Review of Unsettling Archival Research: Engaging Critical, Communal, and Digital Archives

Kirsch, Gesa E., Romeo García, Caitlin Burns Allen, and Walker P. Smith, eds. Unsettling Archival Research: Engaging Critical, Communal, and Digital Archives. Southern Illinois University Press, 2023  

Archival work, as the editors write in Unsettling Archival Research: Engaging Critical, Communal, and Digital Archives, has taken on new urgency. Increasing awareness of inequity pushes researchers to grapple with colonialism and racism that pervade everyday systems, especially in archives and education. Archival researchers are called to unsettle the givens and assumptions of archival research, many of which work to marginalize the histories of oppressed groups. The contributors to this volume understand “unsettling” as bearing witness or “peeling back the layers of what is constituted as settled so as to be able to witness, (re)orient oneself to, and carefully reckon with wounded/ing and haunted/ing spaces, places, and memories” (4).  

This collection aspires to chart a path for new archival research, methods, and methodologies as well as to “(re)imagine and (re)weave futures and worlds” (7). Especially attuned to erasure, gaps, and silences, the fifteen chapters address archives’ ability to create connections across the past and present as well as archives’ power to oppress. The collection finds relevance mainly to archival researchers and educators in rhetoric and composition, and it provides insightful critiques of as well as new tactics for archival work. 

Contributors draw heavily from feminist scholarship as feminist scholars’ interests in recovering historical voices often involves and dovetails with archival research. Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch’s key practices of “critical imagination” and “strategic contemplation” from Feminist Rhetorical Practices find their way into multiple essays in this collection. In addition to and alongside feminist approaches, contributors draw critically on “decolonial, anticolonial, Indigenous, antiracist, queer, communal, and transnational perspectives, frameworks, and approaches” (8).   

The field of archival studies is also prominently featured; the essays in Unsettling Archival Research explicitly engage with archival studies, specifically critical archival studies and social justice within archives. Many of the essays in this collection reference archival studies scholars and archivists Michelle Caswell, Anne Gilliland, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, J. J. Ghaddar, and Marika Cifor. Caswell’s 2016 “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies” is especially notable; in this piece, Caswell explains that humanities scholars mainly view “the archive” as “a hypothetical wonderland” while, for archival studies scholars and archivists, “archives—emphasis on the ‘s’” refer to record collections, stewarding institutions, and physical locations (I use the faux plural “archives” in this review to acknowledge archival studies). Caswell further writes that humanities scholars and archival studies scholars “are largely not taking part in the same conversations, not speaking the same conceptual languages, and not benefiting from each other’s insights.” Caswell argues that this neglect is gendered and classed due to the archival studies field being “feminized and relegated to the realm of ‘mere’ service-oriented practice” —a concern which should be especially relevant to feminist scholars in rhetoric and composition. 

Unsettling Archival Research is divided into three parts, each with five chapters. The first part, Unsettling Key Concepts, interrogates key terms in archival work, leading archival researchers to reconsider basic assumptions and ideas taken for granted. These authors disrupt settled ideas about fondness for the past and encourage dissatisfaction with what archives show on the surface in order to think more critically and recognize multiple narratives. 

In Chapter 1, “Unsettling the ‘Archive Story,’” Jean Bessette examines the complexity and power of archives stories—the histories of archives as well as stories researchers tell alongside their research in efforts to reflexively describe personal archives encounters—which can settle and reinforce colonial archives tropes, such as fetishizing the power of the archives. To unsettle archives stories, Bessette suggests constellating them. Placing archives stories in relation to each other allows for a broader depiction of archives which highlights stories’ multiplicity and variations, unsettling tropes. 

Following that, Wendy Hayden’s “Rescuing the Archive from What?” takes up the idea of “rescue” in the archives, including rhetoric and composition’s “rescuing” of the archives for our disciplinary history. Hayden engages with Caswell’s concern of how humanities scholars treat archival studies and considers rhetoric and composition’s own relationship to archival studies, noting that rhetoric and composition scholars often acknowledge the work of and collaborate with archivists. Hayden also addresses students’ roles in unsettling “rescue” and “rescuer.”  

Jackie M. James, in “Narratives of Triumph: A Case Study of the Polio Archive,” encourages the methodological approach of kairology to unsettle, recover, and amplify erased histories by asking what narratives an archive presents, why certain materials are in an archive, and what counternarratives might exist. As James uses a case study of polio archives, this essay may be of special interest to those who study the rhetoric of health and medicine. James also makes comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that “by studying haunted histories, we reveal the haunted, entangled present” (49). 

Kalyn Prince’s “Nostalgia in the Archives: Using Nostalgia as a Tool for Negotiating Ideological Tensions,” explains how nostalgia romanticizes the past while excluding certain voices from history. Prince considers two examples of artifacts from the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collections: an oral history interview conducted by a government investigator about Indigenous people of Oklahoma and a radio show by and for an Indigenous community. In making sense of the juxtaposition and discomfort of the records’ proximity, Prince advocates for using critical nostalgia which helps researchers determine beneficial and problematic aspects of the past, allowing for a reconsideration of “the kind of home we want to live in, the kind of world we want to see” (64). 

In the last chapter of this section, Kathryn Manis and Patty Wilde, in “A Matter of Order: The Power of Provenance in the Mercury Collection of Marion Lamm,” unsettle the archival idea of provenance or archival arrangement. While provenance is often thought of as impartial, it is a “necessarily human” and interpretive act (70). The authors illustrate this with a Harvard University collection about mercury poisoning in twentieth-century Ontario that is arranged in a way that prioritizes the collectors and archivists while deemphasizing Indigenous perspectives from the Grassy Narrows and White Dog communities—for whom the mercury crisis is still ongoing. Manis and Wilde end this essay with suggestions and strategies for expanding understandings of provenance.  

The collection’s second section, Unsettling Research, Theory, and Methodology, explores opportunities and pitfalls of archival theory and practices, revealing tensions between what is settled and unsettled at various archival sites. The case studies in this section highlight different kinds of archives—from more-formal sites such as state archives to less-formal spaces such as community archives—and call upon researchers to unsettle usual approaches and try out new ways of tackling archival research. 

Lynée Lewis Gaillet and Jessica A. Rose start off this section with “Hidden in Plain Sight: Rescuing the Archives from Disciplinarity.” This essay returns to Caswell’s “‘The ‘Archive’ Is Not an Archives,” and notes that humanities scholars and archivists share similar goals. Gaillet and Rose connect archival studies practices with feminist rhetoricians’ recovery practices and turn to examples of community activism and “everyday archives” as case studies, specifically the AIDS Quilt project and Georgia State University’s Southern Labor Archives materials on Dorothy Bolden, a civil rights activist. Gaillet and Rose encourage stronger collaborations between humanities scholars and archivists to discover hidden archives, create shared pedagogies, and highlight community contributions. 

María Paz Carvajal Regidor’s “(En)Countering Archival Silences: Critical Lenses, Relationships, and Informal Archives” brings in critical race theory to allow greater insight into provenance and influence analysis of archival materials. Carvajal Regidor specifically looks at Latinx student writing in  formal, academic archives and an informal archives, both on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. She notes how the formal archives silenced student voices while the informal archives countered those silences. For example, the formal archives only houses the final drafts of La Carta, a student publication, while the informal archives houses drafts in-progress, revealing “decisions, processes, and labor” of the student writers (114). Carvajal Regidor recommends that scholars search beyond formal archives in order to do justice to marginalized communities. 

In Chapter 8, “Let Them Speak: Rhetorically Reimagining Prison Voices in the Archives of the Collective,” Sally F. Benson turns to the New Mexico State Archives, exploring archival materials created by people obstructed from speaking for themselves, specifically, a newspaper, The Enchanted News, by incarcerated journalists at the Penitentiary of New Mexico from the 1950s to the 1970s. Benson approaches this work from an explicitly feminist historiographer of rhetoric viewpoint, hoping for a more-inclusive view of archival practices. Benson aims to “bear witness to people both historically disenfranchised and quite literally removed from public awareness altogether” (130). Excerpts from the newspaper intersperse the essay, helping give voice to the silenced journalists. 

Pamela Takayoshi’s “Bearing Witness to Transient Histories” encourages reparative work in archives by recentering neglected histories and writing histories “in a way that points toward a more equitable and moral future” (149). While not focusing on specific archives, Takayoshi notes the difficulty of learning about nineteenth-century women’s mental health care from women themselves. Using the example of Clarissa Lathrop, a schoolteacher who was locked in an asylum against her will, Takayoshi shows how archival absences can be recuperated through methods of critically imagining social context and strategically contemplating intersectional positionality. 

In “The Rhetorical (Im)possibilities of Recovering George Barr: Toward a Decolonial Queer Archival Methodology,” Walker P. Smith builds on Charles E. Morris and K.J. Rawson’s “archival queers” to bring a decolonial-queer approach to archival work. Decolonial and queer theory have been thought of as incompatible as English has been the “dominant mode of queer theorizing” and queer theory has not easily translated to contexts outside of Europe and the US (168). However, through focusing on Barr’s contributions to the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Archive at the University of Louisville (Burroughs authored the Tarzan and John Carter series), Smith suggests that decolonial and queer theory become compatible once their incompatibilities are recognized and queer histories reject singular, Western narratives.  

The last of the three sections, Unsettling Praxis and Pedagogy: Toward Pluriversality, addresses archival research in classrooms and the community with especial attention to power and positionality of the multiple identities present in these spaces. As with the previous section, authors explore different kinds of archives, including academic and digital archives. Multiple essays also take up students’ involvement in the archiving process (and not just archival research) as well as courses incorporating archivists. These essays consider how educators can help students prepare for, engage with, and unsettle archival research. 

Liz Rohan, in “Archival Imaginings of the Working-Class College Woman: The 1912–1913 Scrapbook of Josephine Gomon, University of Michigan College Student,” discusses a scrapbook she created as a recovery project of a working-class student who might have been otherwise lost to history. Rohan unsettles existing archival materials by “commenting on their value, making them more accessible, and filling the ‘social need’ for stories about working-class students” (207). To shore up gaps in the historical record, Rohan employs strategies of imagination (specifically critical imagination and Gilliland and Caswell’s “archival imaginings”) and creativity. Selections from the scrapbook as well as discussion around incorporating imagination and creativity into the classroom provide inspiration for educators looking to incorporate similar projects into their teaching. 

“Decolonizing the Transnational Collection: A Heuristic for Teaching Digital Archival Curation and Participation” by Tarez Samra Graban considers diasporic, transnational, digital archival collections, such as that of Joyce Banda, a former president of the Republic of Malawi. Graban explains how students can be involved in processing and pre-processing archival collections and considers this work in the context of globalizing undergraduates’ course of study. Drawing from feminist historiography work and archival social justice, Graban proposes a set of heuristics for decolonial approaches to curating transnational digital collections, heuristics involving reparative action, tracing instead of stabilizing archival collections, and delinking archives from geopolitical assumptions. 

Jennifer Almjeld’s “Archiving as Learning: Digital Archives as Heuristic for Transformative Undergraduate Education” may be of special interest to Peitho readers as the essay describes a class project of building a feminist rhetorics digital archives in preparation for the 2019 Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference at James Madison University (a site that still exists). Almjeld discusses how building this archive unsettled student identities through questioning students’ positionality as feminist scholars, archivists, and participants inside and outside of the conference community. Almjeld writes the experience was “both a success and a failure” (256), and the explanations of lessons learned will be useful for those interested in similar class projects.  

In Chapter 14, “Settling Emerging Scholars in Unsettling Territory: A Case Study of Underrepresented Students Working with Dominant Culture Collections,” Rebecca Schneider and Deborah Hollis describe a course they designed at the University of Colorado Boulder in which students interacted with an academic archives. The authors discuss how students from historically underrepresented communities “can be empowered to confront, reveal, and amend the hegemony of academic archives” through assignment design, collection use, and consideration of emotional intelligence (260). These strategies settled students in the archives, allowing them to gain not only the skills but also the confidence to use archives. 

The final chapter, “Unsettling Archival Pedagogy” by Amy J. Lueck and Nadia Nasr, theorizes “how we might rethink the goals of archival research in our classroom to make students’ limited positionality, discomfort, uncertainty, and other such moments the center of a rhetorical research course in the archives” (285). They discuss challenges of moving toward unsettling moments—such as archival erasure or record embargoes—instead of avoiding or normalizing these moments and how assigning this work values “examining privilege, seeking difference, and bearing witness” (297). 

The essays throughout this collection are useful for scholars both new and experienced with archival work. For those unfamiliar with archives, these essays’ rhetoric and composition standpoints allow fellow rhetoric and composition scholars to envision connections to their own work and begin stepping into archival work. Additionally, experienced archival researchers may use this collection to rethink, reconsider, and gather new inspiration for the ways their work intersects with archives. The third section, Unsettling Praxis and Pedagogy, is especially relevant to those who wish to incorporate archives into their teaching and desire to unsettle their archival approach. 

