Rhetorical Value of Writing Program Archives

I want to use this entry to work my way through three three chapters I read from The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection (Irwin & Rose, eds.) (Citations provided at the end of this document. Also, if you’d like PDF’s of the articles, I’d be more than happy to send along the three chapters for you.)

Shirley K. Rose’s chapter argues for the myriad important of writing program archives. (At the end of this entry, I will offer a list of document-types that such an archive might contain.) The archives themselves would serve as a resource preserving the past work of writing program administrators, situate current policies and institutional structures within a continuous local narrative, and would offer insights into the complex dynamics of current institutional forces/investments. She demonstrates countless ways that such an archive could be useful to current and future administrator as an accessible construct of institutional memory and a way of understanding what sorts of rhetorical/material work can/cannot be accomplished in a variety of circumstances. In addition to its value to the institution itself, as well as acting WPAs, a writing program archive would serve other researchers (within the WP, the local university, regional institutions, and beyond(!).
She also offers several reasons, given the potential value of such archive, why they generally don’t exist (lack of perceived value; lack of interest, access, time, money). To these I myself would add issues such as continuity/consistency of maintenance, the premium of accessible physical space, lack of clearly conventional archival system appropriate to such a diverse discipline, the difficulty of responding to new genres and textual forms, and possible aversion to unecessary public disclosure of honest reflection and assessment necessary for a healthy archive.
Certainly, I’m planning to refer to Rose’s value arguments when the time comes for me to defend the importance of my own project. But at the moment, I’m most interested in what seems to be a relatively small point Rose makes in the middle of her article:
“Making judgments about the archival significance of writing program records draws on writing program administrators affectional expertise… this expertise is necessary to determine both primary values of archives… the secondary values of archival materials, including evidential value… and informational value” (111)
This passage really helps me understand the importance of my project in a much different light. As this project emerged from my own interests and how I saw the project as important for the institutions themselves and other researchers. What I didn’t recognize is that in some ways, this research process and dissertation could very well be valuable to the WPAs with whom I will be working. Both WPAs (to be announced later, once official and everything) have noted to me that they have this incredible wealth of documents collected over many years about the administration of their programs, and that they’d love to work with someone to start to investigate what they have and what purposes that archive might serve. Until I read Rose’s chapter, I had only really been thinking that these two WPAs would benefit from this study in terms of the broader insights and questions it would imply to a disciplinary audience.
Ruth M. Mirtz article covers much of the same ground that Rose’s does, but only as a frame for understanding a couple of situations which reveal and confirm the potential value of a writing program archive.
One of the most valuable aspects of Mirtz’s chapter is the way she invokes Robert Connor’s assertion that “any attempt to make history predictive would have to assume that there are dependable recurring circumstances, which is simply not the case. In fact, history is narrative, and every attempt to create a system to give that narrative a predictive meaning is fraught with peril” (121). I’m not so interested in his doubt about predictability; rather, his assertion about the non-recurrance of circumstances is fascinating. I haven’t yet read his article, so I don’t want to spend much time talking about this idea yet. But suffice it to say that he seems to be implying the importance of context awareness to the understanding of archival documents. And that seems to be directly related to the purpose of my dissertation: to combine institutional documentation with institutional experience to form at least a coherent sense of the circumstances in which those documents circulated.
In the third chapter I read from this collection, Barbara L’Eplattenier effectively extends (indirectly) Rose’s reflections on why these archives don’t already exist. She notes that, traditionally, administrative work hasn’t been considered part of an historical analysis of writing programs. Other difficulties lie in the collection of data (list coming), and analyzing these documents in the context of activities so dependent on negotiation, meetings, casual settings, disciplinary “lore,” and the constantly changing (often undocumented) web of institutional participants.

I want to use the rest of this entry to work my way through three three chapters I read from _The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher_ (Irwin & Rose, eds.) (Citation info provided at the end of this document. Also, if you’d like PDF’s of the articles, I’d be more than happy to send along the three chapters for you.)

Shirley K. Rose’s chapter argues for the myriad important of writing program archives. (At the end of this entry, I will offer a list of document-types that such an archive might contain.) The archives themselves would serve as a resource preserving the past work of writing program administrators, situate current policies and institutional structures within a continuous local narrative, and would offer insights into the complex dynamics of current institutional forces/investments. She demonstrates countless ways that such an archive could be useful to current and future administrator as an accessible construct of institutional memory and a way of understanding what sorts of rhetorical/material work can/cannot be accomplished in a variety of circumstances. In addition to its value to the institution itself, as well as acting WPAs, a writing program archive would serve other researchers (within the WP, the local university, regional institutions, and beyond(!).

She also offers several reasons, given the potential value of such archive, why they generally don’t exist (lack of perceived value; lack of interest, access, time, money). To these I myself would add issues such as continuity/consistency of maintenance, the premium of accessible physical space, lack of clearly conventional archival system appropriate to such a diverse discipline, the difficulty of responding to new genres and textual forms, and possible aversion to unecessary public disclosure of honest reflection and assessment necessary for a healthy archive.

