Tuning in to Soundwriting

Resounding History: A Rhetoric of Sonic Historiography (in Two Parts)

by Jonathan W. Stone

Part 1: Sonic Rhetorical Methods: Writing About Writing About Sonic History

History in/is the Making

History is in the making. Literally. Unsurprisingly, that making has not just been of interest to professional historians, but also, over the last several decades, to those in rhetoric and writing studies. The reasons for this interest are more or less self-evident: Rhetoric and writing studies has complex histories and there are professional historians among us who study them. Indeed, the ongoing project of writing, rewriting, and revising rhetorical history has been of primary interest and importance in our field. But the actual process and study of composing history—what is referred to as historiography—also gets right at the heart of much of the work that rhetoric and writing studies scholars are engaged in. History, after all, is not the past, but instead is our composed interpretation of residual data and discourse collected from an always unrecoverable past. History is our best attempt to understand the past and its effects on current circumstances. Or, to put it slightly differently, history is a rhetorical construction of the past composed in order to understand, justify, and even create present circumstances and realities. It is literally a re-present-ation.

In fact, history's status as more rhetoric than reality is a circumstance and consequence of a not-so-distant scholarly turn—a kind of marker in the move from modern to more postmodern ways of thinking. The process of making and remaking the past into what we call "history" requires hundreds if not thousands of discursive rhetorical choices, each of which shape the received historical narrative. This process can lead to any number of conflicting histories written about the same event. But, unlike some Enlightenment thinkers who recognized (and lambasted) history's sweeping lack of empirical certainty, contemporary historians recognize and take advantage of history's primary rhetoricity. Indeed, Linda Ferreira-Buckley (1999) reminded us "that history was a division of rhetoric, and as such, its primary office was to persuade" (p. 579). But rhetoric's relationship with history need not undermine the latter's impact or even its accuracy. Uncertainty about the past is not an excuse for lack of research precision, and that value has inspired even greater attention to historiography (which is to say the methods and methodology of composing history), and it has also led to a reconsideration of what and who deserves our historical attention.2 2 There is a rich bibliography of work in rhetorical historiography to explore, but it is often useful to have a primary guide for that exploration. For this project, that text for me has been Michelle Ballif's (2013) edited collection Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. The contributors to Ballif's book surveyed and cited important past historiographical work, discussed current issues and developments, and provided suggestions for future work. For example, the history of the first "Octalog" panel at the 1998 Conference on College Composition and Communication is recounted there. The panel, which featured eight speakers, was called "The Politics of Historiography," and supplemented transcriptions of the talks appeared in Rhetoric Review (Murphy et al., 1988). Also of note is Victor J. Vitanza's (1994) collection Writing Histories of Rhetoric, which stems from the Octalog discussions. Indeed, Ballif's book is in many ways a sequel to the Vitanza collection. When you recognize that our historical record was largely produced by certain privileged demographics, it is not hard to see how much has been potentially left out.

While the above is a purposeful simplification of decades-long intellectual processes and hundreds of thousands of scholarly pages of historical publications (see how history works?), it describes a process that has arguably reverberated through all humanist disciplines and has been the genesis of some brand-new ones. As mentioned above, rhetoric and writing studies—a field with one foot stepping in the Western intellectual tradition and another in the livelier traces of various other streams—has responded to these changes in a number of positive ways. Recent decades have seen a reorienting away from the primacy of the Western rhetorical tradition in favor of the study of alternative rhetorical histories, literacies, and discursive practices. For this chapter in particular, reviewing the literature on feminist rhetorical historiography was important for the work I hoped to accomplish.3 3 See for example Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch's (2012) Feminist Rhetorical Practices; Eileen E. Schell and K. J. Rawson's (2010) collection Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies; the 2002 special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly titled "Feminist Historiography in Rhetoric," edited by Patricia Bizzell; Jacqueline Jones Royster's (2000) classic Traces of a Stream; and Cheryl Glenn's (1997) Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance.

