Book Cover

Awful Archives

Conspiracy Theory, Rhetoric, and Acts of Evidence

Jenny Rice

226 pp. 6 x 9
10 b & w illustrations
Pub Date: April, 2020

Subjects: Rhetoric & Communication
American Studies
Cultural Studies

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“Published during the tumultuous advent of COVID-19, and in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Rice’s analysis of the far-fetched and out-there claims and conspiracies is timely because it prompts us to question how we perceive and apply evidence, while encouraging us to be okay with the uncomfortableness of moving beyond contemporary models of acceptable authentic evidence.” —Luana Shafer, Communication Design Quarterly

Awful Archives is well-positioned to avoid duplicating familiar arguments; in breaking new ground, it joins rhetoric and archival work in a way that we really need right now in our current political climate. Timely.” —Kelly Ritter

How does evidence happen? And when evidence happens badly, how can we find a fitting response to those making extraordinary claims? These are the questions driving Jenny Rice’s groundbreaking study into the life of evidence as she seeks to uncover why traditional modes of argument often fail in the face of claims that rely on bad evidence. The chapters make a deep dive into the nature and character of evidence itself by examining literal archives, though some quite unorthodox, as well as more popular archives that exist within public memory. Rice looks to examples that lie at the fringes of public discourse—pseudo-science, the paranormal, conspiracy theories about 9/11, the moon landing, UFO sightings, and Obama’s birth record. Such fringe examples, Rice argues, bring to light other questions about evidence that force us to reassess and move beyond traditional forms of ethics and debate.

After sketching a broader framework for understanding what evidence is, Awful Archives then asks how we can practice more ethical and productive forms of debate, especially when we’re faced with arguments that feel like a dead end. Thorough, engaging, and deeply insightful, Awful Archives: Conspiracy Theory, Rhetoric, and Acts of Evidence introduces an entirely new perspective on evidence—one that will impact the field for years to come.

Jenny Rice is Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of Distant Publics: Development Rhetoric and the Subject of Crisis.


List of Illustrations


Intro    What Is This Evidence Of?

Chapter 1        Bits in Motion: On Archival Aura

Chapter 2        Prolific Archives: Notes from Trutherworld

Chapter 3        Distal Evidence and the Power of Empty Archives

Chapter 4        Disfigurement: Finding the (Un)Fitting Response

Chapter 5        Writing Demon Archives

Outro   The What and the Where

Works Cited