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Rhetoric at the Margins

Rhetoric at the Margins

Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947

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David Gold


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
216 pages, 6 x 9


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About the Book

Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947 examines the rhetorical education of African American, female, and working-class college students in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The rich case studies in this work encourage a reconceptualization of both the history of rhetoric and composition and the ways we make use of it.

Author David Gold uses archival materials to study three types of institutions historically underrepresented in disciplinary histories: a black liberal arts college in rural East Texas (Wiley College); a public women's college (Texas Woman's University); and an independent teacher training school (East Texas Normal College). The case studies complement and challenge previous disciplinary histories and suggest that the epistemological schema that have long applied to pedagogical practices may actually limit our understanding of those practices.

Gold argues that each of these schools championed intellectual and pedagogical traditions that differed from the Eastern liberal arts model—a model that often serves as the standard bearer for rhetorical education. He demonstrates that by emphasizing community uplift and civic participation and attending to local needs, these schools created contexts in which otherwise moribund curricular features of the era—such as strict classroom discipline and an emphasis on prescription—took on new possibilities.

Rhetoric at the Margins describes the recent revisionist turn in rhetoric and composition historiography, argues for the importance of diverse institutional microhistories, and argues that the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries offer rich lessons for contemporary classroom practice. The study brings alive the voices of black, female, rural, Southern, and first-generation college students and their instructors, effectively linking these histories to the history of rhetoric and writing. Appendices include excerpts of important and rarely seen primary source material, allowing readers to experience in fuller detail the voices captured in this work.


David Gold, an associate professor of English at the University Michigan, is the author of Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947 (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008), winner of the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication Outstanding Book Award.  


Rhetoric at the Margins has much to offer readers.... but it is Gold's challenge of Berlin's taxonomies and insistence that scholars must resist tendencies to simplistically connect ideology and pedagogy that really stand out. As Gold stresses throughout the book, connections between pedagogy and ideology are much more complex than traditional taxonomies suggest. A highly engaging book, Rhetoric at the Marginsshould appeal to those interested in the different institutions investigated, alternative sites of rhetorical education, and the history of rhetoric and composition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”— Suzanne Bordelon, Composition Studies 

“Gold's book makes an important contribution to the field of rhetoric and composition studies because it exposes and examines rhetorical education in understudied college settings and highlights the work of scholar-teachers committed to providing their charges with essential language skills. Rhetoric at the Margins leads us to consider more carefully the historical significance of instruction in diverse institutions among a wide range of learners and reminds us that conservative methods and radical aims frequently coexist.”—Shirley Wilson Logan, Rhetoric Review 

“Gold's historical snapshots offer a nuanced picture of the rhetoric classroom that invites reconsideration of teacher motivation, student needs, historical conditions, and community involvement as factors shaping classroom writing and pedagogy.... [It] has much to offer rhetoricians, historiographers, and writing instructors. Arguing for a more diverse, complex depiction of the rhetoric classroom and teaching practices, Gold successfully makes the case that local histories matter and that small schools responding to local community needs dynamically change the face of rhetorical education.”—Whitney Myers, Rhetoric Society Quarterly 

“Gold's work...demonstrates a method of historiography that deserves repeat performances.... More importantly, however, he seems to resist the temptation to make another master narrative out of his recovered stories. His conclusion does not synthesize but sustains its commitment to the local and reiterates his initial objective to "develop a corpus of work that will illuminate the past with a minimum of narrative distortion." Given his third objective—to learn from the past we uncover—Gold explores the obligations rhetoric and composition instructors face if we are to, in effect, do our jobs.”—Kristen Garrison, Review of Communication