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. This is what you will find on this site: the beginnings of the reshaping and re-landscaping of the disciplinary history of Rhetoric and Composition as seen through the histories of female seminaries and colleges during the early 19th century.