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In 1996, Lisa Ede and Cheryl Glenn began imagining a conference that would bring together rhetorical and feminist scholars, groups that heretofore had not had much to do with one another. There were feminists aplenty among rhetoricians, but feminists across other disciplines seemed reluctant to cross the border into rhetoric. Lisa and Cheryl aimed to begin some cross-disciplinary conversations, and so they invited two keynote speakers: Jackie Royster from rhetoric and writing studies and feminist philosopher Nancy Tuana. We all gathered in Corvallis in late August 1997, excited and expectant.
The conference more than lived up to expectations, and by the time the first day of the meeting concluded, people were asking Lisa and Cheryl when the next conference would be. Since they had only planned a one-time conference, they had no answers to this question—but conference goers soon took matters into their own hands, and Lillian Bridwell Bowles and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota volunteered to hold the next “fem/rhets” conference, as it came to be called, two years from then, in 1999.
The conference was soon “adopted” by the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, a fairly new organization at the time (founded in 1989)—and it has been held every other year since 1997 (in 2013 my colleagues at Stanford and I had the great pleasure of hosting the conference). I’ve attended most of the fourteen conferences, and I was determined to make this year’s, especially because it was being held at Spelman. And indeed, I made it there for the second and third days of the conference, and I came away impressed and inspired by the scholarly projects I heard described. In fact, I wished that every teacher of writing and rhetoric I know could have been there with me!
One panel, "Counter Storytelling: A Feminist Antiracist Approach to Dismantle Colonial Archival Logics," interrogated the archival logic at work in how and what we (are allowed to) remember, reminding us that archives are constructs, constructs that have great power and arguing that we and our students need to examine archives with this fact of life in mind, and to “re-story” archival records when necessary. Another panel on Rhetorical Consent and the Foregrounding of Intimacy in Qualitative Research asked us to reconsider the relationship between researcher and “subjects,” and to work toward a more capacious theory that would acknowledge and honor the “intimacy” that characterizes some of the best qualitative research studies.
Yet another took a new look at the rhetorical canons of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery: Efe Plange demonstrated the ways in which a group of Ghanian feminists used invention in satirical and humorous ways to flip the script on all-male panels devoted to women’s issues; Sarah Flores looked at arrangement through the lens of the Mexican Cookbook for the American Home; Jordynn Jack reimagined style as she argued that weaving and not embroidery is the key textile. In embroidery, the stitches are added on to a fabric, but in weaving the pattern is woven in from the beginning to the end; it is evident from planning through completion and thus captures the rhetorical nature of “style” much better than embroidery ever could. Jessica Enoch examined feminist approaches to public memory studies and called for “commemorative accountability”; and Britt Starr explored the ways in which social media platforms both liberate and constrain young feminist activists’ access to systems of delivery (especially TikTok) today.
Finally, a roundtable discussion on community-led digital archives featured descriptions of the Digital Transgender Archive (K.J. Rawson) as well as reports on Black ooral history projects (Rachel l McIntosh) and the Digital Archive of Indigenous Languages (Ellen Cushman), all of them tremendously important—and exciting. I came away from this conference thinking about how these and other sessions offered so many ideas for rethinking how we teach research and just what a “research” project can be.
What a joy it is to introduce students to such a more broad and inclusive vision of research—and to show them how such research can and should be connected to who they are and where they come from. Bravo Spelman and the Coalition of Feminist Scholars for supporting and showcasing this wide range of groundbreaking studies.
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