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Special Field Exam: Sample Questions

Writing Studies: Gender and Writing - Liz Rohan

1. I'd like to begin by recapping the rationale for this list to rearticulate how it, and its corresponding texts, reflect my overall research interest: how women have struggled to be writers, and as what Brandt calls "sponsors" (1999) of literacy, via the constructs of American work and educational institutions as established at the turn of the twentieth century,1870-1930, and how Janette Miller's story connects to this larger history.

2. Connors (1997) argues that the shift from oral rhetoric to written discourse at the turn of the twentieth century, what he calls "irenic" rhetoric, was a response to women's growing presence in American colleges, "As women entered colleges, the older rhetoric course organized around argument and public contest made men (and some women) uncomfortable. Agonistic behavior--sharp debating techniques, cutting criticism, sarcastic dismissal--directed against women during these early Victorian times was disquieting to many" (62). Clark and Halloran (1993) attribute the shift from oral to written rhetoric within American colleges to a growing professionalization, demanding a more specialized work force. How might studies of work--and the need for writing at work--in burgeoning corporate America during this period problematize Connors' assertion and provide a more comprehensive explanation of this shift than that provided by Clark and Halloran (Davies1985, Yates, 1989, Sondik 1989)?

3. Some Writing Studies feminists claim hypertext writing encourages the construction of texts that begin to represent the complicated subject positions held by women and that online writing, coupled with electronic classrooms, create the potential for "activist autobiographical texts" (L. Sullivan 1999)which can help all writers depict complicated subjectivities. Sullivan and Hawisher (1999) also note the possibility for self representation made possible for women in Cyberspace, but that images of women and their activities depicted by institutional sites like universities and businesses tend to be "regimented and prescribed" in their content and design (1999). In the 1950s and 1960s,the newsletters written by the Angolan Congregationalist missionaries [the mission from which Janette Miller resigned] tend to be more "regimented and prescribed" than Miller's newsletters. For example, the Congregational newsletters have an "official" letterhead, reminiscent of a corporate logo, while Miller's newsletters have no logo and often end with her own "personal" poems. Why might these designs and their exigencies in these two situations be similar and what might we learn from an analysis of their similarities--and differences?

4. Jarratt (1991) suggests the ideal pedagogy emphasizes the use and significance of both private and public discourse. How might women's position in the historical academy (Horowitz 1984), and the contemporary academy (Enos 1996, Cheseri-Strater1991, Crowley 1998, Schell 1998), complicate Jarratt's call for a public/private pedagogical model?

5. In her study of women's clubs 1880-1920, Gere(1997) claims that the club women developed an alternative writing pedagogy to that developed in universities. She suggests this history of clubwomen's literate practices can serve as a model for contemporary pedagogies because it creates a space for amateur writers, "Narratives of [contemporary] English studies will be richer and more incisive for considering how women's clubs instantiated and contended with these tensions [between the amateur and the professional and their texts] at the dawn of professionalization" (247). In a similar study of the reform movement between 1890 and 1935, which was led by Jane Addams, Muncy (1991) looks at the women's "networking practices" during this time as a contemporary model for merging "feminism," with its emphasis on equality, and "professionalism," with its tendency to exclude others and annex rather than distribute knowledge. Both the club movement and the reform movement lost their efficacy in the 1920s after women gained the vote, and female dominated professions and movements were either downsized, as with club work, or were absorbed into male institutions, as with the reform movement, foreign missions, and library schools (Hunter 1989, Robert 1996, Hill 1985, Garrison Garrison 1979). How might Nancy Fraser's(1986, 1997) theories about the public sphere help explain the shift identified by Gere and Muncy and how might Writing Studies be informed by it?

