The power of archives is realized across rhetorical studies, particularly within feminist and queer historiography. Certainly we may learn a good deal about the history of rhetoric, gender, and sexuality through archival research. Yet archives do not function simply as neutral repositories of information. Archives themselves are rhetorical constructions. In the words of Charles Morris, “The archive…should rightly be understood not as a passive receptacle for historical documents and their ‘truths,’ or a benign research space, but rather as a dynamic site of rhetorical power” (115). 

This rhetorical power of archives is evident as they orient users to view the past in ways that reinforce and/or challenge sexism, heteronormativity, and their intersections with other systems of power. Archives are also activated through historiographic interventions, which may enact transgressions of those same systems of power. Our course inquiry will take up this power of archives in both critical and practical terms, asking, how do we understand the rhetorical dimensions of archives, particularly as they animate our research on gender and sexuality? 

To explore this question, we will read about and practice archival methods, including with guidance from the archivists in Penn State’s Special Collections Library. We will also engage with archival scholarship from across rhetorical studies as well as archival studies, information science, and interdisciplinary women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. These scholarly conversations will attend to both brick-and-mortar archives and digital formations, while taking up a range of feminist and queer methodologies for uncovering how power is imbricated in archives.

Ultimately each seminar participant will propose and carry out an original archival research project related to his/her/hir/their area of specialization with respect to rhetoric, gender, and/or sexuality. Our attention to theory and methods will thus prepare you to conduct archival research while reflecting critically on the archive’s power to inform.


  • Theorize archives of gender and sexuality as rhetorical constructions.
  • Investigate the archive’s power to inform feminist and queer histories of rhetoric.
  • Utilize archival methods to conduct primary research on rhetoric, gender, and/or sexuality.

Potential texts:

  • Anjali Arondekar’s For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India.
  • Jean Bessette’s Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives: Composing Pasts and Futures
  • Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures.
  • Kate Eichhorn’s The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order.
  • Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval
  • Alana Kumbier’s Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive.
  • Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo’s Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition
  • Essays and chapters by Melissa Adler, Barbara Biesecker, Michelle Caswell, Karma Chávez, Marika Cifor, E. Cram, Qwo-Li Driskill, Jessica Enoch, Cheryl Glenn, Leslie Harris, Tarez Graban, Lauren Klein, Jamie Lee, Marlene Manoff, Charles Morris, Malea Powell, Eric Darnell Pritchard, K.J. Rawson, Angela Ray, Courtney Rivard, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ann Stoler, Kate Theimer, Stacy Wood, and Susan Zaeske, among others.