Recasting the role of memory in the history of rhetoric: The case of nineteenth and twentieth century autobiographies by rhetors of color

Hector Carbajal, University of Texas at El Paso


The primary object of study in this dissertation is memory within autobiographical writing among writers of color. Specifically, this project uses autobiographies by Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Frederick Douglass as case studies for how minority writers of color remember within the act of writing. Memory is an important object of study because it is partially the medium by which knowledge is reproduced, reconstructed, and invented. Autobiographical writing is significant because it is a genre that has enabled individuals to write themselves as part of history. Being a part of history is important because it allows a subject to change the way her/his culture is represented historically. Anzaldúa and Douglass are two important writers whose autobiographies have enabled them to write themselves as part of their culture‘s history (respectively) in an effort to create cultural and social change.^ This dissertation presents the argument that writers of color have used memory in a political way in order to present and substantiate arguments in order to bring about cultural and social change. In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, for instance, Anzaldúa argues that women have been forgotten and devalued in the ways in which Chicano culture has been remembered throughout the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. She uses her own personal memories to argue that a Chicana woman‘s life experiences bring about a more balanced view of Chicano culture along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass presents his life story as a way to prove that a slave's humanity has been forgotten in the belief that Christianity has been used to justify the existence of slavery. He uses his life story to argue that slavery is an inhumane institution. Both Anzaldúa and Douglass record their memories through writing as a way to reproduce their lives, reconstruct their experiences, and invent new ways from which to present arguments about changing a reality that has the possibility to be more democratic way for women and people of color. This examination of memory, autobiographical writing, and rhetoric (or the art of persuasion) is significant within rhetorical studies and the humanities because it demonstrates how individuals can use writing to present arguments and thus contribute to a public discourse in order to bring about a change in culture and society.^

Subject Area

Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Carbajal, Hector, "Recasting the role of memory in the history of rhetoric: The case of nineteenth and twentieth century autobiographies by rhetors of color" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3426842.