart things.

What haunts our work? Are the ghosts of lives that we lose what sustains the answers we look at?

How does our work answer to our presence? Our absence?

Notes: Linda Ferreira-Buckley, “Archivists with an Attitude: Rescuing the Archives from Foucault”

Ferreira-Buckley, Linda. (1999). Archivists with an attitude: Rescuing the archives from Foucault. NCTE 61(5), 577-583.


Ferreira-Buckley argues that rhetoric and composition, having a deep history of training in theories of history writing from literature, lacks training as a discipline in the standard methods of historians. Ferreira-Buckley contends that rhetoric and compostion needs to develop standard and deep practices with the archives in order to address this.

Keywords: archives, disciplinarity, histories of rhetoric, methodology


“I want to insist that traditional methodology, far from being incompatible with a progressive politics, is in fact the best agent of change” (582).

“Theoretical sophistication does not obviate the need for practical training. We lack the tools of the historians’ trade; familiar with only the most obvious granting agencies, we cannot secure the money needed to carry out research agendas that are both deep and broad” (582).


This strikes me as a text that is calling for the discipline to define its expertise, or shore it up, as much as it is calling for a deeper understanding of archival practices. She opens pointing to what may be a deep rift in rhetoric and composition/writing studies’s history: its connection and histories with literature. And later in the text brings up issues of funding research enterprises, which seems a symptom of that rift.

At the same time, the point that the discipline needs to take seriously the practices of the methodologies it takes up is one that needs making and reminding. The call is important to attend to methods carefully, to instruct in them carefully, and to represent them thoroughly.

I find it, perhaps, especially compelling that she writes, “I believe fully the truism that even historians who deny theory operate nonetheless from a theory” (p. 577). Though, I suppose that’s on my mind after my reading of Gaillet’s text. Ultimately, it is important here though to note that she discusses practice in a way that is not separable from the theories that operate within it, but that one nonetheless needs to develop an understanding of practice as a part of that. I’m not sure if it is because the time since then, or my own disposition, but all of this seems—is nonissue or obvious the right word?

I come to a sticking point around the emphasis of ‘traditional methodologies.’ Traditional methodologies, I have no doubt, can be agents of change—and by all means should—but I’m dubious of the suggestion that the privileged methods are the means, in the name of expertise, should be naturalized or given the superlative of ‘best’ in her concluding paragraph. For one, it seems arhetorical: best for who, in what context, to what ends—one’s methodology need not stop at one’s theory, but in the interpolation between one’s theory and one’s methods, which will occur in particular contexts.

And, perhaps simply: research is messy. Becky Rickly writes in “Making Sense of Making Knowledge” of the need for “our field become a little more comfortable with what Law refers to as the ‘messiness’ of research” (p. 266). Rickly argues that “we need to situate our methods (and our application/analysis) so that they help us understand more complicated research scenarios and questions” (p. 262). And histories and archival works are certainly messy, certainly complicated, and need methods to be situated as such.

While I understand the need for expertise as well, I’m not sure that it needs uncritically reinforced. Disciplinarity disciplines at the same time as it offers material conditions that allow for meaning making, such as funding, graduate programs, and tenure lines. Jack Halberstam writes in The Queer Art of Failure:

Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant. The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production around which I would like to map a few detours. Indeed terms like serious and rigorous tend to be code words, in academia as well as other contexts, for disciplinary correctness; they signal a form of training and learning that confirms what is already known according to approved methods of knowing, but they do not allow for visionary insights or flights of fancy (p. 6)

I mention this because it interrogates the assumption that the traditional modes of doing knowledge production are the best means of doing so, in some sense by asking the questions “best for who?” and also by asking “what is meant by best?”

Developing practical knowledge is important, but that practice is always situated and a rhetorical education of methods needs the work of situating to be explicit and as much a part of the research design as any other part of a method.

Notes: Lynée Lewis Gaillet, “Archival Survival: Navigating Historical Research”

Gaillet, Lynée L. (2010). Archival survival: Navigating historical research. In Ramsey, Alexis E.,  Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo (Eds.), Working in the archives: Practical research methods for rhetoric and composition, 28-38. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.


Gaillet offers practical considerations of archival research in response to, and as a part of a collection edited by, L’Eplattenier’s concerns about the lack of practice-oriented texts for novice and experienced archival researchers. Gaillet addresses means of preparing, accessing, and coming to working with archival materials, as well as how to put these materials within the context of one’s research. Gaillet positions archival work both within the work of histories as a function of rhetoric and composition/writing studies.

Keywords: archives, historiography, histories of rhetoric, methodology


“Recovery and revision historiographical theory in rhet/comp argues that the researcher becomes a part of the project—a participant whose ethos is evident in his or her research” (p. 36).


I suppose one thing I’m thinking of, reading this, is how practical does something need to be to be practical? Gaillet mentions many factors that bind archival work to be project or archive-determined/specific, but offers a great deal of thoughtful considerations for working with archives. Is this text putting forth the phronesis or the techne of working with archives? What is this article doing with doing in archives? I’m wanting something here that I’m not so sure that I can put my finger on precisely. I suppose what I’m wanting is something to anchor the advice offered: to walk through an archival project with her, for this to put together its archival reflections in experiencing and learning from the work, or to construct the methods section that L’Eplattenier’s earlier article calls for. I suppose this is somewhat of a minor thing in the grand scheme, because the text offers a fantastic way to consider many of the considerations of doing archival work. But if the method is contingent upon access to the archive, or if the means of coding and organizing data are always difficult for researchers to consider, or if one’s ethos is indeed evident and participant within the research, seeing that, or in some sense doing that alongside her, situates the advice and could provide entry points into other considerations/issues/hooks in archival work.

