Introduction to Composition & Rhetoric


An introduction to Composition and Rhetoric is an interesting challenge given the breadth and depth involved in covering not one but two interrelated fields–one of which, rhetoric, is among the oldest in the humanities. (Actually, there really are three fields to introduce: composition, rhetoric, and this relatively recent academic enterprise called “comp/rhet,” which is only about fifty years old.)

Such an introduction will nonetheless be made manageable through a particular thematic focus: namely a look at the historical development of one of these fields’ central projects—the education of an ethically charged, discursively empowered citizen body. From its inception in Classical Greece to its various manifestations today, the teaching of rhetoric and the productive arts of communication has been informed often by an imagined telos of democracy through civic discourse, a necessary condition for which is the educating of rhetorically-adept citizens who can seek out and convince others of truth (whether that is to be understood as a contingent, socially-constructed “truth” or a universal “Truth” to be discerned through dialectic or rational inquiry). We will follow and analyze that project as it has adapted to evolving social, material, institutional, theoretical, cultural, and technological conditions.

Since one function of 625 is to help give students some disciplinary foundations to work from in their graduate concentrations, much of the coverage here will be canonical, with a heavy emphasis initially on classical rhetoric (with, of course, interrogations of such canonicity and comparisons to other knowledge foundations and ways of knowing). And, as a complement to that, we will routinely examine the ways in which the theories and arguments that are significant to comp/rhet overlap with, depart from, and/or run parallel to those from other concentrations in English studies (particularly the others that this department focuses on— Creative Writing, Literary Studies, and Cultural Studies).

No prior knowledge of composition and rhetoric is required, but it will certainly serve as an effective foundation, as will previous study across each of the concentrations.


The course will involve students in a combination of collective inquiries and individualized scholarship; we will study the material and explore the course’s thematic focus through lectures, discussions, presentations, online dialogues, and sustained scholarly projects. Much in-class time will be devoted to seminar-style discussions, especially during the first half of the course. Students will have common readings to write about through a series of short public papers (30%), as well as identifiable disciplinary areas, theorists, methodologies, and schools of thought to define and present orally to the class as individuals (15%). Students will participate in the 625 colloquium, wherein they will deliver a short presentation on a theme common to all the 625 courses this semester (15%). Finally, students will produce a sustained major research project; while creative options will be considered and discussed, the traditional scholarly, thesis-driven article will be a likely choice for many (40%).

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • General knowledge of the history of rhetoric, composition, and “comp/rhet” as interrelated fields/disciplines. Includes an awareness of primary connections to and shared concerns with other fields of English studies.
  • Introductory awareness of the (many, many) areas of research and practice under the comp/rhet umbrella. Ability to see relations among and between those areas and to locate one’s work accordingly.
  • Conceptual understanding and practice in graduate-level scholarly writing and oral presentation in comp/rhet.
  • Ability to process and produce appropriate scholarly material independently and collaboratively in an academic context, with a sense of shared responsibility and obligation.



  • The course will begin with a series of free PDF readings provided by the professor and made available online for ease of access.
  • Students will also eventually help to create a collaboratively compiled set of shared readings based on overlapping interests and areas of inquiry.
  • Finally, there will be a few monographs to read, which are to be determined from a list presented to and discussed by the students early on in the semester.