Rhetorical Tradition

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.  We will begin with the study of classical rhetoric, examining insights on the art of argumentation from the work of rhetors such as Gorgias, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. We will continue with a historical survey that includes medieval rhetoricians (such as St. Augustine and Boethius); Renaissance rhetors (including Christine de Pisan, Erasmus, and Bacon); Enlightenment rhetoric (such as the work of Margaret Fell, Sarah Grimke, Campbell, and Blair); and finally twentieth-century rhetoric (including work by Martin Luther King, Kenneth Burke, Toulmin, Foucault, Derrida, Cixous, Henry Louis Gates and Gloria Anzuldua.).

There will be a midterm, a final, and a few short papers/quizzes.

Required Texts

(Available at UH Bookstore)

  • Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. THE RHETORICAL TRADITION: READINGS FROM CLASSICAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.
  • Herrick, James A. THE HISTORY AND THEORY OF RHETORIC. 3rd Ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2005.