by Emily Legg, Purdue University
What we choose to showcase depends materially on where on the landscape we stand and what we have in mind. The imperative is to recognize that the process of showcasing space is an interpretive one, one that acknowledges a view and often re-scopes that view in light of aesthetic sensibilities—values, preferences, beliefs.
-Jacqueline Jones Royster, “Disciplinary Landscaping, or Contemporary History of Rhetoric”
I open with a conversation lead by Jacqueline Jones Royster to strongly emphasize a point: The disciplinary history of Rhetoric and Composition is indeed landscaped. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The historically canonical Origins of Compositions Studies in American College, 1875-1925, edited by John C Brereton, carefully prunes the history of rhetoric and composition through Harvard’s composition program and textbooks used to stake a claim on the discipline’s history—a claim that isn’t often (easily) contested. We read and are told that it was Harvard that developed the first composition program and that it became standard as other “competing” models faded out to make way for the practical application of the Current-Traditionalists. This is what the landscape looks like if we leave other pathways undiscussed. This isn’t to say that Brereton’s text is not uninformed or any less influential; however, Brereton’s focus on Harvard is indeed limited—just as any landscape becomes bounded by the materiality of the space. He distinctly focuses on northeastern schools and leaves out other models and educational experiences that could expand our understanding of writing instruction and create a more nuanced history of the nineteenth century. Even more specifically, he lacks any discussion of the numerous women’s colleges that were established over a vast area of the eastern United States during that time as well. This rhetorical history, left undiscussed, only serves to re-emphasize the point that, as Royster explains, “Western rhetorics, at least the legacies of them that we have inherited through scholarship, are demonstrably dominated by elite male viewpoints and experiences” (Royster 149). I emphasize the point here that these other rhetorical histories are left undiscussed to underline the notion that calling them the “alternate histories” only serves to draw attention to the norming of a male-centric history that has been handed down in Rhetoric and Composition since the ancient Greeks and Romans. As Royster explains, “With disciplinary habit that often feel natural rather than constructed, we have developed and used interpretive frames that have accounted for this limited point of view” (165). However, by looking toward these undiscussed histories of Rhetoric and Composition, I hope to take up Royster’s call for a re-landscaping of the discipline that will open up our limited point of view and begin discussing what has previously been left undiscussed. What better way to do that than to visually re-shape this landscape by mapping out the networks of female seminaries during the 19th century through an interactive map.
What I aim to do is to create a set of data visualizations to help us actually visualize this disciplinary landscape and trace the influences between and across institutions of education. Originally, my research goals were to map out and trace the educational backgrounds of the rhetoric and composition instructors at Mount Holyoke, a female seminary that served as a model for many other seminaries, during the nineteenth century. What I was hoping to see what the visualized network of influences that these teachers may have brought with them. However, as some research tends to go, what I found out is, as I have previously discuss, is that the teachers that I have information on all were students at the seminary originally and stayed on to teach for most of their careers until they resigned or married. I am currently working toward researching each of these teachers to see if they continued on elsewhere after they taught at Mount Holyoke, but these data sets are not readily available.
What is available is a on-going process of digital researching–the makings of data sets tied to the histories of Rhetoric and Composition. Our disciplinary landscape is no longer confined to the materiality of archival research. While the physical archives still remain an invaluable source, access to these archives is often restricted simply based on geographical distance and funding. Once you are in these archives, searching through them becomes a tedious and very briefly rewarding task in a few sporadic moments. However, due to such large-scale projects in digitizing texts, such as Google Books, our searchable landscape is more widely acceptable and no longer tied to material constraints and issues with material accessibility. In this way, landscaping through these digital histories creates a methodology that lends itself to a comparative model of analysis. With this project, I have been able to search through a number of texts and start compiling data sets that are based on several textual examples including several of Mount Holyoke’s catalogues as well as histories of the seminary that were published early in the 20th century by former students. All of these have ended up in Google Books. This has turned up invaluable research as well as provided a method to do this sort of comparative analysis through the use of multiple search terms, variations of names, and side-by-side analysis of other programs, such as Harvard’s. In this way, our grasp of “primary” texts lets us build up a history that is not filtered through previously constructed histories and past, male-centric landscapes.
The work that I have done so far hints at a wide network of influence shared amongst women’s colleges and higher education. Originally, I have decided to start by mapping out the female colleges and seminaries that were founded during the nineteenth century to see if there is a pattern based on the date and locations of the colleges. In the Google Map below that I created, you can see that there does seem to be some clustering based on location and dates of establishment (Follow the link to see the complete map and legend). While the map only shows schools established through the 1870s, my goal is to eventually continue updating this map as more research reveals more schools founded during this time since so far, this list seems to be far from complete. However, when it comes to visualizations, Google Maps isn’t cutting it for me. It lacks the movement and the visualization of networks. After reading through Lima, my notion of map making might be be represented even as something more abstract if it is to remain stationary. But if I were to add movement, the literal map as a base might be quite effective if there were a way to scroll through a timeline to see the movement and spread of these seminaries.
View 19th Century Women’s Colleges in the US in a larger map