18th and 19th Century Rhetorical Traditions Syllabus

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English 696D 18th and 19th Century Rhetorical Traditions|

Prof. Thomas P. Miller

Office: Modern Languages 380 Wednesdays and Thursdays 12-1:00 and by appointment
Phone: 621-3553     


| Resources

One way to get oriented to the history of rhetoric is to read the introductions (which you are assigned for the second class) and backtrack on the bibliographies.  Another is to search the library.  If you are new to the U of A, consider the on-line documentation and resources provided by RIO.

Another way to get oriented is to do research on the web on rhetoric, literature, history, and more specialized topics.  Please suggest additional sites as you discover them.


Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 2001.

Brereton, John C. ed. The Origins of Composition Studies in the American College, 1875-1925. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1995.
Additional readings available through online reserves and other online sources.

Major Assignments

Reader Responses: You will write three reader responses (approximately 200-250 words) and post these to the course listserve by Monday (at the very latest by noon) before the class in which we discuss the readings. These responses do not need to be formal essays.   They should help focus and deepen class discussions by helping us to understand, critique or connect readings.  However, the genre is very open-ended and can be used for reactions to previous classes and ongoing discussion, cumulative responses to several readings, or arguments against readings.  Everyone should print off and bring these postings to class (10% of final grade)

Book Review: Book reviews are an excellent way to begin publishing.  Working on the genre together will help us to improve your abilities to summarize the overall arguments of books and locate them in contexts to examine their claims to significance.  Readings such as Royster's "New Histories of Rhetoric" will provide us with models to consider these concerns.  Your book review of three to five pages should include a coversheet and a published review of another book that you have examined to learn how to summarize arguments, analyze their significance, and relate them to issues of importance in the field.  The coversheet should include a paragraph examining why the review you selected is a useful model and another paragraph using the model to as a point of reference for assessing what you tried to achieve in your own review.  The coversheet should also include a one paragraph abstract of your review and a paragraph citing the journal that you would submit the review to and discussing why the review would be publishable in that journal. The draft is due to the Caucus website by class on 9/12.  By 9/17, you should respond to the drafts in your group. We will discuss selected drafts in class on 9/15.  The hard copy of the revision is due to my box in ML 445 on 9/19 (20% of final grade).  Need some help finding a review?

Research Proposal: You will submit an annotated bibliography and then a proposal for the research that you are doing. This proposal of five to seven pages will define the tradition that you are researching, situate it within an historical context, and posit a claim to significance for your research. The proposal will also include an annotated bibliography of the primary and secondary texts that you are working with.  In so far as it requires you to project a line of reading and set out some general claims that you will develop, this assignment has similarities to elements of both the dissertation proposal and the reading lists that you will write for the preliminary exams. For an excellent model, see the preliminary exam reading lists of Sharon Sandgathe (now Stevens). The draft of the annotated bibliography is due to the Caucus website on October 3, and the draft of the research proposal is due there on October 10. You should respond to your peers by the following Fridays. The revisions are due to my box in ML 445 on October 17 (20% of grade).

A Journal Essay: At the end of the semester, you will submit your revision of the essay that you have workshopped in the course. This essay of approximately twenty pages should include a cover sheet with an abstract, a citation of the specific journal you would submit the essay to, and also citations of essays from that journal that have served as models along with a couple of sentences on why you selected.  To support your work on this and the previous assignment, you will work in research groups and present a draft of your essay in a workshop in class in the last four weeks of the course. By Monday morning before your workshop and presentation, you should post copies of your draft (single-spaced) to Caucus for people to print out and bring to class to workshop.  The essays from the first three scheduled research groups are due in the last class meeting, and the last research group's essays are due one week later (50%).

Weekly Assignments

I. Working Histories

1.  August 24: Developing historically grounded and rhetorically informed programs of work

Study Questions: How can this course help you to develop an historical context for your research, teaching and service commitments? What are the contemporary relevance of 18th and 19th century developments in the teaching of English, and how can rhetoric help us to explore the broader historical dynamics that shape our field of work? Do the economic, institutional, and intellectual changes that we are witnessing have parallels with other developments in the history of literacy and literacy studies? What work needs to be done to expand "our" tradition beyond canonical theorists of rhetoric to assess the rhetorical practices of marginalized traditions? How can this expanded historical framework help us better understand contemporary trends in the field, including the expansion of our disciplinary frame of reference beyond first-year composition to include community literacies, service learning, political rhetoric, and the social construction of disciplinary hierarchies and institutional practices, including, for example, the intensifying pressures to treat universities as businesses?

In class, we will consider MLK's "I have a dream", Sojourner Truth's reported "Ain't I a woman", and Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburgh Address."  We will discuss how these texts might be configured into a coherent rhetorical tradition and what is involved in reading these texts rhetorically.  (This Sojourner Truth website also includes other accounts, pictures, and details on her speech.)

Readings: "Will English departments become the classics departments of the twenty-first century?

