Jeremy Tirrell

Mapping a geographical history of digital technology in rhetoric and composition

Jeremy Walter Tirrell

  • School: Purdue University
  • Degree: PhD
  • Date: 2009 pp: 433
  • Advisor: Blakesley, David E.
  • Committee Members: Rickert, Thomas J.; Salvo, Michael; Sullivan, Patricia A.
  • Source: DAI-A 70/11, May 2010
  • Keywords:: Composition, Digital, Geography, Mapping, Rhetoric, Technology
  • Subjects: Geography, Rhetoric, Mass communications
  • ProQuest Document Number: 1917147221
  • ISBN: 9781109492262
  • UMI Number: AAT 3379774


    • Digital technology–including but not limited to manifestations such as the personal computer and the World Wide Web–has had a profound effect on Rhetoric and Composition, inspiring the creation of journals, conferences, professional organizations, departments, and a subdiscipline dedicated to understanding its implications on rhetorical acts. As a field, much of Rhetoric and Composition’s involvement with digital technology has been focused outwardly: how it has shaped acts, individuals, and culture. However, an issue of at least commensurate importance is how it has transformed the field itself: how institutional practices have altered; how information flows have changed; how centers of influence have shifted.
    • Several valuable histories–such as Gail Hawisher, Paul LeBlanc, Charles Moran, and Cynthia Selfe’s Computers and the Teaching of Writing in American Higher Education, 1979- 1994, A History , James Inman’s Computers and Writing: The Cyborg Era , Charles Moran’s ” Computers and Composition 1983-2002,” and both volumes of Lisa Gerrard’s “The Evolution of the Computers and Writing Conference”–trace aspects of the institutional and pedagogical ramifications of digital technology in Rhetoric and Composition. However, these and similar works mostly focus on people and shared social networks, a strategy that is partially intended to legitimate the study of digital technology in the field by revealing a critical mass of educators and researchers exploring related issues. This dissertation’s position is that the study of digital technology in Rhetoric and Composition is now sufficiently established to explore alternative historical approaches not based in biography. More specifically, this dissertation contends that a geographical perspective can provide valuable insight into the field’s heterogeneous regional intellectual dialects and reveal how shared subjects and practices have emerged from them.
    • This project is a geographical history that blends interactive digital maps with textual explication to make visible and comprehensible the interactions of American collegiate Rhetoric and Composition programs with digital technology. The foundation of this dissertation is two digital maps, available through, built on the Google Earth platform: a proportional point symbol map that plots the geographical position and magnitude of relevant data, and a concept magnitude map that tracks the prominence and distribution of recurrent terms by geographical location and year. Both maps function in online and offline modes, and allow users to select what data and sample period to display. Both maps also utilize interactive elements such as pop-up balloons to maximize information density.
      • The digital map resources produced for this dissertation are not simply illustrations of this particular study’s findings, but tools that enable multiple investigations into field history. In their current form, project maps track one pilot data set: online Rhetoric and Composition journals. However, project resources have been purposefully designed to facilitate collaborative expansion and analysis by a distributed pool of contributors.
    • This accompanying textual document locates the project in its corresponding disciplinary and theoretical conversations, explicates project methodology, details the construction of project maps and online resources, interprets what selected map patterns suggest about field history, and posits how the project may be amended and extended. Chapter 1 creates a disciplinary opening for the project by progressing through three moves: surveying online geographical histories from outside of the field; exploring the rhetorical nature of Rhetoric and Composition historiography; identifying the prevalent biographical focus in existing histories of digital technology in Rhetoric and Composition, and suggesting that a geographical perspective could offer new insights. Chapter 2 formalizes the project’s methodology by addressing theoretical and practical mapping issues. Chapter 3 documents the creation of project maps and online resources to defend its data collection and presentation choices, and to provide a rudimentary contribution guide for subsequent researchers. Chapter 4 identifies example patterns in the two maps, and interprets what they suggest about field history. Chapter 5 discuses how the current project may be revised and extended, and how its methodological practices may be used by researchers and administrators in related fields to create similar geographical visualizations for a range of purposes.