I’m also thinking of the work that Jody Shipka has recently started asking what an archive is and who gets to determine what counts as an archive. I realize that these questions are beyond the scope of this particular piece, but they come to mind as I’m reading this, particularly when I’m thinking about her discussion of accessing an archive, the materiality of archives, and how one’s ethos participates and is evident in archival research. And if I hold these questions against Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes’s “Queer Rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive” and Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self“, or Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects, the questions become richer for me to think about and perhaps even more vexing. Admed writes about tracing the figure of the willful child as she appears, willfully resisting her being contained in many ways: her work is in creating this archive for the willful child, or allowing her to figure herself in something we might call an archive (if the point is that the part might not want to reproduce the whole, than an archive of willfulness might not be an archive at all). Rhodes and Alexander write in “Queer rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive”:

“Once queer subjects begin to speak…” With what do they speak? … in the tongue we find a robust metonym of our struggle, our critique, our possibility. The queer tongue, long denied its utterances, long disciplined by legislation and normalization, long in the making of critique and the construction of queer identities, of queer particularities, of queer taste. The tongue contains our histories, and our possibilities. We have variously been tongue tied and twisted. We have bitten our tongues, but also gestured tongue-in-cheek through camp, spoken in the tongues of innuendo and insinuation, longed for a mother tongue, a tongue untied, and found just as often the tongue bath, the deep-throated kissing that articulates the desires of the body in its annunciation of alternatives to your lives, your limited languages. We are these tongues, so many tongues, speaking, depressed, suppressed, repressed, but still expressed in the plays of power that twist and bite, but also lick and delight. We reserve our right to be mouthy, to spit, to eat fire, to do things that we are not supposed to do with our mouths and tongues.

What might be an archive of tongues or that are (em)bodied, or archives of activity, that are distributed, that move (to follow Morris’s “Archival Queer”). I ask these not as criticisms, but just as things that I’m thinking about. Personally, I’m wanting to look at the late 80’s and early 90’s LGBT activism, to listen to queerness inventing (itself, possibilities, criticisms, futures, lives), how these activists used their tongues and their (em)bodied action to inscribe and be inscribed, to trace a queer rhetorical history in the face of its silencing and the violences against using their bodies.


I need to ask these methodological questions before I come to the steps that Gaillet might put forward. How and what I approach as an archive participates in the histories that come from that research, holds some bodies and voices—Rhodes and Alexander ask “With what do they speak?”—and silences others: this is a question of access, but it is also a question of the work of the archive as much as it is a question of archival work.

I suppose this long aside is just to say that I want a discussion of practice or of doing to attend to the complexities of the work. Such a thing need not be overwhelmingly theoretical, but these things are always operating together: to not address the underlying thought or experience of working in the archive leaves its essential questions. But again, the text is a wonderful foundation, I don’t mean this to be at all a criticism. Thinking alongside the text and having questions about archival work is heavily framing my reading of it.

Notes: Barbara E. L’Eplattenier, “An Argument for Archival Research Methods: Thinking Beyond Methodology”

L’Eplattenier, Barbara E. (2009). An argument for archival research methods: Thinking beyond methodology. College English, 72(1), p. 67-79.


L’Eplattenier is responding in the text to the need for the discipline of rhetoric and composition/writing studies to develop practical understandings of how to do archival work. L’Eplattenier notes that the methods employed may often be too specific toward particular projects and archives, but encourages thoughtfully articulating thorough methods sections to create incremental disciplinary understandings of archival work that may allow for more generalizing.

Keywords: Archives, historiography, histories of rhetoric, methodology


“Finally, because archival historical work is often so unique—each archive, each situation, each study is different, with different resources, different access, different constraints—generalizing about archival work can be difficult, especially for the individual researcher” (p. 68).

“A good methods section, however we construct it, offers us details regarding the circumstances of the research and pulls back the curtain on work done. It lets us see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. It is a pedagogical model to show our students—a way to familiarize ourselves with how to ‘do’ histories” (p. 72).


As terms that often become vexed, fraught, or problematically reduced, I appreciated L’Eplattenier giving a clear differentiation between method and methodology. She writes, “Just as methodology allows us to theorize the goals of our research, methods allow us to contextualize the research process or the researched subject and materials” (p. 69). I was reminded of something that Derek said after our think-tank session at Cs this passed year on the middle ground between method and methodology, when he said, “Something we call methodology might travel by the name of theory. Something we call method might travel by the name of practice.” It seems important to L’Eplattenier’s central concern in the piece to do some of this differentiation. The importance of this differentiation allows for research to be engaged with by not only novices, but other audiences with each project more fully.

Her discussion of the work that a methods section does seems important across research methods, as they allow for interrogation of the work and allow for a conversation about how knowledge is produced disciplinarily. She writes,

An actual methods section shows us the cracks, fissures, and gaps to allow us to see the construction. It allows us to more clearly point out our blind spots, our areas we didn’t realize we could research, our awareness of the fragmentary nature of archival work. If all histories are constructions, then a methods section allows us to see the building blocks of that construction. We can see which section of the foundation is strong or weak, where we can build a wing, where we can add a door (p. 74).

This in some ways reminds me a bit of a hauntology that leaves a certain openness for others to enter into and the work that hauntology does to interrogate histories as constructed, but on a different scale and talking about a different relationship. Rather than discussing the relationship between researcher and subject, L’Eplattenier discusses the relationship between the researcher, audience, and future researchers.

Provenance also seems like a compelling means to discuss the representation of evidence that speaks to the work of doing history. She writes, “By positioning the transcript with other documents and stating the difficulties with it, we did not accidentally misrepresent it or what we learned from it” (p. 73). This speaks to some of the ways that research design can be accomplished, but also makes as visible as one perhaps can the means by which a history is constructed.