As someone interested in archives not only from a feminist historiography perspective but from a public history and archival studies perspective, I believe this collection’s prevalent engagement with Caswell’s work and the push toward working alongside archivists and archival studies is needed. This collection cannot mend all the issues Caswell mentions in “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives” but provides a starting point for scholars in rhetoric and composition. Interdisciplinary connections and collaborations with those doing the labor of arranging and providing access to records allows scholars to engage with archives in a more informed and thoughtful manner. 

Furthermore, as the editors note in the Introduction, this collection is the beginning of a needed conversation, and topics for future discussion include deeper dives into digital archives, creating archives with communities, increased collaboration with archivists, antiracist archival work, Indigenous archival practices, and more pedagogy-focused approaches. I agree with these topics and believe that greater attention toward community archives holds especial promise for moving forward. The contributors in this collection have shown how archival work can exist in the classroom, and bringing archival work into communities may allow for even greater impact of reparative archives or unsettling colonialism and racism. 

Works Cited 

Caswell, Michelle. “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016. 

Morris, Charles E. “Archival Queer.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, vol. 9 no. 1, 2006, pp. 145–151. 

Morris, Charles E., III, and K. J. Rawson. “Queer Archives/Archival Queers.” Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric, edited by Michelle Ballif and Sharon Crowley, Southern Illinois University Press, 2013, pp. 74–89. 

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. 

Review of Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative

Body Work, memoirist Melissa Febos’s newest craft essay collection, dismantles several of the prevailing ideas around both writing and teaching personal writing. The book’s particular interest is memoir, and Febos clarifies in her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book that this is neither manifesto nor manual, nor is it “a craft book in the traditional sense.” In fact, in this review, I argue that it’s not really a craft book at all; I came to it hoping to find pedagogical inspiration, but without exercises, tools, frameworks, or prompts, I instead found permission to take my own autobiographical writing more seriously, and further justification to encourage my students to do the same. Indeed, I would not assign this entire book to a class of undergraduate writers, though I plan to assign the first essay, “In Praise of Navel-Gazing,” to help beginning writers think through the place of memoir in an academic setting. But it did legitimize the genre, which often feels like it needs defending in institutional contexts, and makes a case for the vitality and unique potential of asking students and others to write their personal narratives. 

Febos’s own positionality as writer of this text is explicit. Readers who are familiar with Febos’s first three books, Whip Smart, Abandon Me, and Girlhood, will see Body Work as an expansion of her work as a queer, feminist writer and teacher and a former sex worker with substance use disorder. By borrowing from fields including philosophy, ethics, feminist theory, religion, and disability studies and applying much of her research to her lived experiences, she makes the case that writing is “integrated into the fundamental movements” of her life, “political, corporeal, spiritual, psychological, and social.” 

I came to Body Work as a feminist teacher of writing and rhetoric who has published a memoir as well as an extensive body of creative nonfiction. Over a decade of teaching memoir to university students has led me to a series of questions about best practices to teach writing and collaborating when it centers trauma, questions which I brought to my reading of Body Work. I often wonder, how do instructors encourage students to write about difficult personal experiences? How do instructors create an environment that fosters safety and vulnerability in personal writing? What ethical issues might arise? How do we evaluate these stories? 

I’d argue the collective trauma of the recent past– the pandemic, various prejudices, the mental health crisis, and the myriad ways in which late-stage capitalism have made post-college prospects more uncertain–are major motivations for students to continually fill creative writing classes across college campuses. My writing students have turned increasingly to processing their most painful experiences through writing. This ability to collapse material with interpretation and perspective, and to act as both researcher and subject, allowed students a proximity to their own writing and research that made for more emotional, engaged writing. In 2021, Jackson and McKinney published a new edited collection on authoethnography in writing studies which discusses the use of autoethnography in the writing classroom as both a research method and a legitimate way of knowing. When students learn to write as autoethnographers, which is to say, “as both subject and researcher” of their own work, “they both produce and analyze the data, thus closing the gap in interpretation between a subject’s and researcher’s perspective” (Jackson and McKinney, 7-8). Authothenography is recently emerging as a methodology of feminist rhetorical research, as can be seen in Peitho’s pages: Sarah Keeton’s “Tracing the Past to (Re)imagine the Future: A Black Queer Pedagogy of Becoming” and Tracee Howell’s “Manifesto of a Mid-Life White Feminist Or, An Apologia for Embodied Feminism.”  

In Body Work, Febos zeroes in on the question of why we have this urge to write our personal narratives at particularly challenging times, and how our own stories can help us heal. 

The most significant aspect of Febos’s craft book is her focus on whose stories are silenced, and how various hegemonic forces contribute to this silencing. The strongest chapter, also her opening, “In Praise of Navel-Gazing,” focuses on the ways in which victims of trauma and storytellers and writers from marginalized backgrounds are particularly harmed by the dismissal of memoir. Febos cites Dian Million’s article “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History,” in particular Million’s “case for remembering and understanding the impact of Canadian First Nation women’s first-person and experiential narrative on white, mostly male mainstream scholarship.” That felt experience, Febos points out, is “a collaboration between colonization, racism, and sexism, which all understand the political power of rich stories and their threat to existing colonial social structures.” In other words, by resisting the stories of lived and felt experience, culturally and institutionally, and minimizing that particular form of meaning-making, we are participants in resisting justice. 

Febos herself initially resisted memoir, reluctant to write her own story of sex work (the subject of her first memoir, Whip Smart). She braids her own decision to write her personal narrative with an examination of her wholesale dismissal of the genre to explore her own initial decision to censor herself, and who would have benefitted from that erasure. In Sarah Minor’s Creative Nonfiction essay “The Braided Essay as Social Justice Action,” Minor asserts the braided form of this style of writing allows choices to soften their rigid and often binary ideas. “Metaphor helps challenge the stultified pathways of our neural networks and test the elasticity of thought. Two ideas. One time. The brain resists new ways of thinking, but resistance is an important political tool.” Febos’s dedication to the braided form of essay writing allows her to connect herself to the rest of the world through her research and makes a case for personal narrative to resist the idea of “navel gazing.” 

Febos draws our attention to sex writing in Chapter 2, “Mind Fuck,” by giving an example of an exercise she uses to get her students to think about how they write sex, and then lists her “unrules” for writing sex scenes. “In the world of your writing, no sex is a punchline unless you make it one,” she writes. “There is no marginal erotic unless you sideline it” (67). Her call to action, to rethink the rules we have learned about our own sexuality and proclivities, asks readers to think not only about their writing about their sex lives, but about their sex lives themselves, to rewrite various scripts we have inherited about what pleasure might look like. This essay is the closest to a traditional craft essay in Body Work, since Febos details not only why we should write better, more authentic sex, but also how we might do this. 

Febos dedicates Chapter 3, “Big Shitty Party: Six Parables of Writing About Other People” to one of my students’ favorite topics: how to write about others in our personal narratives. Febos says this is the most common question people ask her, too, and her response, “that there are no living people in [her] work, only characters” is a process of “radical reduction.” She decides to use her own experiences writing and publishing to demonstrate how others might develop “their own moral compass around the issue” (81). While she reaches a thesis I disagree with—that the “radical reduction” of other people in her work makes them characters rather than real people (after all, there may still be real people who live with consequences of being written about in memoir)—I’m persuaded by her argument that “cruelty rarely makes for good writing” (84), and that the memoirist’s necessary focus on self is an ethical positioning. 

In Chapter 4, Febos is most successful at using other writers to build her own argument—something she excels at in her other books—rewriting a line from Robert Gibbs’s On Ethics to craft her thesis: “Writing is learning go know yourself again, to find your own agency in the actions you have committed” (132). She calls on thinkers from Jewish philosopher Maimonides and poet Natasha Trethaway to anti-racism activist Resmaa Menakem, to situate writing as a sacred and spiritual act, full of possibilities for confession, healing, and transformation. By the time the writing finds an audience, “the writer’s relationship to the past is irrevocably changed. The writer is changed” (139). The act of writing, as Febos experiences the process, has the power to change the life of the writer. 

David Mura published A Stranger’s Journey in 2018, a series of linked essays arguing for more deliberate and critical awareness in the complex issues surrounding racist habits of thought and craft in memoir writing as well as racist literary representations, much like Febos argues here for readers and writers of memoir to break some of their conditioned responses to memoir. Febos asserts there is room for stories that readers might want to read, and that writers want to write, and writers must rewrite the scripts around the importance and power of personal narrative on both an individual and societal level. I hope this review shows how researching why personal narrative benefits students, rather than how to teach it, can enrich conversations in the field, and bring creative nonfiction into center ring. The book’s ideas have certainly validated my own ideas of personal narrative’s primacy in many of my classes, making it just as important for my pedagogy as my own scholarship and life. 

Works Cited

Febos, Melissa. Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative. Penguin Random House, 2022. 

Howell, Tracee L. “Manifesto of a Mid-Life White Feminist Or, An Apologia for Embodied Feminism.” Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, vol. 23, no 4, 2021, 

Jackson, Rebecca and Jackie Grutsch McKinney. “Introduction.” Self+Culture+Writing: Autoethnography for/as Writing Studies. University Press of Colorado, 2021, pp. 7-8. 

Keeton, Sarah. “Tracing the Past to (Re)imagine the Future: A Black Queer Pedagogy of Becoming.” Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, vol. 24, no 4, 2022, 

Million, Dian. “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History.” Wicazo Sa Review 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 53-76. 

Sikorski, Grace. “Antiracist Approaches to Reading, Writing, and Teaching Fiction and Memoir.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies, 2018. 

Walker, Nicole. “The Braided Essay as Social Justice Action.” Creative Nonfiction, no. 64, 2017, pp. 6–12. JSTOR, 

Review of Ethics and Representation in Feminist Rhetorical Inquiry

Which rhetorics – if any – are collective? What documents count as evidence worthy of an archival collection? How do feminist archivists or rhetors speak for women rhetors without violating their narratives? These questions are considered in Ethics and Representation in Feminist Rhetorical Inquiry, edited by Amy E. Dayton and Jennie L. Vaughn. This collection considers feminist archival research and its representation of (selective) histories and rhetorics by drawing on previous scholarship, studying ignored rhetors, and questioning access issues. While examining previous scholarship, authors consider ways to ethically and compassionately advance methodologies in current research. This collection thus encourages future research on forgotten or unknown women rhetors by utilizing established feminist rhetorical methodologies, offering personal research experiences for analysis and reflexivity, and demonstrating practical approaches to address or answer questions of ethics and (re)presentation.  

As feminist and archival researchers, many of the authors draw on Jacqueline Jones Royster’s and Gesa E. Kirsch’s theoretical frameworks and make their impact specific to their research. Authors share theoretical frameworks and common methodologies, such as Royster and Kirsch’s four key terms (critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, globalization) and Krista Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening. Because these frameworks are shared, each author answers specific questions via the ethics, representation, and interpretation that arise when researching historical subjects.  

Since Kirsch and Royster challenged scholars to ask new and different questions of multidimensional voices situated across geography, time, and space, they advised researchers “rescue, recover, and reinscribe” women’s rhetorical work. This collection extensively used the three “R’s” to reveal micro and macro histories: those of Native American women, Black women, activists, psychiatric patients, translators, and garment workers. 

The collection’s twelve chapters include historical subjects unable to speak for themselves or historical subjects who disrupt neat categorization. Chapters in the collection are grouped by prevalent chapter themes (such as emotion, issues of access, and silenced archives). Most chapters invoke foundational terms in feminist and archival research, such as the idea of “archival listening” and memory work. This collection also introduces new terms such as rhetorical violence, or the harm done to narratives by a researcher’s scrutiny, interpretation, or translation.  

Dayton and Vaughn assemble chapters with similar themes, though many have multiple themes and could be grouped differently by readers. Because of this, Chapters 1 and 2 are grouped together as they question the relationships between writers and subjects. In Chapter 1, Reva E. Sias studies Black schoolgirls who were denied a voice. Sias views her research through an Afrafeminist ideological perspective. As she explains, “[Afrafeminism] offers a more nuanced and shared space for African American women as the subjects of study” (24). Afrafeminist theorists can then remember the diverse lives of unknown African American schoolchildren and ethically re-story their lives and voices. In Chapter 2, Sara Hillin details her challenges representing African American aviators. Hillin “eavesdrops” on narratives by female aviators. Although Hillin studied aviatrixes like Bessie Coleman and Willa Beatrice Brown, she had to carefully consider whether to similarly study Amelia Earhart, since Earhart is the focal point of women’s achievements in early aviation. Hillin suggests researchers “overhear” their personal research and representation biases.  

