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Composing Historical Activism: Anecdotes, Archives, and Multimodality in Rhetorics of Lesbian History

Bessette, Jean (2013) Composing Historical Activism: Anecdotes, Archives, and Multimodality in Rhetorics of Lesbian History. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the unique rhetorics and technologies lesbian collectives have employed to compose and wield their histories. Focusing on the Daughters of Bilitis (1955-70), the Lesbian Herstory Archives (1974-), and filmic historiographers such as Barbara Hammer and Cheryl Dunye (1994-), I investigate how these historical activists have deconstructed dominant accounts that underpin conceptions of lesbian deviance and replaced them with collective histories of their own making. I argue that these collective rhetors composed radical versions of a queer past that challenged present oppressions, cohered provisional communities, and disrupted static consolidations of lesbian identity. Examining a diverse collection of primary sources from newsletters to documentary films, I assay alphabetic, material, and multimodal rhetorical strategies for composing lesbian history, including “anecdotal clustering” of experience in print pamphlets and books; radical classification schemas in material archives; and the use of multimodal technologies to reframe and even fabricate archival evidence in experimental documentary films. The study’s three core chapters rely upon archival and primary research, complimented by rhetorical, multimodal, and queer theory, as I analyze the cultural contexts, rhetorics, and technologies employed by the collectives to compose their histories. Because I attend to the effects of these histories on each collective rhetor’s imagined constituency, my dissertation makes clear the rhetorical significance of historical production and the consequences of composing history on gendered and sexual identifications.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairEnoch,
Committee CoChairCarr, Jean Fergusonjcarr@pitt.eduJCARR
Committee MemberVee, Annetteadv17@pitt.eduADV17
Committee MemberBartholomae, Davidbarth@pitt.eduBARTH
Committee MemberOlson, Lesterolson@pitt.eduOLSON
Date: 28 September 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 June 2013
Approval Date: 28 September 2013
Submission Date: 3 June 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 232
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: rhetoric, lesbian, activism, history, historiography, gender, sexuality
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2013 21:09
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2018 05:15

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