The Story of Fran and Priscilla:
An Oral History of Unwed Motherhood

Heather Brook Adams

In her 2013 Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition CCCC meeting address, Jessica Enoch asked what it would mean for feminist rhetoricians to “think beyond offering our completed research to stakeholders outside the ivory tower and to explore instead whether and how we might share archival materials with them” (43). This question spoke to my own concern about collaborating with participants whose stories are the basis for feminist research but who might not be the primary audience for published scholarship. Keeping this question in mind, I created and presented this project in its first iteration—“From Research to Archive Building: A Model for Feminist Scholars Working with and for ‘Participants’”—at the CWSHRC CCCC 2015 New Work Showcase.

This remediation of my experimental project takes its cue from Enoch’s invitation and stems from my research on recent histories of unwed pregnancy, shaming, and silencing of U.S. women. It is a recorded “StoryCorps”-style interview with two mothers: Fran and Priscilla.

The short video allows you to hear Fran’s and Priscilla’s stories in their own words. I compressed our two-hour conversation to a 15-minute presentation suitable for sharing. I view it as a new kind of response to Cheryl Glenn’s encouragement in Rhetoric Retold to “explore various means of collaboration”; investigate silence as a long “unexamined trope of oppression” that can be embraced and broken by women for various, sometimes strategic reasons; and “resist closure” by “open[ing] up” new lines of inquiry into women’s rhetorical history (173-6).

This remediation project suggests that by creating digital artifacts, rhetoricians can supplement their scholarship in order to reach wider audiences. But creating new archival materials also raises pressing questions and concerns. For example, although this video sonically features only Fran and Priscilla, I have edited it and added music, which has substantially shaped the final artifact. While the project increases the accessibility of the two mothers’ stories, it also demonstrates that “ownership, authorship, and interpretive control” of these stories remains largely with me instead of them, a concern that Tarez Samra Graban, Alexis-Ramsey- Tobienne, and Whitney Myers raise when contemplating the limitations of digitization and historical recovery (237). Questions of design, scalability, and feasibility become especially complex when imagining how this project might embrace archival “participatory culture” (Ramsey-Tobienne 16) by inviting users to interact with and contribute to the digitized archive in a dialogic, culturally sensitive, and reciprocal way (Graban, Tobienne, and Myers 237). Finally, as Fran’s and Priscilla’s stories suggest, archiving oral histories can mean recording stories about one’s own experiences and those of others—thus making the archive, and the work of the scholar-archivist, potentially contentious.

I would like to express my gratitude to Fran and Priscilla, who have generously supported this project with their time, interest, and openness and who have have been willing to give me feedback on the project throughout its development. I extend a special thank you to Laura Michael Brown and Matthew Biddle for their helpfulness as I traveled to conduct these interviews. I am indebted to the many people who have enabled me to imagine ways to remix my scholarship, especially Lindal Buchanan, Jessica Enoch, and Jennifer Mitchell. Thanks to Gwendolyn Pough, Jenn Fishmann, Tarez Graban, and Martha Townsend for providing encouragement and insight as I worked on this digital project. Also thanks to Emi Hall for editorial assistance and to Maria Steele for technical support. Cheryl Glenn’s scholarship, mentorship, and friendship have inspired and enabled me to conduct this work. Finally, I am grateful to the leadership and membership of the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition for valuing emerging feminist scholarship, to the many conference-goers who visited the New Work Showcase for their engagement and interest, and to Patricia Fancher for her outstanding technical skill and vision related to this remediation.

Works Cited

Enoch, Jessica. “Coalition Talk: Feminist Historiography: What’s the Digital Humanities Got to Do with It?” Peitho 15.2 (2013): 40-5. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1997. Print.

Graban, Tarez Samra, Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne, and Whitney Myers. “In, Through, and About the Archive: What Digitization (Dis)Allows.” Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities. Ed. Jim Ridolfo and William Hart-Davidson. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015. 233-44. Print.

Ramsey-Tobienne, Alexis E. “Archives 2.0: Digital Archives and the Formation of New Research Methods.” Peitho 15.1 (2012): 4-28. Web. 1 May 2015.