The Rhetoric of Public Memory Syllabus

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WRPR 0354: The Rhetoric of Public Memory

Professor: Dr. James Chase Sanchez                           

Course Description: How do we remember? How is memory shaped, constructed, and appropriated in public and private spheres? Where does memory form? Where is memory enacted in the public–in memorials, statues, and plaques? These questions, in one way or another, all deal with issues of public memory, a budding, interdisciplinary field that investigates the way memory forms, persuades, and maintains. Public memory doesn’t concern itself with issues of singular memory, meaning memories of a single person and their life. Rather, public memory emphasizes the way people as a collective choose to remember certain things or moments, why the remember them, and how the memory-process takes takes place. Thus, this field studies what we might call sites of public memory, particular places where people visit or utilize in order to remember.

However, memory isn’t the sole subject of this course. We will be investigating public memory from a uniquely rhetorical position. Of course, we will discuss rhetoric more in class but for now we want to know that rhetoric focuses on the art of persuasion, emphasizing how people build knowledge, community, and relationships.  Historically, classical rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Aristotle, have used rhetoric in the realm of oratory–specifically thinking about the ways people use language in public speaking and how to persuade an audience. This is still the most common understanding of rhetoric today. However, much of the field has changed, developing into the ways people create meaning not only through speaking but also through writing, art, symbols, and even culture.

james meredith

In class this semester, we will be asking questions about public memory and rhetoric: How is public memory rhetorical? How does public memory create community and communal knowledge? We will explore these questions by investigating different forms of public memory this semester through the likes of memorials and plaques around Middlebury, issues surrounding the Confederacy, memories of 9/11, and more. The purpose of this course will be to study the way public memory forms, changes, is appropriated, and evolves. And during this semester we will explore public memory through various writing assignments that will ask you to engage in local, regional, and national public memories.

On a side note: The rhetorical nature of public memory often involves issues of race, gender, and marginalized identities. This class will focus on cultural identities with a critical and sensitive lens, emphasizing understanding, empathy, and writing about not only personal viewpoints but the views of others as well. I ask for all students to be respectful of others in this classroom, be open to opposing perspectives, and be willing to challenge your own presumptions about racial topics. While the purpose of this course is not to dictate a single ideology of race, we should be mindful of respectful of all viewpoints in this class. This goes for you and me.

Lastly, this course, like all courses at Middlebury, has certain outcomes that should be achieved by the end of the semester that are specific to our program and to this specific course. These outcomes are goals to work toward success in this classroom and should be conscious guides in thinking and writing in our classroom:

  1. Describe, Define, Explain and Discuss public memory and rhetoric
  2. Be able to analyze discursive and non-discursive public memories
  3. Develop your own ideas and arguments regarding public memories and complete research
  4. Be able to effectively use research in one’s papers and adhere to MLA guidelines
  5. Be able to critically examine one’s own positionality

Required Textbooks:

  1. NONE

Other Required Materials:

  1. A pocket folder to contain your writings
  2. A notebook for notes

Classroom Assignments Breakdown:

  1. “How is Memory Rhetorical?” Essay (3 pages) — 15%
  2. Local Public Memory Presentation (10 minutes) — 20%
  3. Cultural Identities Essay (5-7 pages) — 25%
  4. Digital Essay (varies) — 20%
  5. Photo Journal — 15%
  6. Class Participation 5%

Course Requirements:

  1. “How is Memory Rhetorical?” Essay– Your first project of the semester asks you to focus on the ways memory (communal, individual, public, etc.) can be rhetorical. This short essay will give me a sense of your analytical chops and show me that you are grasping both public memory and rhetoric as pivotal concepts in this course.
  2. Local Public Memories Presentation- In your second project, you will be asked to take a site of public memory around Middlebury (on campus or in town), in Vermont, or in your home community and deliver a presentation that discusses what the sites shows about what the site is attempting to convey to a general public audience. This project asks you to do a type of close, rhetorical reading of the site and analyze any “text,” be it discursive or non-discursive. You will then illustrate how this public memory attempts to create community for the people of Middlebury College or the town. The presentation will be about 10 minutes in length.
  3. Cultural Identities Essay- The longest paper this semester asks you to take a national public memory marked by a cultural identity (be it gender, race, sexuality, etc.) and write a paper that argues about how the performance of that identity affects people. In this specific occasion, you will be emphasizing how the symbolic nature of identity creates communities, anti-communities, and audiences. This paper asks you to be not just think about the rhetoric of public memories but look at the specific identity markers of specific memories.
  4. Digital Essay– Our final assignment this semester focuses on creating something digital. I want to leave this assignment open-ended with only one caveat–I want you to illustrate something “new” about the rhetorical nature of public memory. This means I don’t want you to just apply a lens to a text, but rather, I want you to take an idea or concept and show it in a new light. Or create your own lens. Ultimately, I want you to use your thinking caps to create something fresh, and you do this using a different form of writing. You can create a podcast, screencast, video, song, etc., but I want you to use digital tools to make your final essay. We will talk about what might work best for you in class.
  5. Photo Journal- Throughout the semester, I want you to keep a journal of photographs (hopefully photos that you have taken). These photographs should have something to do with public memory (either being photos of public memories or something similar). I want you to keep a journal of a few photos where you write a few sentences discussing their rhetorical nature. Each entry doesn’t have to be super long, just to the point.
  6. Class Participation– Class discussion is important in this course for two reasons: 1) Writing well is essentially communicating well, so being able to discuss your ideas and thoughts with others potentially could help your writing. Since this course is workshop/discussion based, we need participation to move our conversations along. 2) Talking about issues of race, gender, sexuality, and other identity markers can be hard. So we need people to step up and share their opinions to keep the class moving. Also, doing in-class writing assignments, being on time, and attending class are all vital to your success in here and will comprise your participation grade.


