Christa J. Olson

Position title: Department Chair; Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor of English

Rhetorical history, theory, and criticism; visual rhetoric; Latin America
Research Interests
19th and 20th century visual cultures in the Americas; historical methods and methodological pedagogy; publics, democracy, nationalisms, & transnationalism; coloniality and post-colonialism
Teaching Areas
I teach courses in visual rhetoric, research methods, and the history of rhetoric. I enjoy working with students as they encounter, provide context for, and analyze persuasive artifacts of all types (images, speeches, texts, performances, etc.)

Degrees and Institutions

Ph.D. English & Writing Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2010

M.A. Performance Studies, New York University, 2001

B.A. Arts & Social Justice, The Paracollege, St. Olaf College, 2000

Selected Publications

  • Constitutive Visions: Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador. Penn State University Press, 2014.
  • “‘But in regard to these (the American) continents:’ U.S. National Rhetorics and the Figure of Latin America,” article in “La Idea de la Retórica Americana / The Idea of American Rhetoric,” a special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. June 2015.
  • Hawhee, Debra, and Christa Olson. “Pan-Historiography: The Challenges of Writing History across Time and Space.” Chapter 6 in Michelle Ballif, ed. Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2013.
  • “Places to Stand: Mapping the Terrain of Rhetorical History.” Article in “Practicing Histories,” a special issue of Advances in the History of Rhetoric 15.1 (February/March 2012): 77-100.

Recent Books

  • Olson, Christa J. American Magnitude: Hemispheric Vision and Public Feeling in the United States. The Ohio State University Press , 2021. Print.

    At a moment in US politics when racially motivated nationalism, shifting relations with Latin America, and anxiety over national futures intertwine, understanding the long history of American preoccupation with magnitude and how it underpins national identity is vitally important. In American Magnitude, Christa J. Olson tracks the visual history of US appeals to grandeur, import, and consequence (megethos), focusing on images that use the wider Americas to establish US character. Her sources—including lithographs from the US-Mexican War, pre–Civil War paintings of the Andes, photo essays of Machu Picchu, and WWII-era films promoting hemispheric unity—span from 1845 to 1950 but resonate into the present.

    Olson demonstrates how those crafting the appeals that feed the US national imaginary—artists, scientists, journalists, diplomats, and others—have invited US audiences to view Latin America as a foil for the greatness of their own nation and encouraged white US publics in particular to see themselves as especially American among Americans. She reveals how each instance of visual rhetoric relies upon the eyes of others to instantiate its magnitude—and falters as some viewers look askance instead. The result is the possibility of a post-magnitude United States: neither great nor failed, but modest, partial, and imperfect.

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  • Olson, Christa J.“Constitutive Visions.” 2013: n. pag. Print.

    In Constitutive Visions, Christa Olson presents the rhetorical history of republican Ecuador as punctuated by repeated arguments over national identity. Those arguments–as they advanced theories of citizenship, popular sovereignty, and republican modernity–struggled to reconcile the presence of Ecuador’s large indigenous population with the dominance of a white-mestizo minority. Even as indigenous people were excluded from civic life, images of them proliferated in speeches, periodicals, and artworks during Ecuador’s long process of nation formation. Tracing how that contradiction illuminates the textures of national-identity formation, Constitutive Visions places petitions from indigenous laborers alongside oil paintings, overlays woodblock illustrations with legislative debates, and analyzes Ecuador’s nineteen constitutions in light of landscape painting. Taken together, these juxtapositions make sense of the contradictions that sustained and unsettled the postcolonial nation-state.

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