In the opening of her piece, L’Eplattenier raises the issue of research and archival methodology as lacking sufficient discussion within the discipline of rhetoric, asking, “Why do we as a discipline rarely talk about the methods we use to access our information?” (68) In answering this, L’Eplattenier explores the roles of rhetoric historians and how they are situated within the discipline. From here, having built some context for her discussion, she moves to building the case for her vision of the importance of archival research methods instruction within rhetoric and composition: “Vitally important to the development and construction of any research project, 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” L’Eplattenier (69). Essentially, she asserts, methods affect our understanding of the work; they “make the invisible visible.”

L’Eplattenier continues, “The question, then, is how to start talking about methods—how to begin to develop the literature, the ‘must read’ articles that become the basis for the archival research unit in our research methods classes” (71). This is a question I would myself ask, as I find that methodology is an often difficult thing to pin down. Even just a beginning of knowing more of the method behind archival research would orient me more particularly to entering into my own. Continuing this line, L’Eplattenier writes, “Within our own discipline, an incremental way of developing such literature is to begin including methods sections in our histories that function in the same way as our methodological sections” (71). She expands somewhat on this idea to note that even a small step can be a beginning toward building archival research methods more particularly into the discipline. She links this idea to the ethos of a scholar’s work, noting that “A methods section allows us to decide whether we can trust this history and how much we want to trust it” (74). This struck me as one of the stronger arguments fielded in the piece.

I found the ending of the piece to be particularly interesting, as L’Eplattenier addresses the question of metaphors, noting that after much reflection an understanding of the past is “similar to the collages of photos that make up a larger photo” (75). This way of describing history—or the archive, or memory—is interesting because it creates a context that is both reflective and reflexive. It does not simply look back, but it looks inward. L’Eplattenier brings her point home, noting, “A methods section helps us complicate our collage, making it perhaps even more fragmented, but more layered and textured” (75). This is a lovely image, but more than that it suggests a way of looking at history that is both constructed and curated, acknowledging the power of the archive to reframe or rebuild our understanding of past events. This led, for me, into a consideration of what might be a possible solution to an ongoing question in the field.

In critical study, one often comes across challenges to the methods of achieving particular goals. These may be as complicated as how to negotiate a pedagogy of liberation when operating within an ideological state apparatus or as (relatively, I might argue) simple as the method for building a critically conscientious canon of rhetorical texts. The complaints against what might be termed a “classical” rhetorical canon are varied, though the major complaints tend to (legitimately, I think) center on the problems of Eurocentrism, Western-oriented assumptions about thought and history, and in general the oft-noted bias toward “old dead white guys.” Some efforts to repair the canon have been additive, including voices such as Gloria Anzaldúa or bell hooks into the canon to enrich it and counter this perception. However, this practice is criticized in turn as being a sort of “patch” solution, more token than substance.

Increasingly, I find myself believing that any particular canon cannot possibly be properly representative of the discipline and its history. To that end, perhaps there can be classical Greco-Roman canons, medieval European canons, post-modern academic canons from the late 20th Century United States, or other such more specific, curated canons, each acknowledging that it comes with a lens and associated biases. And what if we turn to the methods and images offered by L’Eplattenier? If we treat the creation and selection of each canon as a “method,” as she describes the concept, then we can perhaps achieve a newfound credibility—an ethos of specific periodic and/or geographic and/or interest-oriented foci, perhaps. Further, if we are willing to continually reframe and recontextualize our canons, much like L’Eplattenier’s collage metaphor, we may be able to move away from being mired in the assumption that a monolithic Rhetorical Canon must even exist.

Find the article: L’Eplattenier , Barbara E. “An Argument for Archival Research Methods: Thinking Beyond Methodology.” College English 72.1 (2009): 67-79. Print.