The art of arguing…

Posted on March 26, 2010 by

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A little late on this one, but I just learned that the biennial Argumentation Conference was recently held at Wake Forest University. I see that V. William Balthrop has been examining “the discourse of contemporary Southern Heritage groups and the continued construction of a ‘Southern identity.'” For some reason, I think I’ve read this before, but I think it merits a little more of my time. Sounds like there is the potential for some interesting reading… not to mention, it also ties-in well to the often heated discourse we see in Civil War-related blogging. It’s really something to see communication studies professionals looking at Southern Heritage groups and I really get into this well-matched cross-over between the disciplines of communication and history… but… I suppose I’m biased :-) having a background in both.

Not to oversimplify, but, one of the things that I think is a failure by Southern Heritage groups in the “construction of identity” is that it doesn’t help us understand the past, but too often equates to glossy misunderstandings coming off as facts. Time would be better spent on giving serious study, not to fantastical ideas of one identity, but what was actually the multi-tiered identity of the South. Regretfully, the end result of what is happening is that the rhetoric is hollow; it’s simply not backed by a solid construction of historical facts… but… those are my thoughts as an historian.

That being said, just how effective is the rhetorical approach… the delivery… the “art of the argument”? That’s where the communication side comes into play. Certainly, the rhetoric has had an impact, and it would be interesting to see if an audience analysis (or something similar) has been conducted to see where it has had an impact and changed the thinking of some… and why. Likewise, it would be interesting to see where the rhetoric has failed… and why. At what point does the “real” history matter and at what point is the rhetoric actually “creating the history” that is being consumed? Seems that a third, and maybe a fourth discipline could even be employed in the overall study.

Can’t help but note also, that there is an ongoing study by Balthrop, Carole Blair, and Neil Michel on American WWI monuments in France. Looks like some really fascinating stuff to look into…

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