Certainly, I’m planning to refer to Rose’s value arguments when the time comes for me to defend the importance of my own project. But at the moment, I’m most interested in what seems to be a relatively small point Rose makes in the middle of her article:

“Making judgments about the archival significance of writing program records draws on writing program administrators affectional expertise… this expertise is necessary to determine both primary values of archives… the secondary values of archival materials, including evidential value… and informational value” (111)

This passage really helps me understand the importance of my project in a much different light. As this project emerged from my own interests and how I saw the project as important for the institutions themselves and other researchers. What I didn’t recognize is that in some ways, this research process and dissertation could very well be valuable to the WPAs with whom I will be working. Both WPAs (to be announced later, once official and everything) have noted to me that they have this incredible wealth of documents collected over many years about the administration of their programs, and that they’d love to work with someone to start to investigate what they have and what purposes that archive might serve. Until I read Rose’s chapter, I had only really been thinking that these two WPAs would benefit from this study in terms of the broader insights and questions it would imply to a disciplinary audience.

Ruth M. Mirtz article covers much of the same ground that Rose’s does, but only as a frame for understanding a couple of situations which reveal and confirm the potential value of a writing program archive.

One of the most valuable aspects of Mirtz’s chapter is the way she invokes Robert Connor’s assertion that “any attempt to make history predictive would have to assume that there are dependable recurring circumstances, which is simply not the case. In fact, history is narrative, and every attempt to create a system to give that narrative a predictive meaning is fraught with peril” (121). I’m not so interested in his doubt about predictability; rather, his assertion about the non-recurrance of circumstances is fascinating. I haven’t yet read his article, so I don’t want to spend much time talking about this idea yet. But suffice it to say that he seems to be implying the importance of context awareness to the understanding of archival documents. And that seems to be directly related to the purpose of my dissertation: to combine institutional documentation with institutional experience to form at least a coherent sense of the circumstances in which those documents circulated.

In the third chapter I read from this collection, Barbara L’Eplattenier effectively extends (indirectly) Rose’s reflections on why these archives don’t already exist. She notes that, traditionally, administrative work hasn’t been considered part of an historical analysis of writing programs. Other difficulties lie in the collection of data (list coming), and analyzing these documents in the context of activities so dependent on negotiation, meetings, casual settings, disciplinary “lore,” and the constantly changing (often undocumented) web of institutional participants.

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Biblio-Info

L’Eplattenier, Barbara. “Finding Ourselves in the Past: An Argument for Historical Work on WPAs.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Ed. Irwin Weiser & Shirley K. Rose. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 131-140.

Mirtz, Ruth M. “WPAs as Historians:Discovering a First-Year Writing Program by Researching Its Past.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Ed. Irwin Weiser & Shirley K. Rose. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 119-130.

Rose, Shirley K. “Preserving Our Histories of Institutional Change: Enabling Research in the Writing Program Archives.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 107-118.

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. LOVED the previous post that outlines what data you want to collect.

    HATE the Word Count tool you have posted here. Not the thing itself, but what it represents. But if it works for you, great!

    LOVE this post as a start to your lit review (I’m guessing). Can’t wait to read more. Makes me think of Carter and Dunbar-Odom’s work with the CliC center.

  2. LOVED the previous post that outlines what data you want to collect.

    HATE the Word Count tool you have posted here. Not the thing itself, but what it represents. But if it works for you, great!

    LOVE this post as a start to your lit review (I’m guessing). Can’t wait to read more. Makes me think of Carter and Dunbar-Odom’s work with the CliC center.

  3. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your spirited response!

    And I don’t really like the WordCount thingy,either. Just trying it out, so see how it works. Been working so far, sort of like learning to eat broccoli, I think. Once you get used to it, you don’t need to remind yourself that it’s good for you anymore.

    I’m curious, though, what you think it represents, or what it represents to you. For me, it’s an expression of trying to learn consistency and discipline. Which I suspect will make me a better writer. It might backfire, though. I will certainly keep you updated. And I appreciate your honesty. Can always count on that from you. And I LOVE it!

    Now, off to track down that CliC center info. Would appreciate any direction you might offer.

    Will be curious to see how you react (if at all, really) to the entry about why I care about digital writing technologies at all.

    Again, thanks for posting. Hopefully, others will join you!

    T.

  4. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your spirited response!

    And I don’t really like the WordCount thingy,either. Just trying it out, so see how it works. Been working so far, sort of like learning to eat broccoli, I think. Once you get used to it, you don’t need to remind yourself that it’s good for you anymore.

    I’m curious, though, what you think it represents, or what it represents to you. For me, it’s an expression of trying to learn consistency and discipline. Which I suspect will make me a better writer. It might backfire, though. I will certainly keep you updated. And I appreciate your honesty. Can always count on that from you. And I LOVE it!

    Now, off to track down that CliC center info. Would appreciate any direction you might offer.

    Will be curious to see how you react (if at all, really) to the entry about why I care about digital writing technologies at all.

    Again, thanks for posting. Hopefully, others will join you!

    T.

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