In chapter 3, Elizabeth Lowry focuses on displays of emotion, particularly anger, in women rhetors’ writing. Since women have traditionally been expected to downplay anger, Lowry suggests scholars implement an openness to explore and validate this emotion. This chapter assesses narratives by Indigenous women such as Lucy Thompson and Zitkala-Sa and how their narratives channeled “appropriate” anger. She writes, “Recognizing and respecting a writer’s anger means joining in her indignation, agreeing that she has been wronged, and acknowledging that she is exhibiting an entirely rational response to her situation” (68). For these women rhetors, anger is a way to build bridges. Lowry proposes that their anger is instructive as well as inviting.  

Hillin and Lowry both connect their projects to “archival listening,” a term created by Jessica Enoch and Elizabeth Ellis Miller in chapter 4 to reflect rhetorical listening as it relates to archives. Enoch and Miller build their framing around Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening; therefore, archival listening is a way to listen to details within an archive, especially when those details are complex or negative. They write, “Archival listening means reflecting critically on the disappointment we may feel in the archive, opening ourselves up to what we see as a rhetor’s flaws and failures, and thinking carefully about our historiographic responsibilities and our subject’s rhetorical performances” (72). Enoch and Miller ask how to best ethically represent historical subjects that (might) disappoint more contemporary or progressive researchers due to the subject’s complicated or discriminatory politics. Enoch and Miller’s research revealed their historical subjects’ troubling characteristics. For example, Miller’s research on Sarah Patton Boyle revealed that Boyle, while a white liberal advocating for Black rights, occasionally displayed racist and sexist attitudes. The authors note: “Ultimately, archival listening positions us to take into account our subjects’ flawed humanity, to explore the systems of power that invited and cultivated their rhetorics, [and] to acknowledge the complexity of a rhetor’s life” (86).  

Chapters 5 and 6 explore access and ownership by exploring texts of incarcerated girls and hospital patients, respectively. In these chapters, Laura Rogers, Tobi Jacobi, and Caitlin Burns consider who can or should tell a subject’s story and how to tell that story with justice and compassion. Jacobi and Rogers map the personal documents of a troubled fourteen-year-old girl named Lila. Within this chapter, the two reference Patrick Berry’s concept of the contextual now: or, how researchers layer present ideologies and concepts over historical events. In Chapter 6, Burns explains that since archivists and owners of the Bryce Hospital collection have limited outside access to records, they may have inadvertently erased the histories of patients at the psychiatric facility. Burns agrees many of these marginalized, vulnerable populations should be protected, but also demonstrates how this protection is an act of silencing. As she writes, “the impact of these actions in this specific situation results in the silencing of the voices that are being protected” (113). In the case of mental institutions, narratives written by hospital superintendents or doctors are the accessible materials, and limiting access erases patients’ narratives completely. Both chapters consider who gets to decide when or how to tell a story and which voices may be subconsciously (or consciously) erased in the process. 

Chapters 7 and 8 suggest ethnographic approaches to archival research. Some historical subjects have living descendants that may form relationships with archivists or researchers. In Chapter 7, Vaughn explores the relationships she formed with living relatives of her research subject. She echoes Royster’s Traces of a Stream: “[we] have an ethical responsibility to the descendants of our subjects to represent their ancestors with respect and dignity” (qtd. in Vaughn 128). These relationships created a living archive that revitalized her research experience. Chapter 8 considers narratives that were hidden to protect women in workers’ unions. Jane Greer looks at writings by working-class women detailing their experiences at the Donnelly Garment Company and notes that she had to resist comfortable narratives and her own conflicted appreciation of such rhetoric. She thus advises researchers to let the records of the past speak for themselves.  

In Chapter 9, Gracemarie Mike Fillenwarth describes critical imagination as a way of seeing what is in an archive and what is not. Royster and Kirsch created this term in Feminist Rhetorical Practices; following in their steps, Fillenwarth suggests looking at women’s rhetorical work, collectively. Within her research, she seeks to explore how women’s writings “came into being as a result of collective, collaborative interactions and rhetorical practice” (167). As a researcher new to the field of feminist rhetorics, I admired how many chapters, and especially Chapter 9, applied existing concepts in feminist rhetorical inquiry to the exploration of collective feminist narratives.  

In juxtaposition to chapter 9,  Kathleen T. Leuschen and Risa Applegarth draw on the method of memory work and explain how it “highlights the politicized potential of memory as a mechanism for intervening into contemporary scenes of inequality” (177). Leuschen and Applegarth study personal memories of activism and activists’ published or unpublished narratives in chapter 10. But because some of these narratives are unpublished or missing in archives, research into these narratives – and the probing questions and requests that come with them – may be a form of rhetorical violence. This worry is also considered in the next chapter.   

In Chapter 11, Cristina D. Ramirez suggests that translation – the translators themselves, the translated language, and what is lost in translation – reveal “the multiplicity of power struggles that accompany translation” (202). In one example of lost meaning, Ramirez recounts Wright de Kleinhan’s speech “La lectura,” wherein the informal vosotros form is used. In this speech, the feminine form of vosotros, or vosotras, is used to address a female audience. Yet, in translating the work into English, vosotras was replaced by the neutral “you.” Therefore, this feminine-oriented speech is assigned a different meaning and may have been studied or placed within a vastly different (or exclusive) context.  

Wendy Sharer suggests in Chapter 12 that more diverse voices should enter rhetorical discussions and produce theoretically rich projects. Sharer presents an opportunity for this in Peitho’s “Recoveries and Reconsiderations” section. In this section, contributors can join rhetorical conversations without time-extensive research: the goal is instead to “introduce readers to resources for ongoing consideration and further discussion” (“New Peitho Feature”). Because of this, many feminist and archival researchers who may not have the time or institutional backing to complete extensive research can still join academic conversations and hopefully, bring their varied voices to feminist rhetorical projects.   

As a graduate student interested in Indigenous and Mexican American identity, I found Chapter 3 especially engaging due to Lowry’s writing choices and feminist historiographic perspective. Lowry’s writing was energetic and ethical. Not only did Lowry recognize her subject’s anger, she affirmed it. After reading these narratives, I hoped I would encounter more angry, righteous narratives by previously disempowered women in my own scholarly research.   

Each chapter encourages additional research and a closer look at existing (and hidden) archives and materials. Many of this collection’s scholars recommend others change the (re)construction of archives to include those who have been historically and repeatedly dismissed, such as the psychiatric patients in Chapter 6 or the female garment workers in Chapter 8. As evidenced in most chapters in this collection, many archives are bereft of marginalized women due to their narratives’ displacement, archival restrictions, or simply neglect. Furthermore, the authors recommend discussing the collection’s research outcomes and processes. By doing so, the authors open their feminist rhetorical research to (more) ethical and methodological questions as well as more diverse researchers.  

It is up to readers and researchers to listen to and carefully consider these narratives through archival listening, memory work, and refraining from rhetorical violence in an attempt to recognize a rhetor’s reclamation of agency. This collection sparks more discussion and encourages further sharing of research built on significant feminist rhetorical methodologies, like that of Kirsch, Royster, and Ratcliffe. Additionally, it adds to these methodologies by suggesting ways to examine feminist rhetorical research ethically and compassionately. Though other readers such as myself may not know when or how to join a feminist rhetorical conversation, this collection and Peitho advise that the first step is to ask, “Who is missing from this (rhetorical and narrative) conversation?” 

Works Cited  

Dayton, Amy and Jennie Vaughn, edited. Ethics and Representation in Feminist Rhetorical Inquiry. U of Pittsburg P, 2021.  

“New Peitho Feature: Recoveries and Reconsiderations.” Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, 1. Mar. 2019, Accessed 2 March 2022.  

Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Southern Illinois UP, 2005.  

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. U of Pittsburg P, 2000.  

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.  

Book Review of Utopian Genderscapes: Rhetorics of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Age

Utopian communities, which are often inspired by particular religious or social beliefs, are intentionally designed communities built outside of mainstream culture. These communities were common during the nineteenth century in the United States before developing a dangerous, cult-like reputation. Because of this developed reputation, society typically dismisses discourse or in-depth analyses about these communities. Michelle C. Smith, in Utopian Genderscapes: Rhetorics of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Age, reframes our view on these utopian communities, which she calls intentional communities. Smith implores us to investigate the communities’ societal contributions via the study of the rhetoric within and about them—regardless of the characteristics, actions, and perceived success of the communities.1  

Smith conducts a case study of three intentional communities (Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, active 1841–1847; the Harmony Society in Economy, Pennsylvania, active 1804–1905; and the Oneida Community in upstate New York, active 1848–1881) to investigate industrialization’s far-reaching implications for gender, class, and race that permeate all aspects of society but are best gleaned in perceptions of labor. The book, comprised of five chapters, three of which are analyses on the specific communities, does a wonderful job of analyzing how the communities’ rhetoric reflected and contributed to America’s gendered view on labor in the nineteenth century and how these views evolve over time and across spaces.  

To inform this case study, Smith draws from archived letters, books, and documents from the three communities. Smith utilizes material rhetoric to articulate ecologies of gender stemming from the communities. Put differently, Smith traces the web of gender implications (spanning time and space) caused by industrialization, using a case study and a material rhetorical lens to do so. Because she views the construct of gender as complex—woven into spaces, bodies, tasks, and objects—Smith traces the ecological presence of gender in both linguistic texts and material objects. Smith explains that “an ecological approach to gender is its view of the production of gender as dispersed and contingent,” which Smith believes is an approach that articulates “the productive convergence of and tension between material and feminist rhetorics” (7). Drawing from scholars like K.J. Rawson, Jenny Rice, and Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, Smith explores how lived experiences are impacted and shaped by material developments, like the wealth of machinery developed during industrialization that altered the labor industry (Smith 7, 166).  

Smith’s contribution to the field of feminist rhetorical studies is thus bifold. Firstly, her research purpose (to shed light on the communities’ rhetoric) welcomes research about stigmatized historical individuals/communities that society dismisses. Smith challenges us to look beyond the tainted reputation of historical individuals/communities to recognize their rhetorical power. Secondly, her methodological scaffolding, which is the utilization of feminist and material rhetoric to explore ecologies of gender, provides a blueprint for feminist rhetors to utilize. Feminist rhetors who investigate rhetoric of the everyday and/or historical rhetorical movements (as scholars like Sarah Hallenbeck have modeled), will find Smith’s blueprint of exploring ecologies of gender across time, space, bodies, and objects extremely informative.   

After outlining her methods and contributions in the first chapter, Smith moves into her body chapters, which entail three separate studies of mid-nineteenth-century intentional communities in America. In chapter two, Smith discusses teleological rhetoric within Brook Farm, focusing on the domestic lives of women and the teleological rhetoric of “housework” present at Brook Farm. Smith argues that Brook Farm proved that America’s understanding of “housework” solidifies woman’s purpose. Smith explains this by analyzing Brook Farm’s constitution, which states that women would be able to choose what work they did at Brook Farm, in comparison to the letters written by members and visitors, which state that women were only performing “housework.” The juxtaposition between the intention and the reality of the community shows that Brook Farm fell short of its goal to let women choose whatever jobs they wanted. Women, stuck performing “housework” at Brook Farm, which was perceived as “drudgery,” thus developed business-like rhetoric to elevate “housework” to the then-desired status of industrial work, creating work schedules, using business style and diction in their writing, and designing power-hierarchies.  

In chapter three, Smith discusses rhetoric of exceptionalism used to describe Gertrude Rapp, the granddaughter of the leader of Harmony society, and the effect that rhetoric had on Harmony women. Rapp ran the silk operation at Harmony and was well regarded within the silk and business fields—a triumph for a woman at the time. This prompted society to write exceptional rhetoric about her, which created a new, unrealistic expectation for women. While the outside discourse about Rapp seemed like it would benefit Harmony women, giving them the chance to follow Rapp’s forged path, the internal rhetoric at Harmony shows otherwise. Women, in fact, were still relegated to “housework” despite this woman leader achieving success. In addition to the rhetoric of exceptionalism, Smith also discusses Rapp’s utilization of scientific and professional rhetoric to pass as a man in order to be taken seriously in her field.  

In chapter four, Smith discusses rhetoric of choice—or, more astutely, the illusion of choice—within Oneida, focusing on the reproductive lives of women. While trying to advance reproductive rights, Oneida elided the roles of “mother” and “worker” by elevating motherhood into a job that one could specialize in, complicating the rhetoric of gendered labor and perceived choice. In society outside of Oneida’s community, mothers were looked down upon if they worked; in Oneida, workers were looked down upon if they mothered. This is seen via the rhetoric of John Humphrey Noyes, Oneida’s leader, who believed that women should be “female men” who work as much as men and don’t fall victim to philoprogenitiveness (love for one’s children). Noyes’s rhetoric is presented in contrast to the rhetoric of the Oneida women, who write about their struggle to balance motherhood and work. While the women of Oneida wanted equal opportunity to work, they did not want to lose their opportunity to mother in the process.  

