Bodies of evidence: the rhetoric of simulated history

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Wright, Jaime Lane

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The past and the present are never involved in a fixed relation; they are, in fact, constantly shaping and affecting one another. As we seek to learn more about the past, our perceptions of the present change, and, as we seek to understand more about the present, our approaches to (and explorations of) the past alter. There is a mutually reinforcing rhetorical force to historical investigations and their connections to contemporary ends. Claims about the past set boundaries; when one person (or family or nation) makes a statement about history, rhetorical, social and political lines are drawn. Maneuvering within and between and around those boundaries is the rhetorical practice of historiography; the results of those rhetorical maneuvers are the political practice of historiography. Claims about the past are used to do many things, and this dissertation is about those rhetorical uses and the boundaries that they establish. This dissertation is about the epistemological power of historical rhetoric, the social and political work done in the present by knowledge claims we make about the past. Different ways of talking about the past are both a rhetorical practice (a way to construct believable histories) and a source of knowledge. It is important for rhetorical critics to recognize that the constructions of history are doing something at the same time that they are becoming something for others to use rhetorically, politically, and socially. In this dissertation, I explore four different rhetorics of history: Experienced History, Professional History, Collective Memory, and Simulated History. Suggesting that effective persuasive arguments are shaped and predicted by the cultures from which they stem, I investigate and compare these knowledge claims about the past. Using four rhetorical dimensions (Materiality, Perspective, Standards of Practice, and Silences), I examine how knowledge claims about the past differ, how the methods work rhetorically, and how those different rhetorical powers create distinct understandings of the past.



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