6. Scholars of technology (Snyder,1996, Bolter, 1991, Johnson-Eilola 1998) theorize that hypertextual relationships reflect our postmodern world view, emphasizing connections rather than hierarchies among ideas and their agents. Snyder for example theorizes that hypertext "embodies postmodern theories" (119). Women's eighteenth and nineteenth century diarists also employed collage and multi-media in their writing--thus representing the "fragmentary" self (Hedges,1982, Blodgett, 1988, Bunkers and Huff, 1996, Showalter 1991, Motz 1988) we now associate with postmodernity and, correspondingly, hypertext. Janette Miller used collage and multi-media in her diary as well. For example, to narrate the event of her parents' secret marriage in her scrapbook (secrecy was necessary so her mother could keep her teaching job), she pasted in several fragments from family letters, each describing the event from different (unauthored) perspectives. How might an analysis of women's diary practices, in conjunction with hypertext, provide a broader understanding of the two, and potentially bridge the binary identified by Stabile (1994) between feminist technophobes and feminist technomaniacs? How might Bourdieu's (1991) theory of "The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Language" and genre studies (Freedman and Medway 1994) inform and problematize this conflict?

7. One of the sponsors for Miller's mission at the beginning of her career was the Congregational Missionary Board. On occasion Miller, like her fellow missionaries, wrote letters to the boards' headquarters in Boston to comment on the progress of the mission. Miller took this concept several steps further by writing her own missionary monthly newsletter which her father typed and circulated across the country--claiming audiences from Boston to Pasadena. As far as I can surmise, he mimeographed several copies of the letters and the rest were circulated chain letter style. Of these the purpose of this letters Miller wrote,

It [the newsletter] is too personal to be useful to the Boards for publication but I want you to feel each of you dear friends that I am speaking straight to your minds and hearts, each of you. I believe I can feel it so myself more this way than if I were rushing to write hundreds of letters in the time for one. This way I am thinking of you all the month and what I should like to say to one or another of you and when I get the evening to sit down and put it on paper it is indeed a composite letter and a very personal one full of the love and good will of friendship with you so far way and yet so near.

How might Miller's use, and the circulation of these texts, reflect Pratt's (1992) concept of "transculturation," whereby "subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted to them by a dominant of metropolitan culture because "they cannot readily control what emanates from the dominant culture" (26)? How might Miller's texts be "hidden transcripts" , discourse that takes place "offstage," beyond direct observation by power holders, texts which "confirm, contradict or inflect what appears in the public transcript" ( John Scott1990 5)? What might we learn about women's literacy by analyzing their use of transculturation and hidden transcripts (Hobbs/Simmons 1995)?

8. Writing about women's temperance rhetoric at the turn of the twentieth century, Mattingly (1998) argues that, "In our secular age, scholars tend to disregard women associated with evangelical or religious causes not considered progressive by today's standards." This is an unfortunate prejudice because "a vast number of women prepared for further involvement in public life through positions in such [evangelical Christian] organizations." While Janette Miller's story may provide insight into the conflict between professionalism and feminism, I recognize the prejudice against religious position identified by Mattingly, a prejudice which is often misinformed by Christianity being automatically associated with its contemporary, and most public, manifestation fundamentalism, as well as Christianity's obvious conflict with contemporary postmodern worldviews (Viswanathan 1998, DeBerg1990, Hunter 1983, Ruether 1986, Hassey 1986). Nevertheless, Miller's "Christian" writing has interesting implications when considering it within the context of women's 19thcentury evangelical hymnody. Hobbs (1997) argues that the rhetoric created in light of this epistemology "develops an enormously powerful, imaginative, and complex model of female spirituality." How might Writing Studies, as a service institution and also a field invested understanding literacy often shaped by Christian and institutions, be informed by Miller's brand of feminine Christianity as well as by a greater understanding and appreciation of this religion's vulnerability and veritable annihilation in the1920s and 30s?

