Say what?: Rediscovering Hugh Blair and the racialization of language, culture, and pedagogy in eighteenth-century rhetoric

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All of my interests in the field of rhetoric and composition-black preaching, the cultural literacy debate, and civil rights movement rhetoric- converge at the places where the evolution of race ideology and the development of meaningful pedagogy meet. I have also remained intrigued with Hugh Blair, who in 1762 became the first professor at the University of Edinburgh whose title appended the phrase "Belles Lettres" to "Chair of Rhetoric." Given my interests, I wonder why rhetoriccomposition scholars have rarely considered how canonical rhetoricians' ideas might contribute to current pedagogies that inadvertently exclude people of color. We should continue tracing the evolution of intellectualized racist discourses, wherever they might be uncovered, so that we might see more clearly the extent to which these discourses continue to impact theory and pedagogy. James Berlin, Sharon Crowley, and W. Ross Winterowd acknowledge that both Blair's appointment and title illustrate a cultural shift in rhetorical history, one that Scottish academics enacted, as they became gradually more concerned with the art, rather than the science, of rhetoric.1 They posit in particular that Blair's focus on fine writing contributed to the privileging of literature over composition and laid the groundwork for current traditional rhetoric. Moreover, they indicate that Blair, in the tradition of George Campbell, trivialized invention, contending that the rhetorician should be concerned primarily with negotiating the task of persuasion. Other scholars, such as Lois Agnew, argue conversely that while Blair's treatise centers on belles lettres, it does so to serve a public function. That is to say, Blair's treatise may not be as consumed with the individual writer's imagination as Winterowd, for example, assumes. Still, many scholars agree that Blair redirected if not restricted rhetoric beyond the obvious transition from oral to written discourse. I argue, however, that not only was the practice of rhetoric restricted, the practitioners were also restricted. In other words, Blair has left quite a legacy to composition, and we are obligated, therefore, to fully examine the implications of Blair's work, including its implications for teaching writing to students of color. For instance, Hugh Blair's enterprise in his second lecture in the collection on belles lettres entails an ethnocentric standardization of taste. I am concerned with exposing the correlation between racist assumptions about the innate intellectual inferiority of people of color and the concurrent emergence of a style-centered view of written rhetoric. Put another way, when contemporary rhetoric and composition scholars read Blair, they should be able to recognize his participation in the widely accepted racialized discourses of his time and to understand more clearly the connections between rhetorical theory and the racist ideologies of the eighteenth century. Substantial work has already been done that documents the history of African-American rhetorical practices. Shirley Wilson Logan's We Are Coming and Jacqueline Jones Royster's Traces of a Stream come to mind. Similarly, Keith Gilyard and Victor Villanueva have exposed salient interconnections among the past exclusion of peoples of color from rhetorical narratives and the contemporary politics of literacy. There exists a need to more closely examine icons of rhetoric, such as Blair, through these lenses.

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