Friday, April 3, 2009

Week 11: Historiography

Vitanza, "Notes Towards Historiographies of Rhetoric . . .": Here Victor Vitanza considers whether history writing can be ideologically practiced as separate from a fidelity to historical fact, especially considering that facts are basically interpretations.

He notes 3 schools of thought:

1. The Aristotelian school, which argues that poetry is separate from history, and that history is limited to the particulars of human action.
2. The 19th c. German philosophers school, which argues that history should be interpreted through poetry, as intuition and imagination help uncover the "truth" of history. Objectivity is impossible.
3. The Science of History school of thought, which argues that whether through econometrics, or the narrative-structuralist logic, or Marxims, either one must always historicize (Marxist logic), or that history is beyond ideology.

Vitanza pushes for a balancing of the counter-statement, for identifying ever shifting ground in relation to the "question of history," and for postponing all decisions in developing and identifying any scheme that allows a finite permutation of stases and tropes that could end the conversation (71).

The historical methods he notes are the

I. Traditional Historiography with TIME/narrative as a major category OR does not emphasize time/man as a major category. (Either naive and unselfconscious or highly-conscious and positivistic). Authors attempt to documentize and catalog/orize methodically in 1st view and attempt to process in the computer a series of facts in the 2nd view. Omniscient POV. Most histories of rhetoric fit into this first model, particularly the archival model.
II. Revisionary Historiography with either (A) full disclosure or (B) self-conscious critical practices. In (A), historians of rhetoric attempt to correct misinformed or misunderstood views, primarily on the sophists. In (B), Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, among others, attempt to account for distortion, i.e, the "hermeneutics of suspicion" (99). They wish to destroy a "false reality."
III. Sub/Versive Historiography: Here the traditional views of history are subverted. It attempts to situate itself outside political positions so that it no longer has as "capitulation to the eventual recapitulation." It is concerned with pedagogical politics that are non-fascist. It seeks a non-authoritarian education (down with Critical Authority and clarity) and asks for a non-disciplinary nonalignment.

The objective is establishing a category that destroys categories and "unnames the naming" (84). He attempts to be counter-ideology (85).

Corbett, "What Classical Rhetoric has to Offer . . ." -

Well, it is definitely not Sub/Versive (which opposes the history of Knowledge) as it, for example, outlines methodically the manner in which Aristotle teaches his students to appeal directly to the emotions of the audience. The historiographic method that best fits his writing is the Traditional, and within that category, the 1st style, which is naive and unselfconscious, and attempts to categorize methodically. An example of its naiveite include the following: "Aristotle was certainly an amateur psychologist, as most of us are; but because he was a keen observer of human behavior, he learned some valuable lessons about what makes the human animal tick" (68). Nothing new is added to the conversation by a recapitulation of the basis components to verbal communication.

Zappen, "Francis Bacon and the Historiography of Scientific Rhetoric":

Okay, this work is not nearly as naive as the last. Here the author reviews three 20th century interpretations of Bacon's science and rhetoric (1. positivistic science/plain style, 2. institutionalized science/high-figured style, and 3. democratic science) then draws upon the traditions of Puritan reformers as an example of plain style. It ends by examining the different ideologies within each view and offers an alternative to how scientific rhetoric should be viewed. What is interesting is that it describes three views, and then offers a fourth (Zappen's), but never specifically notes what is wrong with the other three views.

For example, when Zappen examines the historical view of Bacon through the lens of various academics, including Kuhn, Boas and Stephens, among others, and their view of Bacon as helping develop scientific communities, he then notes that scholars have challenged this view of institutionalized science by showing Bacon as sympathetic to an alternative ideology of science. So these democratic historians instead emphasize that Bacon believed in a more democratic and humanitarian science, and they question the attitudes usually attributed to Bacon. Yet in neither the first school (institutionalized science) nor in the second school (democratic science) does Zappan specifically mention what he takes umbrage with, only counters them with an additional reading. Such a format implies a Revisionary Historiography school of thought, and specifically one that uses self-conscious critical practices. Oddly, he points out the misunderstandings that each school of thought has about the other but never really takes a stand as to which is the best, holding with his first tenant that each "reflects a different ideology" or alternative vision. He's the nice kid on the playground. I like him.

Howard, "Who 'Owns' Electric Texts?":

Well, now I understand why Victor wants to copyright the letter "V." I assume he wants the capitalized version. This article segways nicely with the fair use/copyright issues that we just discussed in 802. Here Dr. Howard explains the juggernaut that protects copyright holder's profits; also, bear in mind that the state is also supposed to promote public good with said laws. He gives five modern scenarios for how electronic environments require writers to juggle between intellectual property laws and copyright laws, though these writers are hardly an expert in either law.

So it all began with the printing press, and its cheap(er) production of books/texts. It delves into historical changes in copyright laws and notes that authors cannot expect to profit from a "monopoly of truth." Too bad, it's a good racket. Dr. Howard does note, however, that even though a writer may have to deal with changes to intellectual property & copyright laws, they should familiarize themselves with these laws to avoid court costs and damage to their reputations. This article seems Revisionary Historiography/full disclosure, though at first it seemed Traditional Historiography. However, it does attempt to account for distortion of views on copyright laws - primarily due to the great swings of ownership over time - and it is attempting to correct misunderstood views of said laws.


I do not know whether we are required to analyze these readings with a certain methodology in mind (quantitative/qualitative), other than Victor's general overview, so I've read them with an analysis of method in mind.


  1. Wendy this is a nice post. I like the way you took the extra step by including Vitanza's notes about the 3 schools of history. I think it helps to note how Aristotelian, 19c. claims to objective representation, and Marxian approaches delineate the contours of the discussion as we approach it today. Thanks for including this in your review.

  2. Well, Wendy, when I wrote my post this week, I actually decided differently about the kinds of historiogrphies each author was written. We both said that Corbett was traditional, but I would say that Howard’s was also traditional, whereas Zappen attempts to redefine the way in which we view the history of rhetoric. Because Zappen announces three different versions of history to analyze and compares them with his new interpretation added, I would say his is “revisionary.” I guess the class discussion will tell us who is right. 