5001– History and Research Methods in Rhetoric and Composition

“Rhetoric is not only persuasion but identification as a social cohesive force.”

Kenneth Burke,  A Rhetoric of Motives

This will introduce you to the vast sweep of Rhetoric’s history, as well as its pedagogical offspring, Composition Theory. We will be considering the development of Rhetoric as a field of study by reading a selection of primary texts in English or English translation. From these we will trace the growth of rhetorical theories and research methods, in particular those ideas that most influence contemporary concerns. Later in the term we will explore the connection between Rhetoric and Composition and read some influential theorists as well as discussing current trends and debates in the field.

Special emphasis in this iteration of 5001 will be the inclusion of Persian/Arabic, Chinese, and Indian rhetorics and composition theories, long neglected in graduate curricula but of growing concern to scholars and teachers.

You must attend class and individual conferences, keep up with weekly readings, and participate in class discussion. I require the following writing/speaking to demonstrate your mastery of course material:

  • Weekly reading commentaries, posted on the blog, 500 word max.
  • A take-home midterm, five pages max.
  • A research essay  on a topic we decide together, summary presented to the class.
  • One class in which you lead discussion for ½ the class.
  • An oral final exam, held individually

Required Texts:

  • Course Calendar — Contains the schedule with links to readings and detailed instructions for assignments.Password protected–get the password from me.
  • Ethereal Education blog –where you are right now!
  • A course reader compiled by Kim De Vries–available in the English Department in a week or two.

Nuts and Bolts (or, what you need to know to survive and prosper in my class)

Communication With Me

Most of the texts we will read are quite challenging. While I expect you will spend time wrestling with them, I also encourage you to ask questions in class or out. Especially if you don’t understand why we are even spending time on a text, please ask! The best way to reach me is via email. When you email, be sure to include Engl 5001 S08 in the subject line, exactly as I have printed it here. Otherwise your message will likely end up be filtered out as spam.

You will attend every class on time. You may miss two classes before your grade suffers terribly. Save these for an emergency. You are responsible for turning in work due on days you miss, for finding out what happened in class, and when possible, making it up. Some classwork cannot be made up.

Optional Contract and Portfolio Grading

In this class, if you choose this option, I won’t assign letter or number grades to any of your work in order to calculate a grade. I believe that assigning that sort of quantitative value to your communication shifts our focus from its proper place: what you want to say and why you want to say it. Grades force us both to instead be always calculating what some small part of a paper is “worth,” and thinking about that grade, when in fact successful communication is the real reward for your efforts. Of course, in the end I must give you a grade. I feel that the most accurate assessment of your learning can only be achieved looking at it all together. A class, like a text, is more than the sum (and average) of its parts.

Your final grade in this course will be based on my evaluation of your written assignments, your work in class, and your work responding to your classmates. With effort (see below), anyone can pass the class. We will talk in class about what is considered exceptional and worthy of high grades, and what is considered excellent communication in the academic community at large. Remember, you control what grade you earn.

If you complete every assignment in a satisfactory manner—meaning it shows effort, and your participation is similarly strong, you will get a B. You cannot pass the class, let alone earn a B without completing EVERY assignment.

Though I do not grade individual assignments, be assured that if you are in danger of failing, you will know. I will also be happy at any time in the semester to talk about your work.

When I do finally assign a grade, I will be using the +/- grading option.

What do I mean by “effort?”

As I stated above, a passing grade depends on fulfilling all of the requirements with effort. There is, of course, no exact measurement of such a vague quality. I will, however, look for certain concrete, observable signs of notable effort, thinking, and involvement:

Engagement: In class you are ready to participate. This means that not only have you done the reading I assigned for each day, but you remember it and are prepared to discuss it. You have tried to figure out confusing passages, noted your own questions or reactions to the reading, and thought about what it all means. When writng is due, you have it ready on time.

Sophistication: Show that a complex idea or question drives your writing or comments. For instance, don’t just tell four obvious reasons why dishonesty is bad or free will is good. A sophisticated piece would delve into a question about honesty or free will, and therefore show the complexity of the chosen issue.

Movement: Show in your writing and from week to week a movement of thinking through or figuring out your thinking on a topic. Thus your work needs to have a line of thinking or a succession of points. It needs to go somewhere.

All Essays should receive basic copy-editing for grammar and mechanical errors. All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified in the writing schedule. You cannot pass the class without submitting all assignments. Late assignments will be penalized, but it is always better to hand them in late than not at all. If you have to miss class on a due date, you are responsible for making sure I have the assignment anyway.

Please don’t email me your work. Put it on the blog as instructed in the assignment.

Our Classroom Community

We learn best in a supportive community. In order to ensure that our class works as a community, we will all follow the following guidelines:

  1. No cell phones. That means no cell phone ringing, no text messaging, no wandering out to answer a call during class, unless it is an emergency. I will expect some explanation of the latter. Enjoy being inaccessible for a space.
  2. Practice courtesy. We will be courteous to each other, even if we disagree very seriously with each other’s opinions or attitudes. Learning to work together in spite of disagreement is essential to your success in academic and professional life.
  3. Academic Integrity is the basis on which any academic community is founded. We will follow the policy set forth on the English Department website: http://web.csustan.edu/english/dept/plagiarism.html


Over the course of the semester I will ask you write eight commentaries that you will post here. These commentaries are meant to help you gain a great understanding of the texts and of ways texts are read in an academic community. We will read and discuss more than 8 texts, but you will have some choice about those to which you respond. Each response must be a maximum of 500 words long and must consider at least one of our texts and the ideas central to our class discussions. I expect you to go beyond summarizing or describing. I expect you to analyze the texts and the ideas they express, and I expect you to explore what these ideas add to our understanding of rhetoric and composition, and/or of particular theories or issues. I limit you to 500 words in order to force a focus on what is most essential to explain your point.

Leading Class Discussion

Each of you will be expected to lead class discussion for about ½ a class period, at least once during the term. You have some choice about the topic, but it must somehow be connected to the readings we are doing that week. This means that people who lead earlier must connect their topic and reading to earlier rhetorical theories and issues, while those who speak later need to connect with later theories or issues, or later still, with composition.

You and I will agree on a topic/texts and you will prepare your own comments about it, along with some questions to get discussion going. You will act as leader/moderator for that part of class. You are free to ask your classmates and me to do a little writing or some kind of exercise as well, as longs as you leave time for discussion also

Take-home Mid-term

This mid-term is designed to give you practice in the kind of written test you will face in your comprehensive exam. It will consist of several questions that will allow you to demonstrate how well you understand the material and how well you can put it together. –Meaning, you don’t have to just know it and remember it, you must interpret it. The actual questions will be distributed later.

Research Essay

A fifteen page text on a topic/question that we will develop together, this will be a research essay presenting and evaluating scholarly opinion and research about your question. You will be expected to have at least ten scholarly sources, to use MLA format for citations, and to demonstrate that you know how to present what you have learned through research in writing. Note that this is different than forming an opinion at the start and merely finding quotes that support it.  A summary will be presented to the class.

Individual Oral Final

This exam is designed to help you practice for professional presentations and interviews. Each of you will meet with me for about 20 minutes, during which we will talk about the readings and discussion we’ve enjoyed during the term. Questions will not be distributed ahead of time and will vary from person to person. In 20 minutes I expect we’ll be able to handle perhaps four or five questions. (assuming you answer each of them).

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