Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947
Southern Illinois University Press, 2008
2010 Outstanding Book Award, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Rhetoric at the Margins depicts the rhetorical education of African American, female, and working-class college students in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Questioning the assumption that innovation filters down from elite institutions and that conservative pedagogical practices entail conservative ideologies, this work examines three institutions underrepresented in disciplinary historiesa black liberal arts college, a public women's university, and an independent teacher training schoolarguing that each championed alternative intellectual and pedagogical traditions crucial to understanding the development of rhetoric and composition history.
At Wiley College, poet and civil rights activist Melvin Tolson combined African American and classical rhetoric to produce a critical pedagogy that honored students' home voices and fostered political action. At Texas Woman's University, gender-based vocational education served progressive ends; unlike their peers at many contemporary women's colleges, students were encouraged to participate in public discourse as both speakers and writers. At East Texas Normal College, founder William Mayo saw grammar instruction as liberatory and debate as the foundation for democracy, requiring all his students, both male and female, to write and deliver a public oration each term.
These rich case studies complement and challenge previous disciplinary histories and suggest that the epistemological schema that we have long applied to pedagogical practices may actually limit our understanding of those practices. This work makes a further contribution to methodological practices in rhetoric and composition history by encouraging scholars to theorize the local; resist easy binaries, taxonomies, and master narratives; and recognize a more fluid interaction between ideology and pedagogy.
Rhetoric at the Margins not only offers a more comprehensive accounting of the richness and diversity of rhetorical practices in American colleges but speaks to the challenges we face as humanities teachers, no matter what our field. The schools in this study, by forging strong community ties, developing locally responsive curricula, and addressing the professional concerns of their students, offer lessons for integrating the contemporary university into community life and convincing the citizens we serve of the value of humanistic inquiry.