ASHR Interview: Cory Geraths on Reception History and Queer and Feminist Historiography

In this ASHR interview, I speak to Dr. Cory Geraths about his interest in reception history and queer and feminist historiographical methods. Dr. Geraths is Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Wabash College. His research areas include classical rhetoric, rhetorics of gender and sexuality, Christian rhetoric, rhetorical historiography, and rhetorical pedagogies.

JL: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Cory. While we have both been a part of ASHR for a few years, I’ve never had the chance to learn about how you became interested in your current research projects: I appreciate having that chance now! Can you tell me about how you became interested in the history of rhetoric? What initially drew you to the field?

CG: While completing my graduate degrees in Rhetoric at Penn State, I had the pleasure of taking courses from some of the foremost scholars in the history of rhetoric. Courses in feminist rhetorical history and historiography with Cheryl Glenn, on classical rhetoric with Michele Kennerly, and public memory with Stephen Browne (to name just a few examples) introduced me to the diversity of texts, methods, and questions that undergird scholarship on rhetoric’s histories. While these classes began to fashion my interest in the history of rhetoric, it was not until a series of research collaborations with Michele Kennerly—my doctoral adviser—that I became truly enraptured by the feminist power of historiographic recovery and the splendor of reception histories. The second of these projects was an expansion and extension of feminist rhetorical scholars’ recovery of Aspasia, a 5th-century BCE rhetor and pedagogue. Our essay, “Painted Lady: Aspasia in Nineteenth-Century European Art” (Rhetoric Review 35.3, 2016), explored Aspasia’s reception and diverse rhetorical depictions in British and French painting and lithography. This experience studying Aspasia—and coming to see her rhetoric in a new light via the multimodal media of art—was particularly instrumental in solidifying my commitment to the history of rhetoric.

My broader research interests are focused on the rhetorical intersections of Christianity, gender, media, as well as the contemporary relevance of classical rhetorical theory. I am invested in both the recovery of figures overlooked in the rhetorical tradition as well as in the multimodal invitations of such figures across divergent media and places. For example, my current book project is a rhetorical recovery and reception history of Mary Magdalene, a woman who is depicted as rhetorically active in both the New Testament gospels and the Christian apocrypha and, too, who is cast in rhetorical scenes across Western art, music, and culture. Alongside this strand of my research, I am also invigorated by the work that classical rhetorical theory can do in both my classrooms and in branches of my scholarship focused on more contemporary artifacts.

JL: In your view, why is the history of rhetoric an important area of study? Why does the history of rhetoric matter today?

CG: As I noted above, I believe a primary contribution that historians of rhetoric have made—and continue to make—to the field at large is the recovery of rhetors elided or otherwise overlooked from our accountings of rhetorical history. Whether via feminist rhetorical historiography, queer archival methods, or any number of other scholarly approaches proffered by historians of rhetoric in recent decades, such work speaks to the political necessity of continuously revising the rhetorical tradition.  Indeed, theorizing the rhetorics of historical women, queers, persons of color, non-Christians, and so forth provides invaluable visibility for those whose voices were—and often still are—overlooked in our society. Such scholarship not only infuses our journals and books with a diversity of rhetorics, it creates space for innovative methods of archival and field work, new ways of reading, invitations for interdisciplinary scholarship with colleagues across the Humanities, as well as creative opportunities for teaching. Indeed, it is this pedagogical contribution that is perhaps most important in my view. When teaching courses such as Classical Rhetoric, Public Speaking, and Digital Rhetoric, I have found that the history of rhetoric reveals a rich variety of sources, figures, methods, and questions to dwell with in class. This diversity of historical scholarship, then, matters enormously—it offers visibility for students of different backgrounds in courses both introductory and advanced and it invites students to both ponder and put into practice the myriad ideas, lessons, and theories encompassed by the history of rhetoric.

JL: What are your current research projects? Do they relate to or build from your previous work?

