Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication and Rhetorical Studies

Advisor(s)

Charles E. Morris, III

Keywords

Authenticity, Iconoclasm, Memory, Rhetoric, Space, Women's Rights Movement

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

This project analyzes the rhetoric of the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York as it expresses the historical context and effects of the 1848 Women's Rights Convention. With an eye towards feminist possibilities, the project traces the politics of emphasis and erasure by accounting for material, spatial and visual strategies in the Visitor Center and historic buildings. I argue that the park influences and reflects public memory of the early American women's rights movement that has rhetorical implications for modern iterations of the movements that follow.

Alongside archival research, I critically analyze the experience of the visitor, as indeed I position myself in my onsite research, through the park spaces, tours and exhibits. Beginning in the Visitor Center, the visual politics nominate a "universal sisterhood" and present a unified women's story which glosses over vitally important fissures in social movements' histories. In the Chapel and Stanton House tours, I argue that park ranger practices demonstrate an anxiety for what many in Tourism Studies call "objective authenticity." Here, material takes on particular, expert meaning which does not leave space for the tensions of public memories to come out. In the last chapter of analysis, I argue the anxiety over a contested image in the Visitor Center (the "Black Lesbian Feminist") reveals the controversy concerning the "appropriate" narrative the park ought to be telling about the movement. I use Roger Aden's reading of narratives and counternarratives concerning the NPS Independence Park in Philadelphia to analyze the clash of narratives in Seneca Falls. Using Cara Finnegan and Jiyeon Kang's analysis of iconoclasm in public sphere theory, I analyze the clash as it is symbolized by and superimposed through the anxiety over the specific image of the Black Lesbian Feminist.

Access

Open Access

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