These body chapters are interesting, thorough, and informed, making readers wonder if rhetoric can ever elevate “housework” out of the trenches of “drudgery,” and what equity in the home could (or should) look like. Building on a foundation laid by scholars like Jordynn Jack, Jessica Enoch, and Nathan Stormer, Smith explores the ecology of gender stemming from these symbols and materials of housework, priming readers for the conclusion, which briefly explores how this ecology has extended into contemporary symbols and materials of housework. These chapters thus serve as an example of how to bypass historical communities’ stigmatized reputations to uncover their rhetorical power. It makes one wonder: what are we missing by not exploring these and similarly stigmatized communities? Additionally, these chapters, which explore concepts like tokenism and reproductive rhetoric, are an example of how future researchers can implement Smith’s lens (i.e. paying attention to the ecology of rhetoric’s effects on gender through time, space, bodies, symbols, and objects) when interrogating society’s relationship with gendered phenomena. 

Smith’s fifth and final chapter addresses future researchers, leaving them with three main pieces of advice. First, Smith compels rhetoricians to use the term “interactionality” instead of “intersectionality” to better explain how different identities work in conjunction with each other rather than simply overlapping. Readers familiar with Karma Chavez’s Queer Migration Politics will recognize this term, which Smith uses to call for work that illustrates how gendered phenomena (like the gendered views of labor explored in this book) “often deepen and cement divides among women of different socioeconomic classes, races, ethnicities, religions, and educational backgrounds” (147). Second, Smith undermines the illusion of choice within rhetoric about gender, inviting scholars to do the same to highlight the injustice as a first step to remedying it. Third, Smith encourages researchers to question the rhetoric of failure surrounding intentional communities, attending to the nuance in order to conceptualize the complexity of gendered norms. Utopian Genderscapes, as perfectly encapsulated in the conclusion, calls for rhetoricians to reclaim intentional communities’ rhetorical and societal contributions (and, by extension, other stigmatized communities’ similar contributions) using the methodological framework Smith provides. 

Smith’s research opens a floodgate of topics to investigate by calling for research that bypasses retrospectively instilled negative perceptions of historical societies. Utopian Genderscsapes also informs researchers about how to analyze the evolution of gendered constructions of labor—and other phenomena—across time and space. By studying America’s rich history of intentional communities and analyzing ecologies of gender by employing material and feminist critiques, Smith lays a solid foundation for future rhetoricians, showing them how to find rhetorical significance (symbolically and materially; across time, space, bodies, and objects) in previously overlooked communities.  


Work Cited 

Smith, Michelle C. Utopian Genderscapes: Rhetorics of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2021. 

Review of What It Feels Like: Visceral Rhetoric and the Politics of Rape Culture.

Larson, Stephanie R. What It Feels Like: Visceral Rhetoric and the Politics of Rape Culture. Penn State University Press, 2021. 

For the past five years, we have lived in what some have termed the ‘Me Too era,’ a large-scale recognition of sexual assault and harassment and the people who perpetrate it. Stories of actors, politicians, journalists, and others with considerable power have garnered considerable media coverage and national debate. Situating her work within these high-profile cases and the carceral feminist logics that fuel them, Stephanie Larson makes an astute point: despite all of these events, we still lack adequate means to discuss and theorize rape culture. What It Feels Like makes a crucial contribution to this ongoing conversation by illuminating how mainstream discourses about rape culture work to contain the stories, feelings, and bodies associated with sexual violence. Connecting to the larger ecology of scholarship and activism focused on rape and sexual assault, Larson suggests that in order to effectively confront rape culture, we must first properly recognize and value the embodied accounts of rape victims. To do so, Larson offers the term ‘visceral rhetorics,’ which describes how the body responds to words or actions with “thick, material, bone-deep, gut-felt sensations” (14). She seeks to re mind scholars that bodies are more than just a site of rhetorical invention; rather, bodies – in the most material sense – play a critical role in the felt experiences of rhetoric. In the same vein as feminist rhetorics’ historical attention to women’s silenced voices, Larson examines how women’s bodies, as well as their affective and rhetorical capabilities, are suppressed by rape culture. Working from this point of understanding, What It Feels Like is an essential read for those committed to disrupting rape culture.  

In Chapter 1, Larson begins by establishing the existing frameworks for theorizing sexual violence, with particular focus on which bodies are able to be recognized within these frames. She traces historical constructions of social norms surrounding sexuality and sexual violence by examining the Meese Commission, an undertaking of the Reagan administration meant to determine the impact of pornography on modern society. Analyzing letters written to the commission by concerned citizens reveals palpable fears regarding threats to the nuclear family structure, the correlation between pornography and male violence, and the state of female sexuality in the US. Larson asserts that, more broadly, the commission exposed desires to protect the systems of inequity that undergird the neoliberal nation-state, proliferating instincts to blame vulnerable people for the violence they experience, including sexual assault. She then draws a connection between the Meese Commission and the 2018 confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, showing how white supremacy, masculinity, and heteronormativity continue to be protected and upheld at the expense of those victimized by these structures. Larson’s read of the commission reveals that national conversations around rape and sexual assault are constantly shaped by “a desire to contain the nation-state and its neoliberal imaginary” (27). This section provides the historical context and inherited legacies that shape the modern intimations of rape culture discussed further on.  

In Chapter 2, Larson explores the bystander discourses prevalent on college campuses by examining two rape prevention campaigns, It’s On Us and 1 is 2 Many. These campaigns are significant because they emphasize male action and responsibility in combatting rape and sexual assault. In doing so, they decenter the lived experiences of real rape victims, instead invoking cultural conceptions of the archetypal victim: a “heterosexual, college-aged, cis, white, able-bodied, US American, middle-class, educated woman in need of protection from a male body and male gaze” (58). Thus, to analyze these campaigns, Larson employs a methodological approach she terms ‘patriarchal spectrality.’ She explains that, just as ghosts may be present but unseen, “rape victims and perpetrators, too, are absolutely there but unable to be heard or seen as clearly due to the modes of vision that inform US rape prevention discourses today” (60). Larson shows how prevention programs and other public discourses surrounding sexual violence may erase rape victims even as they seek to save them or bring them justice. Discussing victims in hypothetical terms or only platforming stories that align with the larger narrative of rape culture enables audiences to erase bodies that do not fit the archetype based on their identity and/or actions. Larson connects this to a historical precedent, describing the United States’ legacy of permitting and facilitating sexual violence against Black women, a legacy that is still not recognized on a national scale. With this in mind, productive future discourses must attend not only to what is there, but what is silenced, excluded, and made invisible. Following Jacqueline Rhodes’ call for a critical feminist rhetoric, Larson asks readers to more effectively disrupt rape culture by recognizing the specters of patriarchy and critically imagining what has been strategically left out of the conversation.  

Chapter 3 focuses on rape kits and the role they play in shaping public perceptions of victim testimony. Larson begins the chapter with a brief narrative that quickly gets at the heart of the matter, recounting the story of a woman who endured a rape kit exam after being raped on her college campus. The woman waited a year and a half for the kit to be processed and another six months for her perpetrator to be found guilty, even though she “knew and named him from the beginning” (86). Larson uses this story to illustrate the perceived power and importance of the rape kit, even in cases when the assailant need not be identified using DNA evidence. Extending onto recent discussions of the rape kit backlog, Larson interrogates the rhetorical function of medico-legal tools, arguing that the way rape kits are employed serves to silence victims and create public distrust in visceral testimony. Examining legislative responses to the rape kit backlog, Larson identifies three major problems: the proliferation of the archetypal rapist as a stranger with a violent criminal history; the emphasis on scientific innovation over victim testimony; and the implementation of rape kits to logically assess a victim’s visceral experience. All together, Larson asserts that rape kits and other medico-legal tools “partake in conditioning publics not to believe victims,” most especially when these tools are treated as more credible than first-hand accounts (89). Throughout, Larson weaves in rape victims’ accounts of both the violence they endured and the additional trauma and discomfort of the rape kit exam, providing examples of how visceral rhetoric conveys the deeply-felt sensations and emotions connected to sexual assault. While acknowledging the usefulness of rape kit technology, Larson holds space for the way rape kit exams can further harm victims by attempting to sanitize their feeling bodies and curtail rhetorical means of describing their experience. Drawing connections to the use of police body cameras, Larson points to a troubling trend where technology is used to fix deep-seated issues rather than confront the culture that produced the conditions. She encourages us to wonder “what it might mean to listen to an individual’s account of what has been done to their flesh…especially when that body is in pain” (111). 

In the next two chapters, Larson begins to answer that question by identifying instances of visceral rhetorics within protests. In Chapter 4, she examines the public performances of two high-profile rape victims who sought to push back against rape discourses and protest the inadequacies of their institutional proceedings, constructing what she terms ‘visceral counterpublicity.’ These embodied performances challenge narrow definitions of rape, ones that prioritize male anatomy and action, by offering visceral experiences of rape and encouraging felt experiences of the accounts. Drawing on the work of Jenell Johnson, Larson argues that affects, like the ones shared through these performances, may disrupt publics in the same way they may construct or coalesce them. She first analyzes the victim impact statement read by Chanel Miller during the trial of Brock Allen Turner. Through this letter, audiences may understand Miller’s experience through her own recollection and from her own perspective. This visceral account of violation centers her embodied experience, offering a different perspective compared to how Turner’s lawyers focused on delineating between rape and sexual assault. Larson then examines the work of Emma Sulkowicz, best known for their performance art piece in which they carried their dorm mattress around Columbia University in protest of the university’s response to their reported rape. Larson focuses on Sulkowicz’s piece Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (or This Is Not A Rape), a video that seemingly shows the reenactment of a rape while simultaneously assuring the audience that the actions they are watching are consensual. This performance calls upon the audience to “grapple with the experience of rape beyond the discursive assertion that violation did not occur,” invoking the lived experiences of victims whose rhetorical accounts are denied by powerful institutions (131). In these instances, Larson asserts, Miller and Sulkowicz “expose threatened bodily boundaries and encourage affective responses” by giving their audiences the means to understand rape as something experienced, not just theoretically defined (122). Larson connects their work to other modern forms of protest that highlight the body, including athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the use of the phrase “I can’t breathe.” Through these visceral counterpublic tactics, audiences may better understand instances of violence, even when those in power seek to deny them. This in turn creates greater opportunity to recognize harm done to any body—especially marginalized bodies—rather than only acknowledging discourses that are safely contained.  

Chapter 5 explores another tactic of public disruption by focusing on #MeToo. Beginning with Tarana Burke’s original concept of the Me Too Movement as a part of Just Be Inc., Larson discusses the phrase’s viral moment, describing the now-famous tweet by Alyssa Milano that sent #MeToo out into the digital world. Temporally aligned with the emerging allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag caught on overnight and rapidly constructed a new site of protest for victims and supporters. Larson theorizes the body of #MeToo as a form of megethos, which took the shape of a feminist list. Using the functionality of the hashtag, audiences could read one tweet after another, experiencing the magnitude generated by these brief messages as a “bone-deep, felt assurance” that sought to disrupt normative discourses regarding rape culture (138). Larson points out #MeToo’s success compared to previous hashtags and online campaigns, as it gained considerable traction beyond Twitter and beyond the digital sphere entirely. Not only did the magnitude adequately convey users’ experiences of rape culture, but it also invited audiences to feel these tweets in a visceral way, change their previous beliefs about rape culture, and be moved to action. In closing, Larson acknowledges that #MeToo was intrinsically linked to white female celebrities and fueled by the public disclosure of trauma. Thus, she prompts us to look deeper at both historical and contemporary contexts to find useful protest tactics within the #MeToo movement, ones that may be reconfigured to operate in more nuanced and intersectional ways. Returning to an idea introduced in the preface, Larson reflects on the “methodological hope” offered by #MeToo, which “must not be hastily or uncritically idealized but constantly interrogated” (154). 

At times, I wished this book approached the issue of sexual assault and harrassment from a more intersection perspective; however, perhaps one of its strongest arguments is that how we address rape culture on a national scale is not intersectional. As Larson explains, her consistent use of ‘woman’ functions “not to ignore femmes, queer women, people from trans or nonbinary communities, or men, who most certainly experience rape and sexual assault, but rather to acknowledge a public obsession with focusing solely on cis, white women in predominant rape prevention discourse” (10). By examining the subject matter through governing structures that have emerged from the oppressive foundations of the US, Larson reveals how this focus on certain victims with privileged identities has come to control all aspects of conversation regarding rape. As someone who perfectly fits the description of the ‘archetypal victim,’ this research moves me to reflect on my own positionality and work to dismantle harmful structures meant to protect me and others like me. As Larson makes clear, until we reckon with the normative approaches to rape culture that function to contain bodies and maintain the nation-state, we will always lack adequate methods for rape victims outside of the archetype to be seen and heard, thus perpetuating rape culture for all.  

