I have two primary research areas: the first examines the socio-political impact of science and mathematics. Here I am interested in how controversies get resolved in science as well as the ways mathematical discourse—for example, algorithms—influence contemporary culture. My second area of research focuses on memory—specifically, the ways groups of people collectively remember their past. My research in this area examines the politics of public memory, the rhetorical strategies of remembrance, and the social consequences of collective memory practice.
An Interview with Mitch Reyes
What drew you to this field?
My route to the study of rhetoric is a little bit unusual. I studied mathematics in college and was getting a minor in rhetoric and media studies because I wanted to be a good teacher of mathematics and I thought that studying communication would help me. I took a class called rhetorical theory in my senior year and it opened up my eyes to thinking about math from a different perspective than the traditional method. My first entry into the field was through mathematics as it merges with rhetorical theory. I began to ask questions like “how can we think of math as a language system?” and “how does math as a language persuade us to see the world?”
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Portland?
I grew up on a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere. Actually, in a little town called Shingle Springs, CA in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We were outnumbered 10 to 1 by cows and, as a young person, I was looking forward to making my world a little bigger than that. I went to college at Willamette University where I studied mathematics and rhetoric. I went to grad school at Penn State and did my master’s and PhD there. But I always wanted to get back to the Pacific NW if I could find the right job. LC’s job came up; I applied; they offered and now I’m here.
You are primarily a rhetoric person, how do you connect with media?
It’s interesting how we create these divisions. I tend to think of it as a tyranny of the categorical because for me and the way that I think about rhetoric…it’s a lens through which we can analyze all sorts of different artifacts and kinds of text. So do I have to be a media scholar to engage with different forms of media? I don’t think so. Just like I don’t have to be an artist to engage with art and monuments and read these kinds of things critically. So I see the relationship between rhetoric and media as very porous. Media studies has its own vocabulary and research agenda that’s distinct from rhetorical studies. But rhetorical studies is, in the most general sense, a study of persuasion in all its manifestations and forms and the most primary and most powerful forms of persuasion in society come through mediation today. As such, it would be difficult to speak of rhetoric in contemporary culture without talking about media. It doesn’t make any sense to separate the two, which is why I would try, and do try, to underscore the “and” in RHMS as strongly as possible.
What research or work have you done with students? Why do you enjoy working with RHMS students?
You presume that I do enjoy working with RHMS students….[laughter]… I’m just kidding. I have worked with a lot of students over the years and I’ve even done a number of summer research projects with students. I’ll bring up one example. A student of mine in a public memory class wrote her larger paper on the Gay Liberation Monument and I thought it was promising and I thought it was an interesting topic so we decided to spend the summer turning it into a research article. We presented it our field’s national conference the next year in Washington DC. It’s fun to take students, young scholars, and introduce them to research at a national conference and help them to start thinking about going to grad school. That kind of work is really fun. Fortunately, in our department everybody takes a capstone thesis course, so I get a lot of opportunities to work with students at a higher level–very close in fact to the work graduate students do at the master’s level. In bigger programs students don’t write these things because there are too many of them for the faculty to devote time to. We’re fortunate to have smaller programs where students can do that kind of work. That’s fun for us because that’s when students are really doing their own thinking and profs are helping you and being surprised by you.
What are you passionate about outside of the academic world?
I like the outdoors. Probably because I grew up in them. I tend to start feeling claustrophobic if I have been in the city for too long. I like escaping to the outdoors. I like hiking, skiing, renting a cabin in the woods. Sometimes I’ll do that just to go and write for a while. Just to get away from things. The hermit approach to writing! I also enjoy wine; Red wine in particular. This region is pretty good and getting better with each passing year. I like going out to places like Walla Walla where I can both hike and go wine tasting.
Describe RHMS in three words.
Intellectual, Engaged, Dynamic.
- PhD and Masters, The Pennsylvania State University, 2000, Communication Arts and Sciences
- Bachelor of Science, Willamette University, 1997, major in mathematics
- RHMS 100: Introduction to Rhetoric and Media Studies
- RHMS 203: Rhetorical Theory
- RHMS 210: Public Discourse
- RHMS 241: Data and Democracy
- RHMS 301: Rhetorical Criticism
- RHMS 313: The Politics of Public Memory
- RHMS 321: Argument and Social Justice
- RHMS 408: Argument and Persuasion in Science
Recent Book Publications
- Public Memory, Race, and Ethnicity: The Politics of Remembrance in the United States (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010).
- Global Memoryscapes: Contesting Remembrance in a Transnational Age (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011).
- Arguing with Numbers: Essays at the Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics (State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2021).
- The Evolution of Mathematics: A Rhetorical Approach (State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2022).
Recent Journal Publications
- “Theorizing Race and Gender in the Anthropocene,” Women’s Studies in Communication 43 (2020): DOI: 10.1080/07491409.2020.1824519.
- “The Horizons of Judgment in Mathematical Discourse: Copulas, Economics, and Subprime Mortgages.” In Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics, ed. J. Wynn and G. M. Reyes (State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020), 82-121.
- “From Division to Multiplication: Uncovering the Relationship Between Mathematics and Rhetoric Through Transdisciplinary Scholarship.” In Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics, ed. J. Wynn and G. M. Reyes (State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020), 11-32.
- “Rhetorical Approaches to the Study of Mathematical Practice” in Handbook of the History and Philosophy of Mathematical Practice, ed. B. Sriraman (Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland, 2021), https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-19071-2_85-1
Director, College Prep Program (works with first generation and BIPOC high school students to gain access to higher education); Chair, Department of Rhetoric and Media Studies; Director, Public Memory Studies; Professional Journal Reviewer for Rhetoric & Public Affairs and Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. Professional affiliations with National Communication Association, Rhetoric Society of America, Western Communication Association, WSCA Rhetoric and Public Address Division, American Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology (AARST), NCA Kenneth Burke Division, American School for Classical Studies in Athens.