Doctoral students in the English Department define and write one or more project papers as part of their preparation for the comprehensive examination. This page offers a sampling of graduate students' descriptions of their project papers.
“Making. Voice. Matter. Exploring the Materiality and Potential of Voice for Compositional Invention.”
Traditionally, voice has been taken up in the field of composition and rhetoric as either a silent, textual metaphor or an embodied instrument of live oratory. However, as we turn to embrace digital and multimodal approaches to writing, voice reemerges in a new form, no longer reducible to language nor tied to the time and place of the live speaking body. Crucially, with the rise of digital audio, it becomes possible to compose not only with words, but also with voices—even with the voices of others. As an exploratory opening to this phenomenon, in this project, I explore the affective, performative, and ethical dimensions of voice as a compositional material. In Paper One, I offer an overview of the ways that voice has been employed in composition theory and practice over the past half-century, identifying the limitations of our dominant metaphorical and oratorical traditions and considering the lasting influence these models have had on subsequent approaches to voice-as-*sound*. In Paper Two, I draw upon a range of philosophical, biotechnological, and aesthetic approaches to voice from across the disciplines and use these theories to rearticulate voice’s relationship to language, bodies, and technologies, and to propose the need for a more flexible, material model of *digital vocality*.
“Literacy Learning as Genre Learning”
My project takes as its central concern the relationship between genres and literacy, specifically between genre learning and literacy learning. The discipline of composition and rhetoric is constantly engaged in the process of revising our notion of literacy/literacies, and this project intervenes in that conversation by theorizing how literacy operates through genres. That is, if we communicate always within a recognizable genre (or we fail to communicate effectively or efficiently because what we are saying or writing is unrecognizable, unable to give our correspondents a way to respond appropriately), this project suggests that when we talk about literate practices, what we need to pay more attention to is that we're talking about how literacy is being expressed through various genres (both written and spoken), genres which make available (or not) particular ways of being in the world. One of the primary aims in this theorization of literacy is uniting conversations in literacy studies and rhetorical genre studies, two fields that theorize both literacy and genres in ways that seem to overlap, but which do not typically address each other in order to theorize these concepts together.
“Before I Sleep: Archiving the Miles still Untraveled”
This paper "re-covers" Josephine Miles from the archive, while simultaneously re-thinking archival and historical methods. I ask what it means and how it looks to attune toward the archive affirmatively and always toward the future. In this way, I update Miles for my archive and ask what she can offer us for the future in/of rhetoric and composition.
“Murderous Materialities: The Affirmative Compositionist’s Test Case”
This paper takes the groundwork laid out in paper 1 and begins practicing this new mode of *doing* rhetoric and *doing* composition through the digito-material remains of those murdered and murdering in Pittsburgh. Starting with the premise that we live in times of radical connectivity, I re-compose and re-think the agency and entanglement of murder through new materialist theory, digital archival practices, and digital inventories, where any one composition can always be revised, decomposed and re-composed.
"Towards a Methodology for Children’s Writing: Wrangling with the History of Children’s Literacy, Representations of the Child’s Voice, and Scholarship on Children’s Writing"
"Youthful Enterprises: Amateur Newspapers and the Pre-History of Adolescence, 1867-1883"
My project papers were an attempt to develop methodologies for working with writing done by the young. As a scholar of childhood who has come up in English departments, my methods and understanding of childhood have been heavily influenced by children’s literature studies. Since the late 1990s, that field has been attempting to come to grips with the disconnect between its understanding of childhood as a cultural construction and the imperative to write scholarship that addresses the lived experience of children themselves. The influence of theorists like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault who seem to emphasize what Perry Nodelman calls the “the apparent self-enclosedness of discourse” has led to skepticism about the possibility of work that accounts for the places where texts and life intersect—such places might seem not to exist, one might say, or to be thoroughly discursively constructed. I, like Nodelman, think that it would be worth our while to develop methods for research that self-consciously tries to avoid reinscribing power relations inherent in our existing ways of talking and writing about and to children, but that also “does not accept the apparent self-enclosedness of discourse, that never forgets the real existence of real children and other human beings and seeks continually to come into contact with those real, embodied beings outside it, in ways that honor their otherness to oneself.”