What It Feels Like offers a new entry point for understanding rape culture by examining its function in everyday contexts—legal, medical, institutional, public—and how it works to suppress the visceral rhetoric of rape victims. Nearly five years after the phrase ‘me too’ gained widespread cultural significance, we are still searching for new and meaningful ways forward, and Larson’s scholarship is a much-needed contribution to that endeavor.  

Review of All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake

Miles, Tiya. All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake. Random House, 2021. 

Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake has been widely acclaimed on the national scene: All That She Carried is a National Book Award winner; it was celebrated through reviews in the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chicago Review of Books, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, and New York Times. Miles’ book has garnered even more praise from figures like Brittany Cooper, Jill Lepore, and Michael Eric Dyson. In this review for Peitho, we join the chorus in agreement that All That She Carried is a remarkably compelling book on so many fronts. Our purpose for this review, however, is to draw attention to how this book speaks to and invigorates the concerns of feminist rhetoricians and feminist historiographers of rhetoric and to mark it as one especially suited for our classrooms, for we believe the book has so much to say to us and our students as we pursue our investments in Black women’s history, historiography, and public memory; questions of intersectionality and power, as well as archival methods and methodologies, not to mention our interests in rhetoric’s relationship to textiles, materiality, foodways, and spatial rhetorics. Indeed, we (Erin and Jess) taught this book in an undergraduate feminist theory course in fall 2021, and we spent the semester dwelling on the impactful and moving messages this book had for us and our students. We thus use this review to shine light on All that She Carried for Peitho readers; it is a book that has the potential to deepen and direct the work we do as scholars, teachers, and students.  

The focal point of Miles’ book is a textile sack that Rose, a Black women enslaved in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1850s, created for her daughter Ashley upon their horrific separation when Ashley was sold at the age of nine at a slave auction. Miles explains how, in anticipation of the auction, Rose prepared this “emergency pack” for Ashley—one that should be read as “a mother’s prescient act of provision” (30). Ashley’s sack exemplifies the radical imagining that Black women, especially mothers, must have used in such times of despair in which they had to hope for their child’s safety and survival in the face of almost certain violence. Against all odds, Ashley and the sack Ruth prepared for her survived, and in All That She Carried, Miles tracks the passage of this heirloom to Ruth, Ashley’s granddaughter, who embroidered onto the sack these words: 

My great grandmother Rose 

mother of Ashley gave her this sack when 

she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina 

it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of 

pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her 

It be filled with my Love always 

she never saw her again 

Ashley is my grandmother 

Ruth Middleton 

1921 (5) 

All That She Carried is a meditation on this maternal and generational relationship between Rose, Ashley, and Ruth, in which Miles explores the contents of the sack and their meaning as well as what the contents reveal about enslavement, survival, maternal love, and the preservation and persistence of Black women’s stories and their history. This is a book about love, trauma, resilience, and hope, but All That She Carried is also about the inventive archival and historiographic strategies Miles leveraged to tell these women’s stories.  

Throughout the book, Miles comments on the research methods she uses to stitch together the lives of Rose, Ashley, and Ruth. Her reflections are immediately noteworthy to historians in our field, as Miles considers what she calls “archival deficit” (18) and “archival diminishment” (18)—archival realities in which the lives of enslavers are recorded while there is little traditional documentation of enslaved people’s, especially enslaved women’s, lives. Miles counters such deficits by employing creative archival practices that draw on the “Black feminist historical methods” of scholars such as Nell Irvin Painter and Marisa Fuentes–methods that “refuse to abandon Black women to the discursive abyss” (17). Miles especially takes up Fuentes’ practice of “reading archival documents ‘along the bias grain,’ which refers to the angled line across a swath of fabric where a natural give already exists” (300). Like Fuentes, Miles uses a “diagonal reading of documents [that] looks beyond what seems straightforward and feels for the stretch in the scholar’s materials, the leeway that more likely reveals hidden interiors and obfuscated realities” (300). Important too is what Miles “counts” as an archive. True, her historiography draws from “traditional” archives such as those at the College of Charleston and Schlesinger libraries as well as the Avery Research Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, but most critically, Miles also sees Ashley’s material sack as an archive unto itself: Miles “seek[s] out the actual material—the things enslaved people touched, made, used, and carried—in order to understand the past” (17).  

Feminist rhetoricians will no doubt discern echoes in Miles’ research strategy as it resonates with the work of scholars such as Chery Glenn, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and Gesa Kirsch. Glenn has similarly documented the necessity of “reading [materials] crookedly and telling it slant” (8), while Royster and Kirsch call feminist rhetoricians “to account for what we ‘know’ by gathering whatever evidence can be gathered,” but then to employ both critical imagination and strategic contemplation to look “between, above, around, and beyond this evidence to speculate methodologically about probabilities, that is, what might be true based on what we have in hand” (71). Additionally, Miles’ investment in the material artifact of the sack and the contents within it connects to the methodological work of feminist rhetoricians such as Sonia Arrellano, Maureen Goggin, and Vanessa Sohan. Miles’ work throughout the book invigorates these scholarly conversations about the relevance of the material, as she argues, “things become bearers of memory and information, especially when enhanced by stories that expand their capacity to carry meaning” (13). Miles zeroes in on the importance of textiles, asserting that if the “materials being researched are textiles, [then] stories about women’s lives seem to adhere with special tenacity,” this is especially so with fabrics, Miles asserts: “because of their vulnerability to deterioration and frequent lack of attribution to a maker, [fabrics] have been among the last kinds of materials that historians look to in order to understand what has occurred, how, and why” (13-14). 

Of course, the most significant aspect of Miles’ research method is her employment of these inventive strategies to recover the lives of Rose, Ashley, and Ruth, to trace the journey of the textile sack, and to unpack its contents. In Chapter 1, “Ruth’s Record,” Miles begins with the story of finding the sack-–a story similar, Miles suggests, to an “episode of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow” (30). Almost twenty years ago in 2007, the sack was found by a white woman shopping at an outdoor flea market near Nashville, Tennessee. Interested in the message embroidered on the sack, the woman tracked the sack to Middleton Place–”once the home of the famous wealthy Charleston slaveholders Henry Middleton and Mary Williams Middleton and now a nonprofit organization” (31). Miles then relays how curators researched and displayed the sack not only at Middleton Place but also at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As Miles describes the “allure” of Ashley’s sack (36), she also reflects on the “complicated dynamics of race in processes of museum collecting, philanthropy, and stewardship” (37). Miles concludes this chapter initiating her investigation of the sack’s journey, starting in South Carolina in the 1850s at the “scene of the crime–the sale of a child away from her mother” and investigating how this crime was “shaped by the environmental, economic, political, and social conditions that precipitated it” (42). 

Miles dedicates Chapter 2 “Searching for Rose” to recovering Rose’s life and story, and here the question that drives her investigation is, “how, in this seaport city [of Charleston]. . ., do we go about finding one unfree woman?” (61). In describing her search, Miles explains that the only way to discern Rose’s archival trace is by identifying her name in the records of those who enslaved her: “We can trace unfree people through the changing of lands” (67) and their “lists of possessions” (69). The key to finding the Rose Miles is looking for is “her love for a child named Ashley” (65). Searching for these names together brings Miles to a Charleston slave owner named Robert Martin whose list of enslaved people includes both names. Miles’ critical reading of Martin’s records offers other clues to Rose’s identity: his holdings reveal that Rose’s monetary value was $700, and Miles deduces that this high price could be because of her sexual appeal to slave holders like Martin or because of her talent as a seamstress or cook. As Miles searches for Rose in Martin’s materials, though, she steps back to consider what this method signals, writing “It is madness if not irony that unlocking the history of unfree people depends on the materials of their legal owners, who held the lion’s share of visibility in their time, and ours” (58). While this method offers insights about Rose, Miles asserts that this “default” method is “one we must resist,” and we must do so because “not one record in the Martin family papers describes Rose or the life she lived. Her cares and kindnesses, fears and frailties, fade behind a wall of silence” (77). 

In Chapter 3, “Packing the Sack,” Miles describes the exigence for Rose to prepare the sack for Ashley: the death of their slaveholder, Robert Martin, and the and the sale of his “possessions,” which included Ashley. To Miles, Rose’s decision to make the sack for Ashley “highlights an essential element of enslaved women’s experience[:] Black women were creators, constantly making the slate of things necessary to sustain the life of the family” (102). As she meditates on Rose’s preparations, Miles employs a historiographic strategy she relies on throughout the book: when the specific details that attend to Rose, Ashley, or Ruth fall away, Miles consults the lives, records, and writings of their Black women contemporaries. In this chapter and elsewhere, Miles makes use of the writing of figures like Harriet Jacobs, Eliza Potter, Elizabeth Keckley, Melnia Cass, and Mamie Garvin to speculate about the possible experiences of the three women in her study 

Miles centers attention in Chapter 4, “Rose’s Inventory” on the tattered dress included in the sack as a way to understand the importance of this item within Ashley’s archive. Delving deeply into enslaved women’s access to clothing in a subsection titled “The Language of Dress,” Miles explores dress as a “form of social communication” and explains how dress and fabric within enslavement “signified who owned others and who could be owned” (133). Miles articulates as well that Black women’s limited control over their dress signaled their lack of access to the propriety and safety white women often enjoyed. Ultimately, Miles reads the inclusion of the dress in the sack as Rose’s “insist[ence] on Ashley’s right to bodily protection and feminine dignity” (131). This chapter would clearly be of interest to rhetorics of dress and appearance as the concerns raised here speak to the work of scholars such as Brittany Hull, Cecilia Shelton, Temptaous Mckoy, Carol Mattingly, and Jennifer Keohane. 

In Chapter 5, “The Auction Block,” Miles reads the horrific separation of Rose and Ashley through the lens of the economics and spatial rhetorics of Charleston that underwrote and relied on “a set of power relations that structured human exploitation along racial lines for financial gain” (164). Miles considers how the “pseudo-militarization of the public space” structured the lives of unfree people (170), as their lived experience and mobility was determined by high-walled homes and watchtowers as well as the “punishment center” that was the Workhouse (172). Miles goes on to imagine Ashley’s experience during the slave auction, considering not only the trauma of being separated from her mother but also the probability of sexual violation that most enslaved women and girls experienced when being sold. Miles writes, “Ashley must have been gathered up in this squall of the Martin household transformation, after which her mother, Rose, was lost to her. But what can this kind of senseless, existential break have meant for a real, living child?” (183). The horror Miles writes is too much to bear; the “distance of time” is the only factor that can “operat[e] as an emotional shield” (191).  

Chapter 6, “Ashley’s Seeds,” mines the importance of the pecans in Ashley’s sack. Miles describes the decision for Rose to include these food items as “what Black feminist theorists Stanlie James and Abena Busia call a ‘visionary pragmatism’” (193). The nuts that Rose packed for Ashley were not only practical in terms of feeding her, but they were also a symbol of Rose’s hope in Ashley’s health and growth. Chapter 6 also makes clear the significance of pecans within southern Black culture and foodways, seeing this as an opportunity to consider Black people’s access to foods like pecans and the cooking culture they crafted for themselves. Miles ends Chapter 6 with two kinds of feminist rhetorical practices. First, through critical imagination, she offers a picture of what the pecans might have signaled for Ashley: ”The loose, oblong nuts felt smooth in Ashley’s palms, the sound of their jangle in the sack a soothing and muted music. . . reminding  her that she was loved despite being cast off, her own and every enslaved child’s private apocalypse” (216). Second Miles provides several pecan-central recipes that enslaved people would have made, such as pecan pie, pecan crisp cookies, pecan wafers, and nut butter balls. With these recipes, Miles offers an alternative way to experience history, readers can not only read history, but they can taste it.  

Important to note as well that within this chapter is an insert of Miles’ collaborative visual essay with Michelle May-Curry titled “Carrying Capacity.” This essay situates Ashley’s sack within the fiber arts and textile tradition by making connections to Black women’s artistry evidenced in other seed sacks, quilts, dresses, and hair art. The authors remind readers that, as a textile, Ashley’s sack is yet another example of the ways Black people have used the fiber arts to stitch together themes of family and ancestral ritual” (n.p.).  