Also of Interest: A classroom activity that uses King's speech to move back and forth between poetics and rhetorics. As noted in class, King can be loosely identified with the "prophetic pragmatism" of Cornel West, though West stops short of doing so.  According to McClendon, such hesitation indicates that West's vision of pragmatism lacks the radical engagement with class conflicts that King and others such as DuBois developed as they focused less on reforming and more on reconstructing society.  See also Garrison's "The Crossroads of Poetry and Prophecy."

2.  August 31: Moving beyond The Rhetorical Tradition to other traditions of rhetoric

Study Questions: What are the guiding and unifying concerns of The Rhetorical Tradition? How are figures such as Aristotle or Hugh Blair related to figures such as Sarah Grimke or Mikail Bakhtin?  Does the coherence of The Rhetorical Tradition break down when we shift from figures who wrote about rhetoric to practitioners and theorists who did not define themselves or their concerns in terms of rhetoric?  What purposes has The Rhetorical Tradition served, and how is it useful to us?  How do we develop a rhetorical stance that is historically grounded but not necessarily confined to the concerns of figures usually identified with The Rhetorical Tradition?  What categories, purposes, and methods are most helpful in studying the rhetoric of traditions?

Readings:  "General Introduction" and introduction to "Enlightenment Rhetoric" and "Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric"  in Bizzell and Herzberg's Rhetorical Tradition (hereafter B&H), pages 1-16, 791-813, and 983-999.  Also read Fish's "Rhetoric" in B&H, pp. 1605-1628.

Also of Interest:
Roxanne Mountford's version of this seminar and her undergraduate course Rhetorical Traditions, Patricia Bizzell's talk "Future Directions for Rhetorical Traditions" (which locates her anthology in ongoing efforts to re-envision The Rhetorical Tradition), and my own "Reinventing Rhetorical Traditions" from Learning from the Rhetorics of History (1993).

II. The History of Rhetorical Studies in the Enlightenment

3.  September 7: The rhetoric of the "science of man"

Study Questions: What are the contemporary implications of rhetorical theory and studies' historical relations with moral philosophy, including the studies of ethics and politics? How are theories of ethics and politics implicit in the models of audiences and purposes assumed by rhetorical studies even after the relations of rhetoric and moral philosophy have passed into history? What are the parallels among an ethics of personal sentiments, the public as a free market of ideas, and the political economy of emergent capitalism? What are the political functions and ethical values of taste and correctness, then and now?  How does the Enlightenment project of making a science of human nature shape the origins of modern rhetorical and cultural studies, including efforts to script the body in elocutionary manuals such as those we will read next week?

In Class
: Be ready to talk about the book you have selected and the interests that led you to it.  We will form research groups in class.  Need some help finding a review?

Readings: Look at Adam Smith's influential Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, which he began to develop as Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow in the 1750s, when he was also teaching the course on rhetoric and belles lettres that has been cited as the first college course in English.  What are we to make of the fact that a figure who has been identified as one of the first college professors of English was also a founding figure in capitalist political economy?  Hugh Blair's widely adopted and imitated Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres was very influenced by Smith.  Blair, Smith and especially Campbell were also influenced by Hume's project of developing a "science of man."  Scan Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste," and read Campbell's The Philosophy of Rhetoric (B&H 828-40 and 898-946).

Also of Interest: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on David Hume and Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century, Hume's essay "That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science" and other works by Hume.

4.  Sept. 14: Elocution and belles lettres--the origins of speech and literary studies?

Study Questions: What are the ethical and political assumptions and purposes that motivate the projects of teaching taste and correctness?  What assumptions about literacy and learning are involved in this project?   How are the concepts and categories that are included useful, and what uses do the texts foreclose?  As we have discussed, the experiences of the authors and auditors give rise to certain expectations that become codified in conventions.  What experiences do you see embodied in the conventions presumed or prescribed by the texts?  How do the presumed and prescribed expectations differ from your own?  Shifting genres, we will also examine the conventions of book reviews.  What strategies do reviewers use to position a book in a context that connects with their readers' interests?  How do reviewers summarize books and provide readers with a more detailed sense of the particulars of the book?  How do reviewers develop an evaluation of what the author did and should have done?

In Class: We will discuss selected reviews that have been posted to Caucus.  Please scan those in your group.

Readings: Read the selection in Bizzell and Herzberg from Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres and scan the selections from the elocutionists Thomas Sheridan and Gilbert Austin (947-980 and 879-897).  Also as a sample for a book review, read Royster's "New Histories of Rhetoric" in College English 58.2 (1996): 219-24.  You can find this review in the JSTOR online collection of journals in the library.  For directions on how to find the JSTOR collection in the library, visit our  help finding a review page.

5.  September 21: And then there was composition

Readings: Read the selections from the widely adopted textbooks of Alexander Bain and Adams Sherman Hill and Herbert Spencer's Philosophy of Style (B&H 1141-67).

