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GRAY, Nicole H.

Summer 2011, 41:4, pages 363 - 386

Recording the Sounds of “Words that Burn”: Reproductions of Public Discourse in Abolitionist Journalism

Abstract: Phonographic or verbatim reports, in claiming to replicate extemporaneous speeches, offer a version of interactions that occurred in public settings. The “technology” of record represented the dialogic nature of abolitionist oratory, creating a discursive space for identification for attending and reading publics. Authorized by an appeal to accuracy, full-text reproductions of speeches were both a reflection and a performance of publicness. Full-text records represented abolitionists as truthful (offering an alternative to proslavery designations of “fanatic”), while also facilitating the circulation of the sounds of abolitionist events, using the means of mass production. The rhetorical force of these records depended on their assertions of accuracy, as well as the aural and embodied public presence that they implied. The narrative created by the phonographer, operating in the transitional space between fixed and unfixed text, emphasizes the rational, inclusive nature of abolitionist public discourse, simultaneously creating and representing an abolitionist public sphere.

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