The final major chapter “The Bright Unspooling” re-emphasizes the difficulty of tracking the descendants of enslaved people as Miles attempts to find throughline from Ashley’s separation from Rose in 1850s Charleston to her granddaughter Ruth and the embroidered message she left on the sack. Miles locates Ruth in Philadelphia in the 1920s as her archival trace emerges in sources such as the social pages of the Philadelphia Tribune. Miles uses these artifacts to flesh out an understanding of Ruth’s experience and especially focuses on Ruth’s ability and choice to embroider her family’s story on the sack. Ruth’s embroidery indicates her craft, of course, but Miles argues it also suggests an assertion of middle-class “respectability for Black families” (251) and an “eloquent rebuttal” (253) against the prejudice that Black women experienced in 1920s America. Miles’ focus turns towards the storytelling function of Ruth’s embroidery, and Miles surmises that storytelling “may have become a way for Ashley, as well as Ruth, to move beyond the constraining role of a victim and take up the empowering stance of a witness” (231). Miles continues, “To tell the story of one’s own life is to change that life, as telling is an action that can revise one’s relationship to the past” (231).  

All That She Carried concludes with a reflection on Miles’ historiographic practice titled “A Little Sack of Something: An Essay on Process.” Here, Miles returns to the research questions that propelled the book forward: “what is the story of this cloth? Who were the mothers and daughters that touched it? What compelled Black women to struggle in defense of life in a system that turned mere existence into hardship? How did they maintain their will across generations in bleak times? And what can Black women’s creative response to the worst of circumstances teach us about the past and offer us for the future?” (299). Feminist historiographers will find great value in the research narrative Miles offers that ranges from learning about the sack for the first time—when she “lost [her]self in their waves of grief and oceans of meaning” (295)—to the advice she received from other scholars, and from the theories that enabled her to read the sack in difference ways to the serendipitous events that shaped her research.  

We hope this review conveys how much feminist scholars of rhetoric can learn from Miles’ complex, provocative, and moving book. On so many levels, All That She Carried can enrich the conversations we find central to our field. We want to conclude by underscoring the pedagogical value of and possibilities for this text, as we encourage readers to consider bringing this text into their classes. There is no doubt that All That She Carried resonated powerfully with our students. In projects that built from Miles’ book, they took the opportunity to further research Black women’s experiences, explore their own families’ stories of loss and survival, pursue questions of archival complexity, and enact their own unique forms of archival engagement. All That She Carried can thus be just as important for our scholarship as it is for our teaching. 

Works Cited

Arellano, Sonia C. “Quilting as a Qualitative, Feminist Research Method: Expanding Understandings of Migrant Deaths.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 41, no. 1, 2022, p. 17-30. 

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance. Southern Illinois UP, 1997. 

Goggin, MaureenDaly. Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950. Routledge, 2017. 

Hull, Brittany, Cecilia Shelton, and Temptaous McKoy. “Dressed but Not Tryin’ to Impress: Black Women Deconstructing Professional Dress.” Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, vol. 3, no. 1, 2019. 

Keohane, Jennifer. “‘The Most Important Dress in the Country’: The Rhetoric of Glamour in the Smithsonian’s ‘The First Ladies.’” Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 40, no. 3,  2017, p. 270-288. 

Mattingly, Carol. Appropriate [ing] Dress: Women’s Rhetorical Style in Nineteenth-Century America. Southern Illinois UP, 2002. 

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012. 

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. Lives, Letters, and Quilts: Women and Everyday Rhetorics of Resistance. U of Alabama Pt, 2019. 

Review of Digital Black Feminism (Knight Steele 2021)

Why I get these tweets off?

“Digital Black feminists also wrestle with shades of gray. Like hip-hop feminists before them, digital Black feminists work to reconcile economic and sexual freedom for themselves with community interests that may conflict with their individual needs. However, instead of hip-hop as a driving force, the “gray” for digital Black feminist praxis is deconstructing white supremacist capitalist patriarchy within digital culture.” (Steele 10)

In 2009 I created my first Twitter account from my Nokia brick phone. I had to go to the web browser to make an account and this was before apps were even a thing. As I started college, I began to use Twitter for web (this is tweeting from the Twitter website in your web browser) and the text to tweet feature to stay connected with my friends back home and those I was meeting on my college campus. When I got my first iPhone I downloaded the Twitter app and it was history from there. The Black Twitter counter public allowed me to stay up to date with arguments on $200 dates, be aware of police brutality happening in Ferguson, and information on natural hair products to keep my curls poppin’. As an avid user of the internet from Myspace to Twitter, I found community in these digital spaces. Now that I am a doctoral student who is unpacking what feminism looks like for me, I needed a feminism that allowed me to embrace my digital lifestyle. Catherine Knight Steele’s book Digital Black Feminism gave me the language and foundation for a feminism that allowed me to combine Black feminist values with my love for digital spaces. Steele’s work has influenced my scholarship since I was a master’s student in Maryland. I found that her work talked about digital spaces in a way that felt familiar to me. Digital Black Feminism does the same thing. It allows me to be in that “gray” area she speaks about in the text that allows me, as a Black woman, to call out and clap back at “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy within digital culture” (Steele 10) and to create, embrace, and honor my Blackness in online spaces. 

What is Digital Black Feminism

 “Digital Black feminism insists we centralize Black women in our definition of and history of digital technology. Digital Black feminism is a mechanism to understand how Black feminist thought is altered by and alters technology. Digital Black feminism suggests we attune our gaze to Black women because they potentially provide the most robust site of inquiry as digital scholars interested in digital communication’s capacities and constraints” (Steele 15).

Digital Black feminism centers the voices of Black women and how they use technologies. Steele’s text talks about the technologies that Black women have used dating back to slavery. She opens the first chapter by explaining how these technologies impacted how Black women lived their lives as enslaved women.  By opening the first chapter this way, she is solidifying the Black woman’s contribution to technology and confirming that we do indeed know how to be technologically advanced and that it didn’t just start with the worldwide web. Her examples of the many technologies that Black women have used, as a reader, made me feel powerful. It affirmed, for me, that Black women belong in these conversations about technology and how our years of using and creating technologies influence how we use spaces like Twitter or blogs now to mobilize, organize, educate, and build community. As an extension of black feminist theory, Steele uses digital black feminism to debunk the idea that Black women are not included in technology as an “intentional practice” (Steele 15). She asserts that by not aligning Black women with the intentional practices of technological innovation it continues to center white men as the ones who are the creators and responsible for the foundations of technology. 

Steele’s creativity shines through this text as she uses the beauty shop as a metaphor for “an analytical tool to understand the relationship between Black women and technology”. Through this metaphor, she explains in detail the ways Black discourse, in this instance, opens folks up to the technologies of Black hair care. She believes that Black women’s hair maintenance can be seen as a “road map” for centering Black women’s financial independence. It also serves as a space to create communities of color that have desires to understand the technologies of hair. I found this interesting because it made me think of how there was a natural hair boom on sites like Youtube and blog spaces. Steele also brings in blogs to solidify this metaphor. Her explanation of these technologies offline and how they transfer skills to online spaces made it easy, as a reader, to see the impact Black women have on technology.

In addition, she also talks about how online spaces and communities create a safe place for Black women and nonbinary folk. Black women are using online spaces to not only talk about their entrepreneurial ventures but also to push back against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. The clap backs are strong, backed by many Black women, and will quickly remind you that you’ve crossed the wrong one. Black women are using these spaces, according to Steele, as places for liberatory practices as well. 

A Feminism that INCLUDES Me

“I intend to send up a flare to those who study and report on digital culture about the glaring absence of Black women in their work. For those studying online harassment and trolling, algorithmic bias, and digital activism, Black women must be included in your work.” (Steele 156)

Digital Black Feminism influences my current work and future work in a few different ways. Firstly, Steele’s many definitions and examples of digital black feminism allow me to situate not only my work but myself in this type of feminism. It is inclusive of all of my intersecting identities as a Black, queer, and disabled woman who uses social media regularly as a space to create community, learn about new things, and clap back when people try to disrespect Black women. “The importance of digital communication and technology in the lives of Black feminists today cannot be overstated. As a site of thought generation, community formation, and economic advancement, digital tools and culture have changed how Black women (and all people) interact with the world ” (Steele 60). Secondly, Steele’s work is a foundational text for digital humanities scholars. She is setting the groundwork for scholars to build upon her assertion that digital black feminism is personal AND public. Meaning that it requires “intention and care around methods and ethics” (Steele 155).  She challenges scholars to think and be mindful about who they cite and how they cite when it comes to talking about these digital spaces. By her starting the conversation on ethics, I believe, that it will implore other scholars in this discipline to consider their ethical and moral compass when it comes to this type of work. “I take caution in whom I cite, which tweets or stories I share, and how much personal information shared in other digital forums I repeat in this text. Countless people participated in the dialogue in the blogosphere and on social media that shaped digital Black feminism. In this text, I choose to cite and publicize the work of those who through their public writing, signal a willingness to enter the public discourse on issues of race and gender.” (Steele 156) Throughout the text, she cites many writers, scholars, and contributors to digital spaces which helps the reader understand more of the genealogy of digital black feminism. 

The goal of Digital Black Feminism is to continue to empower Black women to use these many technologies and to feel like true contributors to the advancement of these technologies. Steele states that “Understanding the joys and labors of Black women, their fight for liberation, and their complicity in systems of capitalism is very complicated. Digital Black feminism is complicated, but perhaps this sheds light on why this inquiry is necessary” (Steele 157). Black women are necessary to the mobilization of these many technologies and we, all of us, use these digital spaces. Steele does not believe in re-traumatizing Black women for the sake of research and I believe that her text makes that clear. I am excited to think of these ethical implications as I embark on expanding my own research and adding to the foundational work of digital black feminism. Steele’s Digital Black Feminism has made me, as a novice Digital Black Feminist, feel seen, heard, and excited to use this framework to create new and innovative work. Although I tend to look at violence online, Steele’s work has encouraged me to consider what Black joy is in this digital space and how I can incorporate the beauty of Black digital discourse into future work. 

Review of Lynching (Ore 2019)

Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity. By Ersula J. Ore. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2019. Pp. ix–xx + 175, acknowledgments, author’s note, preface, notes, index. $30, paper)

As I wrote this, Bloomington, IN was in the midst of cultural unrest surrounding what even the news media recognized as “an attempted lynching” in an incident perpetrated against a Black man on July 4, 2020. Having read Ersula Ore’s text, I could viscerally witness the civic justifications of the white, male perpetrators against a body representing a cultural other in the filmed discourse on social media. Even as reports have been made public, the language of the legal documents lays bare the performance of denying agency to a Black, male victim while simultaneously alleging charges against him as an aggressor for attempting to engage in mediation. In July 2021, charges were filed against Booker for being the assailant, and the case continues to remain unresolved. This represents what Black Feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw has identified as an intersectional collapse of race and gender as a motive for integrating injustice into regular practice, potentially obscuring one or both. As she says, “Black men and women live in a society that creates sex-based norms and expectations which racism operates simultaneously to deny; Black men are not viewed as powerful, nor are Black women seen as passive” (156). Thus discourse and acts of lynching is not just a threat of bodily violence against a race but can also serve as the regularization of legislative justification, strengthening an us/them supremacy against the archetype of threat to White, patriarchal order.

From cover to close, Dr. Ersula Ore’s Lynching provides a harrowing revelation of racialized violence, one enacted through language that functions through an us/them dialectic, reducing some peoples—some bodies—to the status of lesser humans. Situating foundational concepts from Kenneth Burke’s scholarship to frame the historical trajectory of anti-blackness in America, Ore constructs a rhetorical frame with which to interrogate critical race relations as discursively entangled in the American demos. Given this historic political trajectory but also our current moment of reinvigorating social justice movements, this text is not just theoretical, but imminently informative in terms of everyday racism and discursive anti-Black violence. Beginning in an embodied tell-all, Ore’s Preface and Postscript emplace her within a compelling anecdotal account of the effects of her own racial targeting, based in hierarchical justification for dehumanizing racial bodies as sub-human. Detailing a prolonged account of warrantless detention and the juridical ramifications that followed, Ore’s personal narrative creates a context for the exploration she engages. In text and in body, then, Ore performatively demonstrates how Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification can inform our understanding of language as an everyday structure of oppression. This recouperation of well-known rhetorical scholarship answers Lisa Flores’ 2018 call for more racial rhetorical criticism can be deployed through firsthand accounts, cultural history, and current political contexts.

To build her anecdotal experience into American society, Ore’s approach employs discourse analysis to show how language doesn’t just say things: it does things. One of her first examples makes this point clear in the way that—in legal proceedings—a sentence that affirms the killing of a person has lighter social connotations than convicting someone of murder. Ore uses the contrast to focus on how racially motivated dehumanization is discursively performed by calling a lynching a “killing” rather than a “murder,” metonymically resisting a diverse citizenry as lynching “became rhetorically constitutive occasions in which American civic identity was affirmed through antiblack violence” (19-20). By limiting both the social and legal definitions of what constitutes lynching, Ore argues that a black victim can be denied agency of victimhood through legislation while simultaneously being inscribed with the agency of aggressor through social mediation. And yet, deploying the term lynching in the present can serve as a linguistic memorial that metonymically links current black violence to historical acts and justification.

