Introduction to Composition & Rhetoric

Despite a robust body of scholarship in both Composition and Rhetoric, the two fields are often combined into one disciplinary focus in the academy because of their inherent interdependance. Rhetoric has given us theories for analyzing and applying effective means of persuasion, understanding how meaning is made, and recognizing and dismantling discursive practices. Implicit in these acts is some kind of composing whether the composition is written, visual, or oral; being analyzed or produced; acting or being acted upon. And Composition, a discipline that emerged in response to increasing diversity in the academy with its focus on writing pedagogy and research that explores how to effectively work with all writers, necessarily draws from rhetorical theory in laying the foundational structure for this work. Shared by both fields is a commitment to civic action, and an overarching goal of this course will be to interrogate how and the extent to which different approaches in the field address that commitment.


We will begin the course with a brief overview of the history and evolution of Rhetoric beginning in Ancient Greece and Rome with Aristotle, Quintilian, and Cicero, then quickly move through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and into the Modern Era. An understanding of rhetoric as having an epistemic function will provide the foundation for situating the emergence of Composition as a disciplinary focus in the latter half of the 20th Century within the changing attitudes about class, race, and gender equality. A majority of the course will be spent with contemporary theories and practices in the field—inclduing activist research, place-based pedagogy, indigenous and minority rhetorics, digital/new media studies, cultural rhetorics, universal design learning, and technical writing—as we explore ethical research and teaching practices that best address each of our own commitments as practiioners and researchers.


Student Learning Outcomes:
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to demonstrate:

an ability to historicize Composition and Rhetoric studies within academia and as a response to political and social movements.

an understanding of the varied areas of research and practice in the field, their intersections, and how they can facilitate civic action.

an ability to critically situate research, both one’s own and other’s, within scholarly conversations.

an ability to produce scholarly discourse in response to current conversations in the field and in appropriate genres (abstract, conference proceeding, article)


Possible Assignments:

Periodic (3-4) Short Responses to Weekly Readings OR one Short Synthesis Paper (~5 pages or 1500 words) on Weekly Readings: 10%

In-class teaching presentation on CompRhet theory/approach: 20%

Mid-term Colloquium Project: 30%:

Literature Review (7 pages or ~2100 words) informing colloquium topic

Colloquium Paper

Colloquium Presentation

A final research project 40%:

(We will use the guidelines for the Conference on College Composition and Communication or another comparable CR conference as a heuristic for this project).

An abstract proposal for a presentation (either individual or part of a panel)

A conference paper (10 pages or ~4000 words) prepared for a 20-minute conference presentation

In-class Presentation


Possible Texts:

selections from (all will likely be available as pdf):

Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition,  2nd ed. Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2000.

Tate, Gary, Amy Ruppier Taggart, Kurt Schick, & H. Brooke Hessler. A Guide to Composition Pedagogies: A Critical Sourcebook. New York: Oxford UP. 2014.

Nickolson, Lee and Mary P Sheridan. Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.


College English,

Rhetoric Review,

College Composition and Communication

Composition Studies

Writing Center Journal

Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to teaching Language, Literature, Composition, and Culture.


Readings will also include selections from the following authors:

Morris Young, Damián Baca, Malea Powell, Scott Richard Lyons, Lisa King, Ernst Stromberg, Ellen Cushman, Vershawn Young, Suresh Canagarajah