These project papers map several routes for interpreting children's writing from the historical past, all of which pay close attention to the history of childhood and its potential influence on children writing, and all of which deeply contextualize acts of writing within contemporary cultures of literacy. I work with materials ranging from an 1867 McGuffey primer, the Temple School Journals of George and Martha Kuhn (1836-7), an excerpt from Donald Graves' Writing: Teachers and Children at Work (1983), and amateur newspapers printed on small presses and circulated by youths in the 1870s and 80s. The second project paper was published in a special issue of American Periodicals on Children's Periodicals in 2012, and won runner-up for the 2013 RSAP/ProQuest Article Prize as well as for the 2013 Graduate Writing Award in Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric from the Pitt Composition Program.
"Toward a Rhetoric of Syntactic Delivery, Parts I and II"
This project refigures the canon of delivery by offering an approach to syntax that claims the sentence as both a site and an agent of rhetorical delivery. In Part I of the project, I look to the 1960s-80s, a curious moment when two pedagogies with seemingly competing ends flourished simultaneously. Sentence-level instruction and Expressivism came to fruition during these years, and while the former concerns itself with product and the latter with process, I claim that these two schools are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Rather, sentence-level instruction revolves around the gestures of a sentence, and Expressivism around the voice of a writer—taken together, they concern delivery. These decades, then, mark a moment when Composition turned to consider delivery, albeit in a tacit and unacknowledged manner. The 1960s-80s have yet to be claimed as a revival of delivery, and I bring together sentence-level instruction with Expressivism to think through how these decades might be read in light of delivery. Part II of the project delves into the implications of considering the sentence as a site and agent of rhetorical delivery. Relying on Stanley Fish's argument to read a sentence not for what it means but for what it does, I look to a handful of student sentences, reading them as delivered sentences. I consider how their syntax gestures and speaks, and I speculate on how this syntactic delivery could refigure the way the sentence is read, written, and taught.
"A Rhetorical Genealogy of Bacterial Psychology"
My project studies what I call "bacterial psychology" from two distinct yet inter-animated perspectives: via scientists' metaphors for bacterial behavior, a descriptive practice which tends toward the unabashedly anthropomorphic; and via recent research on human-bacteria symbiosis. The pivot between these two angles of my research is the term “quorum sensing,” which scientists use to describe the chemical signaling process by which bacteria make collective decisions. I suggest that the term “quorum sensing” has encouraged the next generation of bacteriologists to make the imaginative leaps leading to research on the human-bacteria sensory interface.
“Dictionaries, Antiquaries, and Anglo-Saxonists: Composing the History of English in Eighteenth-Century Britain”
“‘What Place Has Old English Philology in Our Elementary Schools?’”: Teaching Literacy and the History of English in the Nineteenth-Century United States”
My project examines the place and prominence of the history of the English language in nineteenth-century American cultures of literacy. I approach the history of English as a discourse, one that emerges in eighteenth-century British dictionaries and grammars and then consolidates throughout the nineteenth-century as it is variously taken up and deployed by the most widely-circulating American instructional materials. My archive includes rhetorics like Hugh Blair’s, Lindley Murray’s English Grammar and its successors, the period’s most influential composition textbooks, as well as many other textbooks (spellers, readers, etymology textbooks, histories of literature) and periodicals (The Common School Journal, The Chautauquan, The Youth’s Companion) that include histories of English, cite Anglo-Saxon in their discussions of grammar, rhetoric, and style, or in other ways make historical language study an important literacy concern. First and foremost, this is a recovery project, an attempt to bring new attention to an overlooked segment of literacy textbooks and an overlooked facet of literate culture in this country. Such a recovery is necessary, I believe, because writing the history of English participated directly in the then prevailing concerns about rhetoric, pedagogy, and standardization. It also registered the larger role of language and literacy instruction in often gendered and racialized Anglo-American cultural projects during the nineteenth century. At the same time, I believe such historical work can reorient composition studies’ approach to the history of English in the present moment. Gesturing toward current composition scholarship on multiliteracies, multiple Englishes, and the practice and politics of English instruction on the global scene, I propose new relations between literacy education and the history of English as well as a new role for the history of the English language courses still commonly offered in today’s universities.
My first project paper, "Letter-Writing Instruction as Rhetorical Education: A Review," explores how existing histories of teaching and learning in the nineteenth-century U. S. have (or have not) figured letter-writing instruction as a form of rhetorical education.
My second paper, "Rhetorical Education for Romantic Engagement," draws on queer theory and rhetorical genre theory to analyze how a sample of nineteenth-century letter-writing manuals taught what I call "romantic engagement." I argue that, in teaching the romantic letter genre, these manuals embedded a heteronormative conception of romantic relations and, at the same time, taught strategies of audience awareness and rhetorical display that may have been used in service of cultivating or subverting such relations.