9. Gunther Kress (1998) asserts, "In periods of relative social stability, critique has the function of introducing a dynamic into the system. In a situation of intense social change, the rules of constitution of texts and of social arrangements are in crisis. . . . individuals are now seen as remakers, transformers, of sets of representational resources--rather than users of stable systems, in a situation where multiple representational modes are brought into compositions" (Page to Screen 77). In essence Kress argues, in these times of transition, design supersedes critique. How might women's historical use of design as a form of communication, as with quilts (Showalter 1991, Arpad1988) and needlepoint (Goggin 2000), both challenge and enhance Kress's theory?

10. Using one of Janette Miller's poems as a springboard (writing sample A) I'd like to discuss the two audiences Miller identifies in the two stanzas: the African children in the "field," and the white Europeans "on furlough." (I use this poem as a sample because it's a short piece). These two audiences may symbolize the complexity of sponsorship experienced and administrated by Miller through her literacy practices as a writer for both audiences. Sponsors "are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who provide, enhance, or deny opportunities for literacy learning and gain advantage by it in some way" (Brandt 376).BrandtÕs portrait of sponsorship suggests that one's ability to gain or be a sponsor of literacy is influenced by gender, class and shifting economic frameworks. How does Miller's career-long struggle to maintain an equilibrium between her role as a sponsor of literacy, and her dependence upon other sponsors, provide a complex example of Brandt's (1999) research concerning the economic paradigms which have shaped opportunities for literacy in the twentieth century?

11. Homi Bhahba defines the meeting of feminism and racism as a "third space" or "third thing."(1999). Using several of Miller's comments, written at the onset of her missionary career 1912-1914, I want to analyze how Miller's work, and reflections about how subject position, reflects Bhahba's notion of a third space. How might Miller's positioning reflect this concept? What might we make of this positioning and how might Joan Scott's (1992)theory of women's history enhance a discussion of Miller's position in this "third space"?

(1) Mr. Neipp wanted kindergarten closed because the mothers would not pay tuition and the children's work doesn't amount to much. I just begged for my babies. I think it is more important to influence them early than to try to teach them and unteach them later. He wasn't convinced and I did not really gain my point but the station took no action and I have been lying low and not attracting attention to kindergarten, meanwhile being a mother to them as if my life depended upon it not knowing what day will be my last. And their work is amounting to something.

(2) The doctor is splendid to enter into all of the plans. It [he?] is certainly cooperative even if he does tease me in fun about some of my ideas. His people [I think the doctor is English] didn't fight in the revolutionary for the equality of man nor for equality of color in the civil war, so he can't be blamed. [H]e thinks I have not enough of the "British-in-India" policy in me. It does go hard against my American blood to see the natives kneel to us. I feel like Daniel with the other party doing the kneeling; and besides I feel we do not at all get to know them under their mask of self abasement. I am wondering how we are to know their soul's needs to see how to help them in Sunday school or how indeed public meetings can possibly be made to take the place of personal influence and the quiet words of counsel coming naturally and easily into a conversation.

[3] For many years the Woman's Boards have been sending single ladies to the field to do "women's work for women." We come out here expecting to do it and what do we find? A big school of boys and women in the fields. If we say we want the girls there is a big commotion because they say the girls will forget how to cultivate the fields. It would be a dreadful thing to have the men in the villages go out and do anything, for who would decorate the village assembly room where they sit around and talk lazily by the fire. To cut a long story short, the great movement now out here is toward girls' boarding school.

[4] I wish you could see how foolish the boys look when the girls answer up many times in school when they can't. This station is so isolated that the boys didn't know the girls can learn. They were very skeptical indeed. The women certainly have to work for what they get. They have to work out Adam's curse for him in the fields while Adam sits in the engangae[?] and discourses on his wife's failings. Then if she wants school she must come when her field work is done and she is tired. If she is a little girl hardly more than a kindergarten age she must not be released from the field work for fear she will become lazy; and to learn her school she must find extra hours somewhere to work at something else

