Introduction to Composition and Rhetoric

Introducing Composition and Rhetoric to new graduate students in English studies is no easy task, given the breadth and depth involved in covering not one but two fields (one of which, rhetoric, is among the oldest in the humanities). Such an introduction will nonetheless be made manageable through a particular thematic focus: namely a look at the historical development of one of the field’s 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 writing 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, and cultural conditions.

Since one function of 625 is to help give students some disciplinary foundations to work from in their 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, as a complement to that, we will routinely examine the ways in which the theories and arguments that are significant to C/R 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).

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. Most in-class time will be devoted to seminarstyle discussions. Students will have common readings to write about through a series of short public papers (20%), as well as separate monographs/collections to summarize, reflect upon, and present to the class in teams or as individuals (20%). Students will work on two major research projects: a history report that allows each student to better understand an issue in the field simply by learning and effectively reiterating its history (20%), as well as a scholarly, thesis-driven article on the same issue to be submitted for publication (40%).

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.


In addition to a coursepack, the following are likely readings. Please do not purchase them in advance, as this list may change.

  • Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition. 2nd edition. Bedford St. Martin’s, 2001
  • Borrowman, Shane, Stuart C Brown, and Thomas P. Miller, eds. Renewing Rhetoric’s Relation to Composition: Essays in Honor of Theresa Jarnegin Enos. Routledge, 2009
  • Crowley, Sharon. Towards Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism.U of Pitt P, 2006
  • Coleman, Lisa, and Lorien Goodman, eds. Enculturation: Rhetoric/Composition: Intersections, Impasses, Differends. 5:1 (2003)
  • Miller, Thomas P. The Formation of College English: Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the British Cultural Provinces. U of Pitt P, 1997.