Introduction to Rhetoric

Please note that this course satisfies the “PRE-1700” historical breadth requirement for the English major.

Course Description

According to Thomas Miller “the rhetorical tradition is a fiction that has just about outlasted its usefulness.”  He makes this argument because it is difficult for us to decide whose work, amongst all the persuasive writers and speakers in the world, to study.

We must ask ourselves whose work best exemplifies the art of persuasive writing and why. In this course, we will examine the work of a group of writers most often included in “the rhetorical tradition.” However, we will also ask ourselves how this canon of rhetoricians has evolved. Not only will we study the work of these rhetors to glean their insights on the process of writing persuasively, but we will also ask ourselves why these authors are often included in survey courses on rhetoric. Which writers have been the focus of study on persuasive writing and why? How has the rhetorical canon shifted over the years? Whose work continues to be excluded and why?

Thus, throughout this course we will not only study “the rhetorical tradition,” we will also examine how this tradition has been constructed and reconstructed over time and how we think it ought to be constructed in the future. As we do so, we will reflect on the historical and cultural situations that influenced these writers’ understanding of what persuasive writing ought to look like.  Special topics will include new media and rhetoric, world rhetorics, indigenous rhetorics, post-truth rhetorics, and the rhetorics of popular culture.

We will also study of the history of western rhetorics, examining insights on the art of argumentation from the work of rhetors such as Aspasia, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. We will continue with a historical survey that includes medieval rhetoricians (such as St. Augustine, Boethius, and Christine de Pizan); Renaissance rhetors (including Erasmus, Margaret Fell, and Madeleine de Scudery); the Enlightenment rhetoric of Locke, Blair and Campbell; nineteenth century rhetorics of Maria Stewart, Sarah Grimke, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, and finally, twentieth-century rhetorics, including work by bell hooks, Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldua.

There will be a midterm, a final, and two short papers.

Required Texts

Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings
from Classical Times to the Present.
2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. (Pdfs provided by instructor)

McComiskey, Bruce. Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition. Boulder: UP of Colorado, 2017