Grade Scale:

A  4.0   Outstanding                               A- 3.67

B+ 3.33                                                  B 3.0 Exceeds Expectations

B- 2.67                                                   C+ 2.33

C 2.0 Average                                         C- 1.67

D+ 1.33                                                  D Below Average

F Failing


                                                             TU                                                  TH

1 Week 1: Introductions, Rhetoric, and Public Memory 2/12 Class Begins
Cover Syllabus
Ice Breaker
What is rhetoric? What is public memory?
2/14  Discuss First Assignment
Read: “Public Memory” in the Sage Handbook (PDF)
“Public History and Public Memory” (PDF)
How to Use Rhetoric to get what you want
2 Week 2: Unpacking Public Memory and Cataloging Terms 2/19: Brainstorm activity
Read: “The Power and Promise of Public Memory”
Read: “Public Memory in Space and Time” (PDF)
2/21 Bring thesis statements and one paragraph to class
Read: “Public Memory and Private Grief” (PDF)
Discuss tenets of public memory
3 Week 3: Essay 1 Due and Art as Public Memory 2/26 Workshop Day 2/28 FIRST ESSAY DUE
View: “Ken Gonzales-Day’s ‘Erased Lynchings’ Exhibit”
Discuss Local Public Memory Presentation
What is the importance of the local?
4 Week 4: Roadside Crashes, Snipers, and the Local 3/5 Read:
“Materialising Memory: The Public Lives of Roadside Crash Shrines” (PDF)


3/7: Bring in thesis and research from your home area
Read: “Everywhere You Go, It’s There”: Forgetting and Remembering the University of Texas Tower Shootings”
Discuss Local Situations and Presentation Order
5 Week 5: Pmalace-Building 3/12  Discuss Presentation Order
Skype visit with April O’Brien
Read: Part of her work
Discuss creating place via public memory
3/14 Read: “Recirculating Our Racism” (PDF)
Watch: Man on Fire
6 Week 6: Presentations 3/19 PRESENTATIONS 3/21 PRESENTATIONS
Discuss Essay 3


7 Week 7: Spring Break 3/26 SPRING BREAK!!! 3/28 SPRING BREAK!!!!
8 Week 8: The Confederacy and Whiteness 4/2 “Confederate Memory” (PDF)
“Reappropriating Public Memory”
Discuss efficacy of statues to Confederacy
Re-discuss Essay 3
4/4  “This Isn’t a Border Wall: It’s a Monument to White Supremacy”
“Whitewashing the Past” (PDF)
Discuss whitewashing public memory rhetorics
9 Week 9: Sovereignty and Contestation 4/9 Read “Speaking Sovereignty and Community Change” (PDF)
“Mascots, Myths, Monuments, and Memory”
Discuss thesis statements and outline paper
4/11 “After Fire, Community Rebuilds Michael Brown Memorial”

Discuss the contestation of public memory sites

10 Week 10: Identity Politics 4/16 Read “Gendered Geographies of Memory”
Read “Remembering Emmett Till”
11 Week 11: Forgetting and Misremembering 4/23   Essay 3 Due
Read: “The Failure of Memory” (PDF)
Discuss Essay 4
4/25 “Unpacking the Unspoken” (PDF)
Watch: “Forgetting is a Part of Remembering
Discuss Outline for Final Essay


Week 12: On Memory and Reconciliation 4/30  Read: Parts of Brown U’s “Slavery and Justice Report”
“Memory and Reconciliation in the Birmingham CRI”
Photo Journal Due
5/2 Read: “Who Decides Whether to Remember or Forget?
“Memory, Identity, and the (Im)Possibility of Reconciliation” (PDF)
Discuss Essay Progress
13 Week 13: Our Obligation to Memory 5/7 Read: “A Duty to Remember” (PDF)
“Difference, Violence, and Memory” (PDF)
Discuss our obligations to memory
Course Response Forms
5/9 Workshop Day




Finals Week! 5/14 Digital Essays Due 5/16 Digital Essays Due


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