In Linda Ferreira-Buckley’s piece “Rescuing the Archives from Focault,” she reviews the trend toward regarding the archive with skepticism, citing the progression from a classical understanding of history as a subjective discipline to the 19th Century treatment of history as an “exact science.” She notes that while this problem is valid, the archive—far from reinforcing a static or pseudoscientific model of history—actually provides a very valid opportunity to re-examine and interrogate historical understanding. For this reason, she advocates that rhetoricians have a strong background in archival methodology. The archive as memory is not a new idea at this point—our readings have discussed it at several points—yet perhaps it is interesting to think of it as a site of the recollection and reinvention of memory instead of merely as a repository of past artifacts that might contribute to communal memories.

I am reminded, as I reflect upon this piece, of Victor Villanueva’s talk and article, “‘Memoria’ Is a Friend of Ours: On the Discourse of Color.” In the article, he declares “Memory cannot be adequately portrayed in the conventional discourse of the academy.” Acknowledging the power of academic writing in terms of logos and ethos, Villanueva asserts lack of pathos in the cognitively driven mode of academic discourse. For Villanueva, telling personal stories is a method of countering this problem, as well as a way to keep memory alive. He illustrates this technique by incorporating personal narrative and poetry into the fabric of his essay, creating a sort of “living archive” of method and memory that can be shared by those of us who find such scholarship to be of particular interest or use. This brings me back to Ferreira-Buckley’s piece.

“Revisionist historians depend upon traditional archival practices,” Ferreira-Buckley writes; she later adds, “I want to insist that traditional methodology, far from being incompatible with a progressive politics, is in fact the best agent of change.” This resonates with the point she establishes the idea of “history-making” from the archive as opposed to the more seemingly “academic” yet outmoded, “scientific” model of historical work that she notes as common of the 19th Century. Here again I see a resonance with Villanueva; in breaking with the rigidly pseudoscientific (which might be equated to rigid adherence to logos), we open up a space that is less defined and far more open to interpretation. This may be a very fruitful opportunity to consider the two ideas in terms of one another.

If the archive is a site of history-making, a repository for memory, then is it not also the potential birthplace of innumerable stories? As Susana Romano’s piece on the “Topoi of Feminist Historiography” notes, many stories can arrive from a study of archives. These are moments of history-making, but they are also the framing and telling of rediscovered stories, such as the (perhaps only somewhat) mysterious fate of Catalina Hernández, most likely at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. As Villanueva points out, this narrative has its factual interest, but the drama and emotional components of the falsely accused are what particularly drive us to take interest. If indeed we take Villanueva’s approach and apply it to Ferreira-Buckley’s model of history-making via the archive, we end up with a potentially very dynamic method for creating and understanding history. There is room for revision, yet there is also a passion to supersede bloodless facts and lifeless dates.

Ferreira-Buckley concludes that “Theoretical sophistication does not obviate the need for practical training,” advocating for effective training in the use of primary sources for students of rhetoric and composition. I would certainly applaud this—in point of fact, I believe that such experience is one of the best aspects of taking this course. Beyond this, I would advocate for considering the message of Victor Villanueva as a method for students of rhetoric and composition. If we embrace stories as part of our understanding of composition and meaning making, perhaps we can discover (or reclaim) a powerful tool for our own discipline. Certainly it seems that Villanueva would say so, and speaking for myself this would remedy a rift I have long felt between my past as a creative writer and my present as a teacher and scholar of rhetoric and composition. In bridging this, perhaps a chance to retell and recreate history—both literally and in the form of past experience reborn as new ideas—can be brought into practice.

  1. Celeste Del Russo says:

    David,

    You write on the connections between memory and the archive that “our readings have discussed [this connection] at several points—yet perhaps it is interesting to think of [the archive] as a site of the recollection and reinvention of memory instead of merely as a repository of past artifacts that might contribute to communal memories.” I really appreciate your distinction here between these different definitions of archive spaces–that archives range from being passive spaces or repositories of information to more generative/interactive spaces of memory (re)creation. So often our ideas about what constitutes an archive come from our vision of these dusty, hidden spaces where archives are “held” captive. There is, as you note, so much potential for exploring archives as active rather than passive spaces!

    In my own research, I’m really interested in how students/scholars interact with archives in ways that define these spaces as generative, active locations of research and memory (re)creation. So, your comment on the (re)invention of memory through archive spaces is really exciting to me. I’m wondering if there is room in your final project to explore some of the ways in which the Learning Games Initiative challenges some of our assumptions of archives–what constitutes an archive, how do we experience archive spaces?

    I’ll look forward to seeing how the above readings shape your own project. Thanks for sharing!

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