III. Alternative Historical Frames

6.  September 28: Critiques of enlightenment

Readings: Read selections from Vico's critique of the scientific impetus of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche's critique of moral philosophy, and Foucault's critique of disciplinary subjugation (B&H 862-878, 1168-1180, and 14322-1470)

7.  October 5: Engendering differences

Study Questions: How are matters of gender, orality and literacy related to the process of gaining power through education, insofar as women had limited access to learned languages and educated discourse, while all spoke their "mother's tongue"? How can we use gender to continue our discussions of literacy and orality, of rhetoric and moral philosophy, and of tradition and experience? How does gender provide a means to review the elocutionists' valorization of receding oral experiences and their efforts to script the body and the living voice? How are developments in education, cultural ideology, and discourse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries related to changes in gender? In addition to considering these general questions, we will use Woolf's Room of One's Own as a lens text to work on setting out alternative rhetorical traditions.

Readings: Read the selections from Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own, and then read the selections from Sarah Grimke, Phoebe Palmer, and Frances Willard in Bizzell and Herzberg (1246-1269, 1045-60 and 1085-1140). 

Also of interest: The on-line resources on the History of Women from our Resource page, Tania Smith's dissertation, "The Rhetorical Education of 18th Century British Women Writers."

8.  October 12: Race matters

Readings: Read the selection from Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera and then those by Maria Stewart and Frederick Douglass (1582-1604, 1031-1044, and 1061-84). Also read Valerie Babb's "'The Joyous Circle': The Vernacular Presence in Frederick Douglass's Narratives" (College English 67.4 [March 2005]: 365-377), which is available either in the JSTOR collection of electronic journals in the UofA Library (you will need your CAT Card to get access to the JSTOR collection of e-journals.  Or on the College English website, if you are a member of NCTE

 9.   October 19: The Abolitionist Movement as a Case Study in Social Movement Rhetorics

Study Questions
: How do theories of social movements help us assess how rhetoric is involved in collective agency?  How do we read the figures we have considered differently if we consider them part of a social movement?  How can theories of social movements help us understand historical developments in rhetoric and composition?

Readings: Read Owen Whooley's "Locating Masterframes in History: An Analysis of the Religious Masterframe of the Abolition Movement and Its Influence on Movement Trajectory" (Journal of Historical Sociology 17.4 [Dec. 2004]: 490-516), and scan Scott Davies's "The Paradox of Progressive Education: A Frame Analysis" (Sociology of Education 75 [Oct. 2002]:269-285), particularly the introduction and conclusion (pages 269-275, 283-4).  Review the selection by Frances Willard (B&H 1085-1140), and also review your notes for the last two classes.

Also of interestGlossary of Terms Used to Study Social Movements is a good introductory resource.  Another useful page from the Social Movements and Culture website is Slavery and Abolition, which includes an on-line collection of slave narratives and other pages on social movements related to Native American, Hispanic, and other groups such as people with disabilities.  For those interested in how social movements studies relate to composition, visit JSTOR, and read "The Future of WAC" by Barbara Walwoord in College English 58.1 (Jan. 1996): 58-79.  For those wondering how this relates to rhetoric, see Gerald Biesecker-Mast's "How to Read Social Movement Rhetorics as Discursive Events."

As noted in my email, the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-1800 is an incredible collection of materials on varied social movements.  To gain access to all the primary materials on movements ranging from Native American to gay rights, you should search for the website on the Library's homepage because some of the materials are restricted to subscribers and the UofA subscribes.  However, you can find some materials on the open-access version of the website, including "What are Social Movements and What is Gendered about Women's Participation in Social Movements?" by Benita Roth and Marian Horan.

IV. Historicizing The Institution of Composition

10.   October 26: What purposes were served by the establishment of first-year composition?

Study Questions: What assumptions and purposes guide Brereton's approach to the history of our work?  How do the documents verify or complicate that agenda?  What is different and what is all too familiar in the teaching of composition as documented here?

Readings: Brereton, "Introduction," and "The First Composition Program: Harvard, 1870-1900"  (3-132)

11.   November 2: What follows from beginning the history of our work at Harvard?

Study Questions: These articles address concerns that feel very familiar.  Why is that?   Their students are not ours, and we work in institutions vastly different from theirs.  Has the work not changed?  What is the work of teaching, according to these texts and textbooks?

Readings: Brereton, "New Writing Curriculum" and "Attack on the Harvard Program"  (132-312)

12.  November 9: Textbooks and other technologies of composition

Study Questions
: The selections from hundred year old textbooks document how instructional technologies have evolved in tandem with changes in literacy, curricular assumptions, and instructional methodologies.  How do these changes distinguish nineteenth-century composition teaching from eighteenth-century rhetoric and belles lettres?

Readings: Brereton, "Textbooks for a New Discipline" (313-437) 

V. Making History
The last four weeks of the course will be devoted to the presentations of the research groups.  Each of the members of the group presenting each week will give a short presentation of no more than ten minutes on his or her research project, and then another member of the group will serve as respondent to lead a discussion of the draft, which will be posted on the Caucus website on the Friday before class and will be read by the whole class.  We should have about twenty-minutes for each presentation and workshop. In the first week, we will take time to critique the process, and in the last week we will need time to do the Teacher-Course Evaluations.

13.  November 16: Group 1
14.  November 30: Groups 2 and 3
15.  December 7: Group 4