I was a residual benefactor of this reorientation. As part of my graduate studies in the Center for Writing Studies (CWS) at the University of Illinois in Urbana–Champaign, I was brought into a scholarly environment where these previously "nontraditional" knowledge trajectories were already an integral part of the curriculum. Principles and methods taught and learned in classes emphasized multimodal writing, visual and digital rhetorics, ethnographic and feminist rhetorical practices, and disability, queer, and critical race studies. At Illinois, these topoi were an integral part of the training for learning what it meant to be a rhetorician and writing scholar, not an afterthought. I became interested in history—and particularly in alternative sites of rhetorical history—because I knew that the record of how rhetoric and writing studies worked in the world was incomplete. I landed on studying sonic rhetorics for two major reasons. The first is that I realized how profoundly sound, and especially music, had affected and influenced my own life, including the development of deeply held belief systems culled from settings as diverse as church and high school choirs, as a member of noisy garage bands, or at even noisier rock shows. These sonic experiences and countless others contributed to my personal identity construction and also encouraged cultural empathy as I learned to utilize the music I listened to as a portal to better understand the lives and experiences of others. Second, I noticed that while digital and visual rhetorics and histories were popular sites of inquiry in the field at the time (2009), sound was much less so.4 4 The history of sound's scholarly neglect has been addressed (and also disputed) in a number of places. For example, in his 1982 book Orality and Literacy, Walter J. Ong made a rather infamous attempt to prove that our lack of attention to sound's power and influence has left us intellectually and spiritually stunted. In The Audible Past, leading sound studies scholar Jonathan Sterne (2003) took on Ong directly, citing Augustine, Descartes, Derrida, and Heidegger (among others) to argue that sound has played a much more central role within the development of intellectual history than is generally acknowledged. In rhetoric and composition, Cynthia L. Selfe's (2009) groundbreaking College Composition and Communication article "The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing" ushered in a new era of sound-focused scholarship on writing. The same could be said about communication studies scholar Greg Goodale's (2011) Sonic Persuasion, which focused on the importance of sonic rhetorics to history, from presidential speech to the sound of race. That was the basic exigence and led to what has become my primary area of inquiry: the sonic rhetorics of folksong in the 1930s-era United States.

I take this roughshod trip through my life and all of recorded history to make a simple point: One's life, experiences, and interests are part of the historiographic process. When it shows up in published work, historiographical method doesn't usually delve quite so deeply into the personal, but I wanted to here because teachers and students in rhetoric and writing studies interested in historical work need a place to start. Starting personal in this way and continuing with personal experiences and insights will, I hope, communicate the idea that historical research is often a personal affair. Scholarship—traditional, sonic, digital, or what have you—most often starts (or at least is inspired) through exigencies that spring from a confluence of personal and professional experiences, and not in some other mystical way.

Airing this personal history and connecting it to the processes of history-making is also a way to give the reader a more explicit look at my authorial methods. In Barbara L'Eplattenier's (2009) College English piece, "An Argument for Archival Research Methods: Thinking Beyond Methodology," she underscored Gesa Kirsch and Patricia A. Sullivan's (1992) argument that methods are quite different from methodology. Whereas methodology often encompasses or represents a particular ideology or scholarly value system, methods are about accounting for processes. Quantifying that difference, L'Eplattenier argued at length for making historiographical methods more visible in our work as they are "[v]itally important to the development and construction of any research project" (p. 69). Further, methods are

the means by which we conduct our research, how we locate and use primary materials, and for historians, how we recover materials for our histories. Methods are about achieving access to information, about finding aids, about reference materials, about archive locations and restrictions, about the condition of the materials, about the existence of evidence or the lack of evidence, and about the triangulation of information—all the factors that impact our "systematic method of gathering evidence" and our interpretation of that evidence, our presentation of our revisionist histories…. 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. Methods make the invisible work of historical research visible. (p. 69)

Methods, then, are intimately related to making and are thus integral to understanding and participating in the historiographical process.

The balance of this essay is presented, then, as a list of methods-primers for teachers and students in rhetoric and writing studies interested in historical work in sonic archives. It is organized under three main subject areas: (1) Navigating Research in the Archive(s); (2) Sound Rhetorical Historiography; and (3) Working in the Sonic Archive. Within each section, there are numbered items with a brief guiding maxim accompanied by some advice on the processes that drive historical work, and by extension the composition of this very chapter that brings sound into the archival/historiographical mix. Building a rhetoric of sonic archival historiography requires some scaffolding, so while the section that explicitly takes up sound comes at the end, I hope readers will notice that most of the examples in each section comment on sound-related topics. By accounting for the methods that underscore archival and historical work first, readers will get a stronger sense of the ways that introducing sound into those more traditional processes creates new opportunities for the writer/rhetorician to engage in historiography, ways that are both reverberant and dissonant with those traditional processes. In the end, what I hope emerges is a legible—even audible—confluence between sonic historiographical methods and the larger values or methodologies of a feminist historiography. In other words, as researchers—students and teachers included—hone and nurture the methods that support their own scholarly voices, they will in turn attend more carefully to the voices of history they find in the archive. Working with sound makes attending to voice literal as well as rhetorical. Again, the following methods should be read as both general guidelines for doing rhetorical history, but also as an opportunity to listen in on my own process as I went about composing Part 2 of this chapter, the audio essay on Vera Hall.