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August 2002
296 pages  

6 x 9
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Imagining Rhetoric
Composing Women of the Early United States
Eldred, Janet , Mortensen, Peter
Janet Eldred and Peter Mortensen examine the development of women’s writing in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, and how women imagined using their education to further the civic aims of an idealistic new nation.

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Janet Carey Eldred is professor of English, affiliate faculty in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and the founding director of the Writing Initiative Studio in Engineering (WISE) at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of Sentimental Attachments: Essays, Creative Nonfiction, and Other Experiments in Composition and coauthor of Imagining Rhetoric: Composing Women of the Early United States.
Peter Mortensen, associate professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is co-editor of Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy.
“Eagerly awaited, Eldred and Mortensen's Imagining Rhetoric will excite anyone interested in early modern U.S. women's composition pedagogy and practice. From early national notions of language, fictions of schooling, textbook pedagogies, and perspectives from a black woman's teaching journal--the diverse richness of women's views on rhetoric, anguage and teaching astonishes. Significantly, the book helps uncover a tradition of female civic rhetoric that resists raced and gendered theories of domesticity. It will persuade those who still believe American women did not participate in public persuasion over the major national events of their day.”—Catherine L. Hobbs, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma and editor, Nineteenth-Century Women Learn to Write

“A scholarly and revealing study of how women’s writing developed in the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War. A truly fascinating look at how educated women used the power of the pen to promote civic goals, as well as how a new female readership emerged and changed the as yet fledgling book industry, Imagining Rhetoric is a highly recommended contribution to women’s studies and literary history.”—MidWest Book Review

“ . . .highly recommended as a source for those studying rhetoric and composition, American history, educational theory, women’s studies, women’s history, and philosophy at the upper-division undergraduate level and above.”—Choice

“A solid and useful study.”—Legacy

“”Drawing upon a wide range of genres—novels, essays, diaries, textbooks, commonplace books, magazines, and anthologies for writers—Eldred and Mortensen offer a new perspective on rhetoric by showing how women of the early national period and beyond learned to negotiate civic rhetoric . . . Expands the meaning of rhetorical education while it demonstrates new ways of tracing its development.”—Anne Ruggles Gere, author of Intimate Practices: Literacy and Cultural Work in U.S. Women’s Clubs, 1880–1920

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Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Imagining Rhetoric examines how women’s writing developed in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, and how women imagined using their education to further the civic aims of an idealistic new nation. In the late eighteenth century, proponents of female education in the United States appropriated the language of the Revolution to advance the cause of women’s literacy. Schooling for women—along with abolition, suffrage, and temperance—became one of the four primary arenas of nineteenth-century women’s activism. Following the Revolution, textbooks and fictions about schooling materialized that revealed ideal curricula for women covering subjects from botany and chemistry to rhetoric and composition. A few short decades later, such curricula and hopes for female civic rhetoric changed under the pressure of threatened disunion. Using a variety of texts, including novels, textbooks, letters, diaries, and memoirs, Janet Carey Eldred and Peter Mortensen chart the shifting ideas about how women should learn and use writing, from the early days of the republic through the antebellum years. They also reveal how these models shaped women’s awareness of female civic rhetoric—both its possibilities and limitations.


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