I think perhaps the most important thing that I will take away from 733 is not “one thing,” but rather a deeper understanding of rhetoric studies overall. Going through “the tradition” for a second time, I knew more about what was coming up and was thus able to make more and deeper connections than I did the first time through. It was also interesting to see what readings we included, what we excluded, and how that connected to readings outside of The Rhetorical Tradition. These connections to events and cultural developments that were not covered in the “big book” were extremely helpful in allowing me to contextualize the canonized thinkers in the rhetorical tradition in newer and broader ways.
Of the supplemental readings, I found those from Reclaiming Rhetorica and A Short History of Writing Instruction the most helpful overall. Reclaiming Rhetorica offered perspectives from female rhetors that were often left out of The Rhetorical Tradition, almost offering a woman-centered version of the larger book. I had read chapters ten and eleven from this book before (though we did not cover these in this class) and found the chapter by Jan Swearingen on Diotima especially interesting, enough so that I reread Symposium so that I could contextualize her ideas more thoroughly within the larger text. I am interested in Western ideas of love and desire, how they arose, and how they compare to non-Western ideas of the same. Often in ancient Western texts I see strains of non-Western ideas (or at least that is how we might label them now) thus this discussion of Diotima’s discourse on love was very compelling to me for that reason.
The chapters in A Short History of Writing Instruction were likewise very informative, showing the background and historic context for the readings from The Rhetorical Tradition. Though all of these readings were helpful, I particularly remember the chapters on Greek and Roman writing instruction, and how that informed the readings I was doing from these times. Who could read and write, and why they might want or need these skills was very helpful in understanding written literacy during these times, and I learned things that surprised me – for instance, that writing initially was more of a merchant class activity rather than an upper class one. It was also very helpful to track the history of writing instruction alongside the history of rhetorical studies and pedagogy, thus knowing how central writing and literacy training were to the curriculum during, say, the Renaissance, made the theories from this time richer as I understood more fully how intertwined humanism and rhetoric were.
The discussions about the centrality of rhetoric, grammar, and Latin was also of interest to me – from my own experience this semester being immersed in Latin and rhetoric, I felt more a part of a tradition, rather than just being that one eccentric student who thinks learning Latin is a good idea. Honestly, this has given me a much greater understanding of many issues in rhetoric and writing instruction, including how a focus on grammar could come to dominate ideas about teaching writing. In learning Latin, grammar is such a central focus and almost has to be, as words are totally changed by the way they are used in a sentence – to even be able to choose the correct word or understand the meaning of a sentence, one needs to know what word is the direct object versus the indirect object, etc. Latin is incomprehensible otherwise. Understanding that “grammar school” meant “Latin grammar school,” I understand more about how teaching writing in English could have been conflated with learning how to write in Latin. This is not a teaching method that ever made sense to me, and though I don’t think that it is the most effective way to teach writing, I at least understand where the idea came from.
Seeing rhetoric, writing, and pedagogy within a larger historic network is the most important thing that I will take from this course, I think. Viewing it from within a larger systemic model allows me to see the changes and fluctuations in perceptions of rhetoric and writing, as well as their inter-relationality across time and place. In addition, it offers a deeper understanding of the ideas and concepts that I encounter within the field of composition and rhetoric, both from those within the field and those outside of it. I can also see holes and gaps in these frameworks and can imagine places yet to be fully explored and directions toward which these studies might move. The Rhetorical Tradition, however large a book it might be, only covers a small percentage of the rhetorical practices and theories actually enacted – the space outside of and beyond that tradition leaves significant room for more and different scholarship, a proposition that I take as an exciting challenge.