CG: I have several ongoing research projects related to the history of rhetoric. For example, I am in the early stages of revising my dissertation into a book. Tentatively titled, Re-Viewing Christian Rhetoric: Mary Magdalene’s Archaeological, Apocryphal, and Artistic Afterlives, this project will chart Mary’s ancient origins and rhetorical significance in the New Testament gospels as well as her presence in recently discovered apocryphal texts such as the Gospel of Mary. This latter focus derives in part from my Advances in the History of Rhetoric essay, “Early Christian Rhetoric(s) In Situ (20.2, 2017), which reviewed the nineteenth- and twentieth-century discoveries of a treasure trove of papyri in Egypt and argues for their continued relevance to rhetorical scholars. Alongside this focus on Mary Magdalene’s textual rhetorics—both canonical and apocryphal—this project will also chart Mary’s rhetorical reception in Western art. Drawing from field research in art museums and their archives, to be conducted in both Europe and North America, this project aims to both recover Mary as a rhetorical figure and to enliven ongoing disciplinary conversations about religion, visuality, archives and museums, and feminist rhetorical historiography and memory studies.

Alongside this larger project, I have also recently published an essay that applies the ancient rhetorical theory of phantasia (“bringing-before-the-eyes,” imagination) to the digital rhetorics of Christian missionary work online. Such work is representative of my commitment to bridging the history of rhetoric with our contemporary moment and technologies. This piece, “Children in Carts: Digital Rhetorics of Christian Commission and Capital” (Critical Studies in Media Communication 35.4, 2018), analyzes the neoliberal appropriation of “shopping carts” as a technology for the sponsorship of impoverished children by considering the ways that images, text, and code invite Christians to phantastically (re)imagine their humanitarian roles as digital missionaries, family members and, ultimately, consumers.

Likewise, I am currently working on the collaborative writing of an essay-length project that explores Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum as a site of queer public memory and as a queer archive. I am crafting this project as part of an independent study course on Museum Rhetorics, Art, and Archives that I am co-teaching this fall with a Wabash colleague, Karen Quandt (Modern Languages/French). Collaboratively written alongside the course’s three undergraduate students, this essay will consider Warhol’s place in rhetoric’s history and will bridge interdisciplinary conversations about queer identity, region, art, and museum exhibition.

JL: What do you like best about ASHR? Why should someone become involved with the organization?

CG: I am particularly appreciative of ASHR’s welcoming êthos. ASHR has always been an inviting, yet productively rigorous, space for me. I find myself regularly challenged by colleagues at ASHR events—their questions and insights have proved invaluable in shaping my research. As both a graduate student and now as an early-career scholar, I am invigorated by ASHR’s willingness to embrace the ideas of new and younger members and to host regular symposia, conferences, and other opportunities for intellectual discovery and growth. For example, I remember fondly my experiences at the 2016 ASHR Symposium in Atlanta—I gave a paper presentation there that not only turned into an Advances essay but has since proved instrumental in shaping my interests in feminist historiography, rhetorical archaeology, and the rhetorical development of early Christianity. I also am inspired by ASHR’s cross-disciplinary membership and commitment to the historical study of rhetoric within the fields of Communication Studies, Rhetoric and Composition, and more.

JL: Lastly, who is one of your favorite figures from the history of rhetoric, and why?

CG: Aspasia of Miletus. I remember reading about her during one of my first graduate courses in rhetoric as an M.A. student at Penn State. A 5th-century BCE rhetor and purported teacher of Socrates, she is featured prominently in Plato’s dialogue, Menexenus. Like many other ancient women, however, any primary sources penned by Aspasia have long since vanished (if they ever existed in the first place). Nevertheless, because of references in other ancient texts (written by men), Aspasia’s memory nevertheless endured—even if it was often in a mocking and misogynistic fashion. However, such references, when read from a feminist historiographic perspective, have enabled the recovery of Aspasia and the revising of the classical rhetorical canon to account for her significance. This history of reception—of textual erasure, second-hand reference, and multimodal depiction in media such as painting—is invigorating. Indeed, I have found Aspasia’s story to be particularly resonant in teaching. In my Classical Rhetoric course, for instance, Aspasia invites my students and I to discuss such topics as the limitations of primary sources, the historiographic work of classical reception and, most importantly, the role of women and other marginalized individuals in the history of rhetoric.


About the Interviewer: Jordan Loveridge is Assistant Professor of Communication and English at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Arizona State University, focusing specifically on medieval rhetoric. His work appears in venues such as Philosophy and RhetoricCommunity Literacy Journal, and Advances in the History of Rhetoric.