12. Standpoint feminist theorists claim that looking at the patterns women create in their historically devalued every day discourse creates a "a different way of seeing reality" (Apheker 1989, Harding 1991, Smith 1987, Hacker 1990). Behar's work(1993) suggests the complexity of representing women's perspectives and she calls for an alternative method for telling stories about them, "We ask for revelations from others, but we reveal little or nothing of ourselves; we make others vulnerable, but we ourselves remain invulnerable" (273). In contrast, Alpern(1992) recognizes the relationship women biographers develop with their historical research subject but assumes that this relationship be eventually undercut by "critical distance" from one's research project--a stance Behar problematizes in ethnographic research. The issue of a historian's relationship to her subject has been a topic of recent interest and debate among Writing Studies feminist historians who, like Behar, problematize the academic convention of "critical distance" (Campbell 1995, Royster2000, Bizzell 2000). Considering this debate, how might feminist historians benefit and use methods developed by feminist ethnographers? Why might these new methods be useful?

13. What might an experimental historical representation based on experimental feminist ethnographic methods entail or what might it "look like"? What purpose would it serve (DeLauretis 1987)?

14. Last, how might I incorporate the themes of sponsorship, space, mapping, fragmentation, and borderlands (in terms of discourse and location) into an overarching theme for my dissertation?

For Question 10

Janette Miller's first poem (on "record") written about and from Africa (Capetown) to her brother in 1918. She was about 38. Here she reflects on her experience speaking in front of a large crowd about missionary work, "on furlough." Here I hypothesize she writes about the different populations (I) "On the field," the African children whom she teaches in Angola and the (II) white Africans whom she speaks to about her work in Capetown. I think this poem is reflective of evangelical hymnody. as true womanhood meets nationalism/globalization. The poem also reflects her double role as a sponsor of literacy to the African children "in the field" and one who depends on white European sponsors "onfurlough."

I. On the field.
Black faces, brown faces, crowded to the wall.
Boy faces, girl faces, lean faces all.
Rows of benches line on line
Every eye intent on mine
What can I say to you?
My Lord has a message I must bring
He put in my heart a song to sing
He'll tell me what to do.

Big eyes, bright eyes, the sport has just begun
Restless little bodies strong.
Waiting eyes, but not for long
How I love you all!
Day by day and every year
I've faced those eyes without a fear
To trust is not to fall

II. On furlough
White faces, strange faces, looking up to me
Old faces, wise faces, my Waterloo I see.
Standing alone on a platform high
Stricken dumb with a will to die!
Help my infirmity!
Not mine this world
That was blessed to them
They prayed for me and prayed again
"He giveth liberally"

Dear faces, girls faces, pink and white and clean
Friendly eyes and kind eyes full of interest keen.
Black on white it's all the same.
One-flock, one fold, one love, one aim.
And one the work the work to do.
Unafraid I stand and the deed is done
By a gracious act was the victory one
"I prayed for you."

Sandra Harding quotes this. The quote is actually from page 39. (Apheker)

"By the dailiness of women's lives I mean the patterns women create and the meanings women invent each day and over time as a result of their labors and in the context of their subordinated status to men. The point is not to describe every aspect of daily life or to represent a schedule of priorities to which some activities are more important or accorded more status than others. The point is to suggest a way of knowing from the meanings women give to their labors. The search for dailiness is a method of work that allows us to take the patterns women created in the meanings women invent and learn from them. IF we map what they learn, connecting one meaning or invention to another, we begin to lay out a different way of seeing reality. This way of seeing is that I refer to as women's standpoint"

"In studying women's quilts, and by extension the many specifically female artifacts produced in the course of a lifetime, we are able to construct a more detailed understanding of the dailiness of women's lives. Moreover, we can see the ways in which that dailiness has structured women's ways of thinking. We can see that the quilts, the stories, the gardens, the poems, the letters, the recipes, the rituals are examples of women's ways of knowing. They mark the evidence that there is and always has been another point of view, another record of social reality, a women's standpoint. This standpoint has always existed, but for thousands of years it has not been valued" (74).