Chapter one calls upon the dialectic made possible in the Burkean concept of identification as merger/division, demonstrating that the basis of American identity ensured a violent rebuke of British rule that was recast onto a black citizenry. As a “call to communion,” lynching further functioned historically as a way to distinguish “those who belonged from those who did not [belong],” uniting both perpetrators of the acts and its spectators through epideictic rhetoric that “instructed citizens… while simultaneously maintaining and reproducing white supremacy as the democratic norm.” Ore explains how a national narrative of a “citizen race” was constituted through this codification and enactment of lynching as a form of communion: a “doing of citizenship.”

Chapter two advances the civic education of lynching as an image of epideictic rhetoric—a symbolic gesture of how “separate but equal” is enacted to separate “them” citizens who were out of place from both polity and vitality. Ore shows viscerally how lynching provides “political iconography that inculcates citizens to the practice of white democracy by way of modeling antiblack violence as a customary, natural, and revered practice of white civic identity” (56). As a resistance, such imagery was also reclaimed and reframed by anti-lynching activists to inscribe alternative lessons of racial terror and black death, as in the case of the anti-lynching efforts of Crisis, the Chicago Defender—particularly in the historic fervor surrounding Emmett Till.

Chapter three shifts the epideictic discourse into a modern context of museum curation, offering spaces to see and experience division and resistance by strategic tactics of alternative messages. Ore uses instances of historical and present dehumanization of black persons as ritualized transformation of black bodies into Burkean “equipment for living” in the progress narrative of the American polity. As a performative answer to the invective of, Crenshaw “…If we can’t see a problem, we can’t fix a problem. Together, we’ve come together to bear witness… to move from mourning and grief to action and transformation.” (Crenshaw 2019). Crenshaw’s original article about intersectionality emphasized the elision of Black women in the default collapse of Blackness as a masculine threat—which as Ore’s analysis rehashes is a primary driver of lynching.

However, though I contextualize the story of Vauhxx as intersectionally justified by his assailants and public discourse, I want to avoid re-covering an elision of feminine attributes—particularly since the allegations against him resulted from his attempt at civil discourse which has been characterized as “entrapment” and “provocation” since Black males are not allowed in hegemonic narratives to be “soft spoken.” Just as Ore explores how anti-lynching activists transformed visuals into an antiracist civic lesson, her rhetorical analysis of the discourse of lynching allows us to label and acknowledge the intersectional violence of our present cultural narratives against Black bodies.

In similar Burkean fashion of language as symbolic action, Ore rounds out her analysis with “Lynching in the Age of Obama,” This fourth chapter situates the historic trajectory of embodied and symbolic lynching in the presidency of Barrack Obama as further rhetorical divisions of “one of them” who had to constantly account for his blackness. Analyzing discourse around the Obama presidency and the symbolic acts of lynching performed during his presidency, her culminating analysis demonstrates the symbolic interactions of the polis with discursive and symbolic antiblackness reified the nation’s present expulsion of blackness as “out of place” in the American imaginary. More than just dynamic political debates, the everyday nature of such discourse shows that lynching discourse is not just reserved for instantiations but rather it is ingrained in the national narrative that mobilizes the us/them dialectic.

Ore concludes her analysis aptly by depicting how white supremacy operates through suppression of anti-black sentiments. Shifting back to her own anecdotal experience of systematic oppression, she explains how her own perpetrator was entwined in legislative forms of signifying black bodies as a scourge in contrast to white bodies as effectively in need of correction. Juxtaposing herself and another black victim with a non-black suspect stopped by the officer who arrested her, she exemplifies how discursive and legislative lynching is systematically ingrained in the present enactment of American citizenship through anti-Black policing.

Ultimately, Lynching provides a topical frame in which to deconstruct how historical oppression of black bodies is presently legitimated to sustain a national sense of an “us” citizenship through discursive and legislative violence against “them.” In the spaces between her words, one can hear the echoes of Achille Mbembe’s necropower in the way discourse repeats the sentiment of letting live while threatening to make die. Also, the embodied aspect of discourse rings of George Lakoff’s Political Mind in how describing racial bodies as lower can neurolinguistically program the delineation of white bodies over non-white subjects. And returning to the bookend of an uncertain outcome, Ore’s own account evidences the ongoing subjugation of them humans from us humans with no hope of unification.

As a discursive analysis, Ore’s account is compelling, vivid, and multimodal in showing the ways that lynching has continually transformed through American culture, recursively transforming the culture itself. It’s no wonder why this was the winner of the 2020 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award since it performs the intertextual linkings of indisciplinarity. Complicating notions of who counts and is counted in “we the people,” Lynching is not a pessimistic reading of historical progression, but a consciousness raising effort that troubles the progress narrative of what is past/passed.

After reading the text myself and sitting with my own understanding of the stories and analysis it contains, I had the gracious opportunity with my program cohort to join a Zoom call and talk to the author herself. As Dr. O expounded upon the contextual decisions and constraints around the publishing decisions, I realized exactly how much ontological persistence is involved in speaking truth to power. I was reminded of Robert Reid-Pharr’s description of the constraints of Black American autonomy: “…Within even the most rigid social hierarchies there nonetheless exist those many folds, tears, points of peculiarity and funniness that might be put to the service of both master and servant, man and woman, white and black.” (Reid-Pharr 2007) It helped me realize that this is not just a message to be understood, but also a telling to be circulated widely.

As a restituation of rhetorical framing, Ore’s project opens up engagements with interdisciplinary critical race scholarship—particularly afropessimist thinkers like Sadiya Hartman and Frantz Fanon. Additionally, the historiographical work of Ibram X. Kendi would contextualize the broader historical movements of black identity in America to the present. With Ore’s thorough contextualization of the rhetorical foundations of lynching, it provides a solid foundation for extension in these directions, so I would urge more exploration of where it can be taken up next.

Works Cited

Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, 1989, p. 139-168. HeinOnline.

Reid-Pharr, Robert. Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual. NYU Press, 2007.

Review of Retellings: Opportunities for Feminist Research in Rhetoric and Composition Studies

Retellings: Opportunities for Feminist Research in Rhetoric and Composition Studies. Edited by Jessica Enoch and Jordynn Jack. Parlor Press, 2019. 332 pages. $34 paperback, $65 hardcover, $19.99 Adobe eBook.

Considering the title and essays in Retellings: Opportunities for Feminist Research in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, evokes for me, a scholar of nineteenth-century American rhetoric, images of Margaret Fuller hosting her Boston gatherings. These famous meetings were held over six consecutive years, known as “Conversations.” They brought women—each having bought a season subscription to attend—together to discuss feminist concerns in the spirit of equity, immanent value, inclusivity, deep listening, and self-determination. These conversations helped shape feminist thought in the United States as many attendees went on to become leaders in the movements for abolition and suffrage. It was a remarkable moment in history that paved the way for modern iterations of feminist collaboration, like this edited collection of feminist ideas in praxis.

The provoked intimacy inherent in the book’s title isn’t coincidental; many of the nineteen authors overtly gesture to one another as ideological foremothers, professional mentors, and friends. This collaborative work, the newest installation in the Lauer Series of Rhetoric and Composition, was in fact motivated by the twentieth anniversary of Cheryl Glenn’s 1997 influential text, Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, which published “the first continuous history of rhetoric inclusive of women” (3). This collection joins a celebrated body of scholarship reforming and protecting feminist rhetorical history, including Andrea Lunsford’s (1995) Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition, and more recently, Lisa J. Shaver’s Reforming Women: The Rhetorical Tactics of the American Female Moral Reform Society (UP Pittsburgh, 2018). The simultaneous backward and forward attitude of Retellings distinguishes it among projects to recover silent voices because it connects the rhetorical past with projections of rhetorical studies and pedagogy. That is, each contributor acknowledges Glenn as a catalyst to her own work, but then explores what implications their combined work has for future research and classroom implementation in remarkably practical ways. Over two decades later and moving into the future, Retellings asks readers to consider “What do we do now?”

Collectively, the book’s facility is in asking this question in a way that summons individual possibility, converting the question into, “What do I do now?” Reframing the question offers powerful invitation for readers to consider the ways they may implement the rhetorical
strategies modeled by the contributors as if they, too, are part of the conversation.

This convivial invitation isn’t accidental; Shirley Wilson Logan describes her vision of Retellings as the “go-to-text for teachers and researchers” (qtd. 5) wanting real ways to “attend to all that is yet to be done” in both rhetorical recovery and fresh scholarly investigations. The authors of Retellings expect their work to be catalytic, like Glenn’s, in a generative sense. For example, Krista Ratcliffe discusses in Chapter 3 “the war-on-women” in political campaigns. She works not only to identify the rhetorical problem but also recruits readers to solve it through rhetorical silence and listening.

Like Ratcliffe, all the contributors are quick to admit that their work is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive, but merely the next step on the path to future discovery and resolution. For example, in Chapter 9, Cristina D. Ramirez takes an introspective look at her own scholarly approach to the archives of Mexican women’s writings in response to “Glenn and Enoch’s [2010] insistence on locating and revealing ourselves within our research” (163). In this way of extending past rhetorical conversations with current responses, the collaborators bridge the past and future of rhetorical history, theory, and praxis.

Ramirez’s essay is an example of how contributors extend what Glenn recovered in 1997, creating an ongoing conversation and one that Retellings captures in four sections or “four inventional nodes” (6). I like the maker-sense of these divisions because of the creative interplay
between feminism, rhetoric, composition, research, and teaching it all. The first section includes essays by Shirley Wilson Logan, Krista Ratcliffe, Brigitte Mral, and Berit von der Lippe discussing feminist concerns of modern politics around the world. Section two addresses identity studies with essays by Rosalyn Collings Eves and Jean Bessette. The third section discusses feminist methods and methodologies with contributions from Heather Brook Adams, Cristina D. Ramirez, Wendy B. Sharer, and Anita Helle. And the fourth section focuses on the “feminist rhetorical commitment to ‘paying it forward’ through teaching and mentoring’” (5) with essays by Elaine Richardson, A. Abby Knoblauch, Sonja K. Foss and Karen A. Foss, and Michelle Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet.

Each chapter of Retellings evidences the ongoing work to reimagine the study of rhetoric and composition through a feminist lens, with selected chapters illustrating this point. In Chapter 2, Logan reminds us that historic feminist rhetoricians faced challenges similar to those women face today, using “the same rhetorical strategies” we see being employed by “present-day transnational feminist rhetoricians” (20-1). It’s a dynamic story of rhetors creatively using the best available means of persuasion with limitless potentialities for understanding and invention. For example, the creative application of place as a rhetorical resource is Eves’s focus in Chapter 6. She explicates how the nineteenth-century Utah poet, orator, and community leader, Eliza R. Snow, resisted female marginalization by using the metonymic trope of “Zion-as symbol” (110) to identify Mormon women as “spiritual beings with extraordinary potential” (111-12). Demonstrating how place can function “as a powerful vehicle for group identification (112), Eves extends Glenn’s 1997 work by recovering women’s position in rhetorical history in calling attention to Snow’s strategies for authorizing her feminist message.

This re-envisioning of feminist rhetorical practice is further developed in Sharer’s Chapter 10, which reminds us that not only does the story need retelling (because of recovered omissions from rhetorical histories and the ongoing addendums with history in the making) but it
also needs retelling by different voices. Berit von der Lippe enlists different voices as she responds in Chapter 5 to Sharer’s invitation by considering the female “presence as agents [of] change” in traditionally male-dominated war narratives (68) thereby transforming these stories “into peaceful ‘feminist’ protection scenarios” (69). Likewise, in Chapter 11, Helle embraces and extends feminists’ “injunction to ‘stand at the border’ of rhetoric and feminism, to ‘gain new perspectives’ on a deeply gendered site of embodiment, stigmatization, silence, and cultural production” as she examines the archives of breast cancer narratives (203).

In an ongoing effort to broaden feminist work and cross boundaries of privileged perspective, Sharer writes that “embracing, publishing, and circulating scholarly texts that invite collaboration, that forward the research process rather than present a research product, and that enable broader participation in professional publications is…essential” (184). Again, this argument is made more compelling because Retellings itself is just such a collaborative process, illuminating points of entry for readers to enact the methods retold in its pages. It is implied that readers will apply, test, and refine these methods—making Retellings, then, just a snowflake on an iceberg of possibility.

