English 522:
Rhetorical Theory in Historical Perspective

Course Requirements

This page provides information about course assignments, grading policies, and related course policies:


Aside from the readings, there are five main assignments in this course:

Each is described briefly here; more information will be provided in class as we progress through the semester, and this site will be updated periodically. Also, consult the course schedule for deadlines.

Commentaries. The commentaries will be brief (1-2 page) informal explorations, provocations, musings, examinations, and/or discussions of specific issues arising from the course readings that interest, concern, or compel you or otherwise catch your notice. Their purpose is to facilitate our collective investigation into the issues raised by the various authors we'll read and to help us engage their ideas. You will be asked to do a commentary approximately every other week and to distribute it to the class via the class email list (more on this later). These will be due by Monday of the assigned week (to allow time for the rest of the class to read them prior to our Wednesday class meetings).

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Online Discussions. Throughout the semester we will extend our in-class discussions by engaging in online discussions of course readings, issues, assignments, and related matters through the use of an electronic mailing list. You will be required to log in weekly to read what your classmates have posted to the newsgroup and to participate in the discussion by posting at least one message per week. (Please note that you will not be required to post a message during the weeks when you have submitted a commentary.) During the semester we may have the opportunity to engage in online discussions with James Porter and some of the other authors whose work we will be reading.

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Leading Class Discussion. Each student in the class will be asked to lead discussion of one or more of the assigned readings for a particular week. After the first class meeting, you will have an opportunity to sign up for the week in which you would like to lead class discussion. For that week, you will be responsible for leading discussion of one of the assigned readings. You may lead discussion in any way you deem appropriate (for example, using in-class writing exercises, small-group discussions, etc.) and you may use any supplementary materials (such as handouts or overheads, secondary sources, etc.) that you think necessary. (Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss your ideas about leading class discussion prior to your assigned week.) However you choose to organize discussion for your assigned week, the important point is that you be familiar with the text for that week and prepared to help the rest of the class engage that text in productive and substantive ways.

Format is thus flexible for this assignment. It's up to you to decide what to do and how your topic and/or activities might enrich our collective inquiry. The only parameters are that you should plan to lead discussion for about an hour or so (though you may request more time if you need it). Again, don't hesitate to talk to me about this assignment if you have questions or concerns.

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Short Paper. The short paper will be a discussion/explication of a key rhetorical issue or concept as it emerges in the work of one or more of the authors we will read. You are encouraged to focus this paper on one of the assigned authors/theorists, though you may choose to write on an author or theorist whose work is not formally assigned for this course. You should think of this as a relatively conventional assignment whose purpose is to encourage you to think more carefully and in more depth about a conventional issue or concept in rhetoric. For example, you might choose to write about differing conceptions of invention in Plato, Aristotle, and the Sophists. Or you might consider examining a specific rhetorical concept (for example, audience) as it emerges in the work of a single theorist (for example, Aristotle or Cicero). Or you might address a traditional question involving rhetoric: Is rhetoric a "skill" or a knowledge-making enterprise? Is there such a thing as "good" rhetoric or "bad" rhetoric (in a moral sense)? What is the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy?

Whatever your topic, you should focus on primary sources (such as the texts by Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, etc.) but you should also feel free to consult secondary sources to help you in your thinking about your question or issue.

Your paper should be approximately 5-7 double-spaced pages in length. It may be submitted in electronic form (as a web page, in an email message, or on a disk).

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Course Project. This assignment will be the culmination of your formal work for this course. It is intended to be a more extensive and focused examination of a specific issue or problem that arises for you from the work we do in this course. The topic is flexible but should focus on an important issue or question or problem that emerges from our readings and discussions in the course. Ideally, your work for the other assignments will somehow inform or feed into this project, and of course if the project intersects with other work you are doing outside this course (such as preparing for exams or writing a conference paper), so much the better. Format is negotiable, and I encourage you to consider formats other than the conventional seminar paper (though that format is perfectly acceptable and may be most appropriate for you); web sites, hypertexts, and similar electronic media documents are all possibilities. Whatever format you choose, this project should be approximately 15 double-spaced pages (or the equivalent) in length.

Grading Policies

Grading for the course will break down as follows:

Commentaries 20%
Class Discussion 15%
Short Paper 25%
Course Project 40%

Note: I will not assign grades to individual commentaries but will assign a grade at the end of the semester to your commentaries as a body of work and a reflection of your overall effort for this assignment. Also, your participation in the online discussions will not be graded as a separate assignment but will be taken into account when I calculate final averages for the course grades.

Standard Disclaimers
  1. It should be obvious that attendance in a course such as this is essential. If you miss more than one class during the semester without prior approval, your grade may be adversely affected. Missing more than two classes may result in a failing grade.

  2. Plagiarism is unequivocally unacceptable. Please familiarize yourself with the University policies on plagiarism. If you plagiarize in this course, you may fail the course and be subject to University disciplinary procedures.

  3. If you have any problems or concerns about the course during the semester, please see me so that we can talk about them.

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