Oren Abeles Research Letter

Dr. Don Bialostosky

Chair, Department of English

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260


Dear Dr. Bialostosky,

Please accept my application for the position of Assistant Professor of Composition. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate specializing in rhetoric and composition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a dissertation defense date set for March. My published research on the rhetoric of science, along with my experience developing innovative professional writing curricula, qualify me for the position you advertised through the Modern Language Association.

My dissertation project, The Agricultural Climax and Darwin’s Evolutionary Rhetoric, traces Charles Darwin’s encounter with a group of agricultural writers whose rhetoric reconceived popular perceptions of class, gender and nature at the turn of the 19th century. While Darwin openly acknowledged borrowing the concept of “selection” from these experts’ technical writings on husbandry and breeding, few scholars have looked closely at the way Darwin’s evolutionary logic emerges out of his encounter with the particular styles and tropes these writers used. Two specific rhetorical figures (metonymy and incrementalism) were especially important in these agricultural texts, helping agricultural writers articulate the emerging biopolitical power of rural landowners over animals, commoners, and the landscape. My work shows that not only was Darwin taken by these depictions of landowners’ agency and control, but that he was particularly impressed with the stylistic language that modern agricultural writers used in their portrayals of such power. My work also demonstrates that Darwin structured important parts of his own argument in the Origin of Species using logical equivalents of the metonymic and incremental styles he found in agricultural texts. In sum, this research argues that a rhetorical configuration of power relations was critical to Darwin’s conception of nature, and that this particular style of modern agricultural rhetoric helped Darwin invent his science.

As I have recently written in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, this work also shows how figurative analysis can help us better understand the cultural construction of scientific arguments, making it relevant to a wide range of rhetorical scholars, as well as researchers in the history and philosophy of science. That article also demonstrates the limits of previous rhetorical analyses that primarily focused on Darwin’s metaphors. In contrast, my study draws attention to the crucial role of scientific metonymies, particularly the way this rhetorical figure helps Darwin and scientists like him substitute a single reductive cause for a complex array of effects. In the coming years I plan to develop this research into a book that not only charts the emergence of Darwin’s metonymic rhetoric but also shows how those figurative articulations continue to support a modernist separation of nature and culture. I also plan to use this research to develop course offerings that help graduate students understand how the rhetorical tradition has, since its inception, evolved in tandem with biological notions of nature, agency and causality. Additionally, I am developing parallel research and curricula that explore how figurative style and sentence-level taxis afford undergraduate writing students inventional agency and creativity.

My most recent research on writing pedagogy focusses on integrating service-learning and composition instruction, particularly in ways that produce more inclusive and democratic classrooms. My published work on the topic details a curriculum I developed at UNC that pairs college students with younger writers at a public high school in New York City. This partnership allows college students to practice professional writing while helping their younger partners revise prose and better understand their coming college matriculation. Now in its fifth year, the curriculum has repeatedly been a highlight of my courses, encouraging students to take ownership of writing skills and giving them practical settings in which those skills serve others.

I am convinced that composition techniques need to be taught in these real-world contexts, and I have constructed a number of similar practice-based professional and technical writing units that integrate the technologies those professions require with the rhetorical conventions they use. For example, in my social science unit students use web-based surveys and data analysis to identify statistical correlations and to argue for causal relationships, showing them how collecting and visualizing information is integral to that profession’s rhetoric. Likewise, in my science writing unit, students design experimental procedures and exhibit data in oral and visual presentations, introducing them to the inextricable connections between scientific methods and technical arguments. This strong foundation in writing pedagogy prepares me to make a substantive contribution to the curriculum at Pittsburgh, developing courses that match students’ professional interests with the specific technical articulations those genres require.

My teaching and research accomplishments have been recognized by colleagues in my department and at other institutions. My department’s Peer Mentoring Committee cited my service-learning curriculum’s innovation and effectiveness when presenting me with their 2012-2013 Award for Excellence in Teaching Composition. I was subsequently elected to join that committee and participate in its important work helping other graduate instructors develop their pedagogy and curricula. My department has also recognized the success of my dissertation research by recently awarding me a McLaurin Dissertation Fellowship to fund my research last semester. Additionally, I have presented portions of my research on Darwinian rhetoric at a number of national conferences, including the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Rhetoric Society of America, and the Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology. I will discuss my most recent findings at the upcoming meeting of the Modern Language Association and would be happy to schedule an interview during that conference.

Please find my curriculum vitae and reference information attached to this submission. If you would like to see other materials, I can be reached at xxx or at xx@unc.edu

Thank you for your consideration.


Oren M. Abeles



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Job letter