Unsettled cities rhetoric and race in the early Republic /

by Watson, Shevaun E.

Abstract (Summary)
UNSETTLED CITIES: RHETORIC AND RACE IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC By Shevaun E. Watson This study uses the African churches in Philadelphia in the 1790s and the Denmark Vesey conspiracy trials in Charleston in 1822 as focal points of inquiry into intersections of race and rhetoric in the Early Republic (1783-1828). I invite scholars in rhetoric and composition to reconsider this period as a crucial site of investigation for a field devoted to elaborating its history and understanding the widest array of rhetorical practices. This “extracurricular” history of rhetoric demonstrates that the Early Republic holds insight into rhetorical relations among others than the cultural elite. The vernacular, material rhetorics discussed here illustrate ways that different groups of blacks deployed verbal, written, and bodily language to manage the complex sociopolitical world of postrevolutionary America. Testimony, which I define as the material and embodied performance of truth, links these key events in African American rhetorical history and provides an overarching frame for my analysis. In the first chapter, I outline the historiographical issues undergirding the project. The next one situates testimony as a discursive and rhetorical form within ancient and modern contexts. I identify trials, both spiritual and legal, as loci for rhetorical activity for Philadelphia and Charleston blacks. Chapter Three examines the role of bodily testimony in the conversion experiences and ordinary lives of Philadelphia’s first black Methodists in relation to contemporaneous evidentiary debates about revealed religion. I read two cultural texts, a painting and a pamphlet, as direct evidence of whites’ postrevolutionary anxiety about blacks’ new sociopolitical freedoms, and as indirect evidence of blacks’ effective uses of their bodies in various “rhetorical trials.” The fourth chapter treats the persuasiveness of slave testimony in the trials of alleged slave conspirators. I analyze the way in which a bodily form of testimony, which I call “tortured truth,” or physical coercion intended to make the black body “speak,” created the sense of a real and pervasive threat. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the role of embodied testimony in David Walker’s 1829 Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, ending at a historical moment where other histories of U.S. rhetoric typically begin.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Miami University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:rhetoric african americans early america testimony material race american churches slave insurrections united states pennsylvania south carolina


Date of Publication:

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