Recuperating John Bascom’s Contributions to Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric and Contemporary Rhetorical Education
Abstract: Revisionist historiographies in rhetorical studies often recuperate marginalized figures to advance scholarship on rhetorical education. I illustrate the heuristic value of recuperating mainstream figures by drawing on unexamined materials of John Bascom, whose contributions to nineteenth-century rhetorical theory have been determined exclusively by his textbook, Philosophy of Rhetoric. I challenge such interpretations by using autobiography and institutional history to illustrate Bascom’s disdain for rhetoric and preference for philosophy. I synthesize Bascom’s publications, teaching, and administrative work while president of the University of Wisconsin to recuperate a civic philosophy of public education that integrated civic humanism with progressivism to promote collective identity and shared governance. I use Bascom’s philosophy to support rhetorical education that integrates participation and deliberation as strategies for civic engagement. This essay contributes to rhetorical historiography by demonstrating how a wider range of materials can produce more complex, compelling accounts of an individual’s contributions to theory or pedagogy.