“Octalog II: The (Continuing) Politics of Historiography.” Rhetoric Review 16.1 (Fall 1997): 22-44.


Overview: Taking place ten years after the first octalog, the second octalog reflects significant changes in the study of rhetoric and historical research in the field over the course of a decade. The published version of the second octalog is slightly different than the first, featuring a forward from Richard Enos followed by longer statements from each panel participant and then a response from Thomas Miller.

Janet M. Atwill, “Changing the Puzzle”: In her statement, Atwill addresses the challenges of the interdisciplinarity that often accompanies historical research. Atwill touches not only on the differing methodological demands that appear across disciplines, but also the “unfriendly gatekeepers” whose enforcement of rigid disciplinary boundaries can make attempts to cross these bounds difficult. She also wonders what it means to cross disciplinary boundaries and challenges traditional methodologies without losing sight of one’s whole self–not just as a person aligned with particular discipline, but as an embodied person in the world. Atwill connects these interdisciplinary challenges to a feminist critique of the traditional structure of academic disciplines, arguing that while we must play “by the rules” to some extent in order to continue doing our work, we also need to pose a continual challenge to rigid traditional disciplinary boundaries.

“I have submitted to the conventions of a patriarchal discipline, but I have tried to use those conventions to raise as much hell as possible.” (25)

Linda Ferreira-Buckley, “Serving Time in the Archives”: Ferreira-Buckley’s statement is a call for increased reliance on primary sources in historical research. She calls for more time in the archives and for more “thick descriptions” of the resources available in these archives. In asking why the discipline has been reluctant to engage the vast array of primary, archival materials available, Ferreira-Buckley suggests that the problem emerges from a lack of training in traditional research methods, lack of funding for these kinds of research projects, and a reluctance to engage the slow, pain-staking methods involved in archival work, primarily because of the rush to publish.

Cheryl Glenn, “Regendering the Rhetorical Tradition”: Beginning at what was a major point of emphasis in the first octalog–the idea that rhetorical history is never neutral–Glenn argues for the political necessity of “regendering” the rhetorical canon, or of actively challenging the masculine bias of the traditional rhetorical canon by including work from more female rhetors. Glenn argues that regendering the canon means acknowledging gender as “an inclusive and nonhierarchical category of analysis” for thinking about a range of rhetorical performances, as well as the participation of women within rhetoric and their contributions to our understanding of the field.

“Gender studies is vital to our work, but it is the regendering that unsettles stable gender categories and enacts a promise that rhetorical history will be a continuous process of investigating the works of women and men rather than a final product that can be finally or universally represented.” (29)

Janice Lauer, “Storiography and Rhetoric and Composition”: Lauer’s statement raises the challenge of bringing theory and practice together in historical research. Too often, she argues, stated disciplinary beliefs in the idea that histories are only ever partial or in the importance of multiple voices do not align with the way that certain histories have been treated as “master narratives” of the discipline or the habit of “name dropping” particular scholars who have come to represent these master narratives. Lauer calls for a more reflective narrative practice in historical writing that is dedicated to making sure that the historical work we do is in line with the progressive disciplinary values we espouse.

Roxanne Mountford, “Where It Has Not Been Found: Definitions, Border Disputes, Future Directions”: Mountford begins with a return to Richard Enos’ call in the first octalog to “dirty our hands” with more archeological research methods. Mountford argues that the discipline has not done much in the decade that has elapsed since the first octalog to expand its research methods, leading younger scholars in the field to go outside the discipline for examples of this work. Arguing for the necessity of this creative research, Mountford argues that the scholars in the field need to think more deeply about how to prepare new scholars to do the kind of cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural work that has the potential to expand and enliven the discipline.

“At a time when the polis is increasingly in need of rhetorical exploration, we must risk looking for rhetoric beyond narrow disciplinary interests–to look for rhetoric where it has not been found.” (34)

Jasper Neel, “What ‘I’ Can Do to Socrates: The Fictions of Rhetoric”: Neel’s statement implicitly connects the contemporary work of composition and rhetoric scholars with what Isocrates described as the work of the “logologist.” Described as one who seeks out those with the (material) ability to be educated in theory and language, the logologist helps to create and maintain a social dynamic in which the development of highly sophisticated discursive practices as the height of cultivation, which is then sought by everyone who can afford it. The overarching point of Neel’s description of the logologist is to remind us the the political nature of our work in the field–a kind of political work that operates not just on the level of abstraction but that bears itself out in the very material reality of our lives.

Edward Schiappa, “The Historian as Arguer”: Schiappa’s statement, like earlier statements, begins with an idea that emerged from the first octalog–the notion of history as a rhetorical enterprise. Schiappa argues that the idea of history as rhetorical does not mean that histories are radically relative accounts that merely reflect the historian’s standpoint, and instead suggests that we can use rhetorical analysis to judge the relative success or failure of various histories. More specifically, Schiappa encourages us to think about the first (author), second (audience), and third (those marginalized by a text) personae of every history as a way of rhetorically analyzing the aims, needs, and assumptions that undergird historical work.

Kathleen Ethel Welch, “Historiography of Technology and Gender in Rhetoric: Rhetorical HUTS, Logos-Users, and Neosophistic Performance”: Welch encourages the discipline to rethink our assumptions about literacy tools, arguing specifically that we need to start thinking about television as a dominant literacy tool in contemporary Western culture. Building on this argument, she also contends that we need to keep the construction of gender in mind whenever we work to contextualize technology. For Welch, these moves are not only a means of challenging a traditional logos-centric model of rhetoric, but they also present the possibility of revitalizing the humanities by making humanistic inquiry more relevant to contemporary life.