Four essays in Retellings are especially adept at modeling Sharer’s call for collaborative research and publication. Included in these is Mral’s Chapter 4 on gendered power relations in Nordic countries which is translated from the original Swedish into English by Judith Rinker Öhman. Modeling teamwork is the introductory Chapter 1 written by three authors: Enoch, Jack, and Glenn. In the final section, addressing feminist teaching and mentoring methods, two chapters are co-authored.

Among these is Chapter 14 wherein Foss and Foss reiterate the need for retelling the rhetorical story from different perspectives. They focus on nurturing individual agency and claim that it is through an individual paradigm shift that societal change can occur—especially change in harmony with feminist principles antithetical to a rhetoric of domination. This theory is particularly empowering since it emphasizes self-determination as a first step to affecting grand societal change. This, again, emphasizes the value each reader brings to Retelling’s project as they are intricately part of this envisioned social reform. Such pedagogical theorizing doesn’t end on the page but translates clearly to the classroom. Whether that is in a composition classroom or a biology classroom, Foss and Foss say that it doesn’t matter since the “strategies for changing reality” (269) are the same and can be applied to any discipline.

This fourth section offers practical applications for in-class activities and assignments. In Chapter 12, Richardson models Black and Hiphop feminist pedagogy hoping to show how marginalized girls can “tease out issues of equity and humanity in a critical womanist manner” (242). This section’s essays often end with self-reflexivity, “a core tenet of feminist rhetorical pedagogies” (249), and are offered as real sources of inspiration for instructors seeking to achieve Knoblauch’s call in Chapter 13 to prepare “the next generation of teacher-scholars to do the same” (260) thereby enacting the reciprocal aspect of feminist ideology.

While each section in Retellings is diverse and fresh in its rhetorical analysis, I am partial to Part 4 because of its pay-it-forward, real-world application emphasis. This is a moment when I felt caught up in the energy of Retellings and personally invited to “make a difference in the lives of [my] colleagues and students” (13). Additionally, as I read the convivial account of progressive mentor networking by The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (The Coalition), officially held since 1990 at the annual CCCC meeting, I experienced a kairotic pleasure which had me dreaming of a future year; as were many people, I was disappointed to miss the 2020 and 2021 rendezvous due to Covid-19’s interference. As I read and reviewed Retellings, Eble and Gaillet’s colorful recounting in Chapter 15 of The Coalition’s origins, mission, and activities as a model for creating feminist mentoring networks fed my isolated self with hope for better times ahead. Again, visions of Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations” danced in my head—I would have bought a ticket. The two gatherings felt very connected across time and space. I want to attend. I hope to attend to all that Retellings conjures in my mind and makes feel so incredibly possible and vital.

Hope is what Retellings is all about. Perhaps best articulated in Chapter 7, Bessette writes about the hope to “‘will’ change in the present” (118). She relates the story of the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ “‘archivettes’” and their work to “revise the historical narratives that have erased, criminalized, and pathologized lesbians.” Or maybe Adam’s Chapter 8 is the book’s hallmark of hope. Her essay literally begins with, “I hope…” (139). Adams responds to Glenn’s Unspoken (2004) in examining the “ethical quandaries” of working with participants in a discussion of institutionalized silence potentially masquerading as protection “that might run counter to feminist ways of knowing and doing” (141).

This commitment to changing the present permeates Retellings and nurtures hope that “discursive power (feminist rhetorical agency, no less) can bring people together to imagine new modes of being, or even to understand the ways our linguistic and embodied practices keep us apart” (7). Ultimately, this collection is historically valuable, immediately relevant, and effectively contributes to the “empowering [of] members of the network as scholars, teachers, and agents of change” (14), inviting all who want to join to be part of the ongoing conversation while showing them ways in which to make their contribution a reality.

Review of Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy

Baker-Bell, April. Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy. Routledge, 2020.


In Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy, Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy, and English Education at Michigan State University, April Baker-Bell shows readers she ain’t new to the Black Language (BL hereafter) conversation, but that she true to it. Conversations throughout the field of composition and literacy studies bout the literacy development of Black people within the American Education System been a hot topic and continues today. It ain’t no secret that Black people in America have been the topic of discussion in various conversations. Most of these conversations evolve round Black people…dare I say it…bein Black, literally. For example, the world has witnessed Black Americans of various ages be attacked and murdered by racist white people for doin seemingly normal activities like walkin, runnin, playin music, sleepin, singin outside, and complying with police demands to name a few. Moreover, Baker-Bell’s research on BL and pedagogical suggestions for how literacy educators, researchers, and students can benefit from first examining and then incorporating BL into the writing classroom, makes Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity and Pedagogy required reading for those who want to know about the conversations regarding the validity of BL and its use by Black and non-Black people alike.

What’s the 411?: Overview of Linguistic Justice

Wit more than 20 years’ experience teaching English at the high school and collegiate level, Baker-Bell blesses readers with six chapters in Linguistic Justice. In chapter one she identifies the purpose of Linguistic Justice in chapter one arguing:

people’s language experiences are not separate from their racial experiences. Indeed, the way a Black child’s language is devalued in school reflects how Black lives are devalued in the world. Similarly, the way a white child’s language is privileged and deemed the norm in schools is directly connected to the invisible ways that white culture is deemed normal, neutral, and superior in the world. (2)

Through this argument, Baker-Bell confronts the catalyst behind the continued conversation of BL and literacy education of Black students who speak and write using BL as it is an integral part of their identity: white supremacy. White supremacist ideologies within the American education system where Black students were and continue to be demeaned and labeled deficient because they don’t use “White Mainstream English” (WME hereafter) is because the idea of WME as the only acceptable form of English has been ingrained into the psyche of educators, parents, and students (3). Therefore, any language spoken or written that don’t mirror WME was/is deemed wrong, inadequate, deficit and the list goes on. As a teacher-scholar-activist, Baker-Bell challenges educators, scholars, and graduate students in various fields dedicated to language and literacy, to fight back against white supremacist ideologies which promote Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and subsequently Anti-Blackness, to Black students across the United States and the world. In addition to this argument, Baker-Bell presents “Linguistic Justice as a Black Language Theoreticum, a theory meets practicum” (8), for its contents expand seemingly traditional models of teaching. In chapter 2, Baker-Bell introduces readers to the theory of Anti-Black Linguistic Racism to show how prejudice against Black language is synonymous with racism against Black people and culture. Moreover, she offers Black Language Pedagogy as a method for students and Antiracist educators to resist and dismantle Anti-Black Linguistic Racism within the classroom, ultimately the world. Chapter 3 highlights the voices of several BL speaking high-school students who Baker-Bell worked with regarding their lived experiences with Black Linguistic Racism in and outside of school. This chapter is unique in that Baker-Bell centers these student voices to show how Anti-Black Linguistic Racism negatively impacts Black students’ identity and agency in and outside of the classroom. Chapter 4 showcases Baker-Bell’s Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy in action. Here, she details examples of lessons and activities she used to teach the high school students at Leadership Academy how to “challenge, interrogate, unlearn, and work toward dismantling Anti-Black Linguistic Racism” (64). In Chapter 5, Baker-Bell shares responses of the students she worked with previously (in chapter 3) on what they learned about Black Language and Anti-Black Linguistic Racism via the activities and lessons she taught using Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy.  Finally, Chapter 6 considered a Bonus chapter by Baker-Bell, provides readers with an update on her research with the students from Leadership Academy in addition to activities for English teachers to incorporate Linguistic Justice as a framework within they classes. Specifically, these activities and lessons curated within chapter were developed from award winning Young Adult fiction author, Angie Thomas’ bestseller, T.H.U.G.: The Hate U Give. Through the various chapters, Baker-Bell takes readers on a journey that ain’t for the faint of heart, especially if they goal is to actively practice Anti-Racist Pedagogy and Anti-Racist Black Linguistic Racism.

Words from the Black Language G.O.A.T.

 In Linguistic Justice, readers learn of Baker-Bell’s contribution to the ongoing BL conversation through the foreword that precedes its initial chapters. Michigan State University Professor of English, Emerita, the livin legend herself, Dr. Geneva Smitherman highlighted Baker-Bell’s contribution to the BL and literacy education conversation by continuing da work of those scholars who came before her in the foreword. Smitherman praises Baker-Bell sayin:

At long last, this is the book we have all been waiting for. A book designed to develop our students’ critical understanding of and historical consciousness about Black Language. A book that builds on that critical inquiry to motivate students to formulate ways of impacting and changing the linguistic status quo. As a leading member of a new generation of language and literature scholar-teacher-activists, Dr. April Baker-Bell represents for Black Language and it’s speakers because she gets it. (xii)

Dr. Smitherman’s declaration that Baker-Bell “gets it” is a statement that rings true and is shown throughout Linguistic Justice. As an early-career scholar in composition and applied linguistics whose research centers how Black Women English Teachers-Scholars (BWETS hereafter) navigate the field as BL speakers and writers, Linguistic Justice snatched the teeny tiny bit of edges I had left (my doctoral journey took the majority of them; but that’s a story for another publication).

Engaging with Linguistic Justice: How specific Chapters influenced my Pedagogy

As mentioned previously, Linguistic Justice challenges not only educators, but ANYONE in the field of English and literacy studies to critically examine they own beliefs regarding BL as well as the ways they intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and Anti-Blackness in they teaching. For example, in chapter 3 “Killing Them Softly” I was forced to revisit my own experiences with Anti-Black Linguistic Racism as a young jawn, when Baker-Bell introduced the counterstories, a womanist practice,  of Black students she worked with at Leadership Academy Charter School in Detroit. Specifically, I resonated with the experience of “Janel” who had spent the majority of her life navigating Anti-Black Linguistic Racism from teachers, administrators, Black elders and her own BL speaking family members.  Resonating with Janel’s experience reinforced my commitment to actively dismantle Anti-Black Linguistic and Anti-Blackness within myself (ex. checkin myself when I start tryna judge someone’s level of customer service simply because they use BL to communicate). In my teaching, I encourage my students to bring their full selves not only to my course but to the assignments too. I encourage them to write in they home languages in an effort to recognize and honor the validity of languages outside of WME. I model this by usin BL in my syllabus and in the written feedback I provide on papers. I look forward to incorporating Linguistic Justice and Baker-Bell’s use of composite character counter storytelling methodology into my own research on BL speaking and writing BWETS.  In chapter 5 “Black Linguistic Consciousness” Baker-Bell calls out language and literacy educators when she says

You can’t be out here saying that you believe in linguistic diversity at the same time of shutting students down as soon as they open their mouths. You have to be about this life for real for real! You have to be ready and willing to challenge everything you once understood about language and what students need in language education. You have to be ready for the messiness that comes with the process. (100)

Baker-Bell urges educators to move beyond talk about bein or becoming Anti-Racist Educators by challenging themselves and their colleagues to actively engage in dismantling Anti-Black Linguistic Racism. For students, Baker-Bell provides them with the academic receipts to protect themselves from and ultimately challenge Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and internalized Anti-Black Linguistic Racism from teachers, administrators, elders, and family members who still privilege WME as the gold standard. While Baker-Bell’s Linguistic Justice calls out educators, researchers, graduate students to focus on undoing Anti-Black Linguistic Racism, in true Black woman fashion, Baker-Bell shows that while she is calling these people out, that she ain’t gon leave em hangin’ to try to carry out this call on they own. Thus, she provided the previously mentioned bonus chapter (see “THUG LIFE”) with sample activities for how language and literacy educators can integrate Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy into they own teaching. Baker-Bell was gracious enough to share seven “Black Language Artifacts” “that can be implemented, altered, or used for inspiration to help teachers think through how to use literature in pursuit of linguistic and racial justice” (104).

Why You NEED Linguistic Justice…Periodt!

Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy ain’t no ordinary theory/research text, it is a movement. Linguistic Justice is a movement in that its content propels language and literacy educators and students to become movers and shakers within the continued fight against Anti-Black Linguistic Racism, Antiracist pedagogy, and Anti-Blackness as a whole—a critical component of womanist practices. Specifically, for the field of composition, Linguistic Justice directly addresses the common question of how to teach about BL as a vital part of literacy education for not just Black students, but non-Black students also. For teachers and scholars of composition, Linguistic Justice serves as a bold reminder of how many were taught to privilege WME as the correct way of writing and speaking within the writing classroom. Therefore, Linguistic Justice should be considered required reading in teacher education programs, as well as professional development for current teachers across the K-16 levels. What’s more, is Baker-Bell’s Linguistic Justice Framework could benefit not just composition but can be included in trainings and curriculums for non-humanities/social science fields. As Smitherman complimented sayin she “gets it”, I truly believe Linguistic Justice was Baker-Bell’s collective homage to the brilliance and beauty of Black Language, Black identity, Black education, Black people, and most of all Black freedom, and she desires for everybody and they mama to “get it” and get it (meaning purchase the book) you should, dear reader.