"The Dam Fighters:" A Transrhetorical Approach to Digital Archives in the Writing Classroom

In this presentation, I offer my online documentary, oral history, and digital archive, entitled, "The Dam Fighters" as a model for using digital archives in the writing classroom. As a web-based public history project, "The Dam Fighters" documents the efforts of 100 retired farmers and factory workers in Appalachian North Carolina who, between 1962-1972, successfully opposed and prevented the implementation of 14 dams along the French Broad River. These dams, proposed by the US federal agency the Tennessee Valley Authority, would have resulted in the displacement of 600 families from their ancestral homes, the flooding of nearly 20,000 acres of fertile farmlands, and 74 miles of stream channelization, an environmentally destructive process that degrades water quality and destroys aquatic wildlife populations. "The Dam Fighters" aims to educate visitors about the specific strategies and tactics used by this group of activists. By including archival audio and video clips, this site aims to allow activists voices to "speak for themselves" in a modern, digital environment. Building on the scholarship of rhetoric and composition scholars including Ellen Cushman, Jessica Enoch, Pamela VanHaitsma, Wendy Hayden, and Jordynn Jack, I argue that this web-based project can help students understand the nuances of research, the rhetorical construction of digital archives, and recover elisions from the historiography of grassroots environmentalism. This paper offers a “transrhetorical” approach to digital archives in the writing classroom, borrowing Rachel C. Jackson's term highlighting rhetorical networks and systems of knowledge production across difference, knowledge sources, and historical developments. Through this research, I aim to demonstrate how teacher-scholars can help students understand the rhetorical components of digital archives and come to a wider understanding of the meanings of environmental activism, and how their own writing can work to recover the work of groups largely absent from the historical narrative of our region.