My interdisciplinary research brings together Composition and Rhetoric, Digital Humanities, and Feminist Studies to study the rhetoric of history as it unfolds in the space of archives.
By focusing on the intersection of digital protocols and the rhetoric of archival structures, such as categorization, indexing, and tagging practices, I interrogate how notions of race, gender, and national belonging are produced in and through archival spaces. Currently I have three major projects underway:
The Voice of a Nation: Mapping Documentary Expression in New Deal America
This collaborative project emerges from Photogrammar, a public facing digital humanities project designed to bring together the photographs taken during by the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) with the life histories from the Federal Writers Projects in order to give users the opportunity to explore visual and textual evidence relating to the Great Depression.
The Voice of Nation: Mapping Documentary Expression in New Deal American takes a deeper look into the Southern Life Histories Collection through an interdisciplinary lens that weaves together Composition and Rhetoric, Digital Humanities, and Digital Public History. The Life Histories Project began as monumental effort by the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project to collect the stories from everyday people by putting unemployed writers to work during the Great Depression. At its height, the project employed 6,000 writers and wrote nearly 10,000 life histories. These life histories mark a unique genre of writing that bring together social documentary, ethnography, and oral history that reveal as much about the writers as the interviewees. Through a theory that we call “thick mapping,” we fuse metadata mapping practices with text analysis to interrogate these life histories in ways never done before. Utilizing the affordances of the digital monograph, our argument unfolds in a series of map layers each digging more deeply how into how race and gender are represented in the composition and narrative structures of the life histories. Together this analysis reveals how notions of Southern identity were negotiated through this unique new genre, created at a time of political, economic, and social turmoil.
The Invention of Disaster Archives and the Rhetorics of Race, Gender, and Nation
In this book manuscript, I investigate the new methods deployed by many U.S. historical institutions to collect and display materials relating to two contemporary disasters: September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. These new methods, which I define as “disaster archiving,” contain four key elements: (1) immediate collection of physical materials, rather than the previous methodological tenet that called for significant time and distance before initiating collection procedures, (2) preservation of objects in perpetual destruction to maintain their authenticity, (3) a focus on stories rather than historical context, and (4) digital collection of born-digital materials that demonstrate the general population’s thoughts and feelings relating to the event including emails and digital to a scale never before possible. Using new and emerging theories surrounding archival rhetorics, I demonstrate how this new method of collecting ‘history-in-the-making’ reveals the ways in which notions of race, gender, and national belonging become built into archival structures.
Materiality, Archives, and Rhetoric: De-linking the Colonial Logic of the Federal Acknowledgement Process
My next book project emerges from my community work with the Pointe-au-Chien and Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw-Muskogee Indian Tribes of Louisiana. The two tribes are currently mounting cases for federal recognition, which requires them to prove their existence as a tribe from now until the 16th Century. The tribes are in desperate need for the resources provided by Federal Recognition so that they can protect their communities from devastating coastal erosion brought on by climate change, oil and gas exploration, and the onslaught of hurricanes, such as Katrina and Rita. In order to make their case, they must conduct extensive archival research, but were prohibited from accessing key archives because they lacked doctoral degrees. Using my privileged Ph.D., I conducted necessary research for them while analyzing the complex power of the archives to regulate access, categorize according to colonial logic, and privatize and disperse key documents.
Materiality, Archives, and Rhetoric: De-linking the Colonial Logic of the Federal Acknowledgement Process addresses a crucial area that has been overlooked by recent critical studies of historical institutions’ collection and display goals – the ways in which archival finding aids and collection search engines categorize and index collected material, an area in which digital technologies now play a fundamental role. The result of this oversight is that the classification systems often reproduce inequalities by ignoring marginalized communities’ worldviews and naming practices. I argue that legal rhetoric outlining evidentiary standards work together with archival classification systems to create barriers that are nearly impossible for tribes to overcome.