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Pennsylvania State University
Communication Arts & Sciences 475
Fall 2011

MWF 10:10-11:00 a.m.
112 Thomas Building

Professor Thomas W. Benson
227 Sparks Building

Office Hours: Tuesday 10-12 and by appointment



Studies in Public Address

American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era: 1932-1945

This course examines the rhetoric of political speeches and popular culture in the New Deal Era, from 1932 to 1945, the time of the Great Depression and World War II. We read a number of speeches by major political figures of the time, especially President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and discuss fiction, drama, photography, film, and the music of the time as rhetorical interpretations of a period of turmoil, challenge, and rapid change. The course is built on a model of intensive conversation about the texts we study, both in class and in on-line discussion forums. Students prepare two short critical papers as a way of extending on skills of academic conversation to more formal research and writing.

Unit 1 -- The Coming of the New Deal



August 22


Introduction: the rhetoric of American public address and popular culture in the Depression and World War Two.



August 24

FDR campaigning in Topeka, Kansas, September 14, 1932


FDR, address at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, September 23, 1932. Print text from ANGEL readings and resources folder and bring it to class for discussion.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, “Prologue” (1-9); chapter 1, “The American People on the Eve of the Great Depression” (10-42); chapter 2, “Panic” (43-69).



August 26




FDR, First Inaugural Address, Washington, DC, March 4, 1933. Text is on ANGEL.

You can hear an audio clip from the speech online.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 3, “The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover” (70-103); chapter 4, “Interregnum” (104-130); chapter 5 “The Hundred Days” (131-159).




August 29


FDR, the First Fireside Chat, March 12, 1933; Texts are on ANGEL.

Audio recording of the First Fireside Chat.



August 31




FDR, The Second Fireside Chat, May 7, 1933.

  Unit 2 -- Documenting the Depression  



September 2

The River

"Department of Agriculture map that inspired The River," from University of Virginia xroads project



Film showing: The River (1938), produced by the Farm Security Administration; written and directed by Pare Lorentz.(31 minutes)





September 5



Labor Day parade 1940

Jack Delano, "Spectators at Labor Day Parade, Du Bois, Pennsylvania," September 1940
Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information - Library of Congress




September 7

Margaret Bourke-White
Self Portrait 1943


Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces, through chapter 2.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 6, “The Ordeal of the American People” (160-189); chapter 7, “Chasing the Phantom of Recovery” (190-217).



September 9

Margaret Bourke-White



Caldwell and Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces, 17-54.

Unit 3 -- FDR's Second Term and Voices of Opposition



September 12

Father Charles Coughlin


Father Charles Coughlin, "A Third Party," radio address, June 19, 1936. Print a copy of the text from the Angel readings and resources folder. Listen to an audio sample from a Coughlin broadcast on the History Channel.



September 14

Huey Long


Huey Long, "Sharing Our Wealth," radio address, Washington, D.C., January 19, 1935. Listen to an audio file of part of the speech. Print a copy of the text from the Angel readings and resources folder.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 8, “The Rumble of Discontent” (218-248).



September 16


Herbert Hoover in 1932
from National Archives and Hoover Library

The presidential campaign of 1936

Herbert H. Hoover, "The Crisis to Free Men," Republican National Convention, June 10, 1936.



September 19





FDR, "Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency," Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, June 27, 1936.

FDR, remarks at Hayfield, Minnesota, 9 October 1936

FDR, address at Fort Warren, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 11 October 1936




September 21


FDR, Address at Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, October 29, 1936.

FDR, Address in Madison Square Garden, New York, October 31, 1936.



September 23



FDR, The Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937. Text is on ANGEL. Listen to the speech on the History Channel web site.


Unit 4 -- In Dubious Battle



September 26



Martin Dies

Martin Dies, Texas Congressman, chair of House Committee on Un-American Activities. Brochure advertising lecture series.


John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle, chapters 1-6, pages 1-95.






September 28



John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle, chapters 7-11, pages 96-163.







September 30




Film showing: The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936); directed by Pare Lorentz for the Department of Agriculture.



October 3




John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle, chapters 12-15, pages 164-269.

Unit 5 -- Labor and Civil Rights



October 5

John L. Lewis

Sit-down striker arrested, 1937


John L. Lewis, "The Rights of Labor," radio address, Washington, D.C., September 3, 1937. The text of the address is in the ANGEL readings and resources folder.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 9 “A Season of Reform” (249-287); “Strike” (288-322).

You may hear a brief audio file of Lewis at the PBS great American speeches web site.




October 7


FDR at Gettysburg

FDR, Address at Gettysburg, May 30, 1934; and Address at the Dedication of the Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield, July 3, 1938. Texts of the speeches may be found at the American Presidency project.

Thomas W. Benson, “FDR at Gettysburg: The New Deal and the Rhetoric of Presidential Leadership, ” in Leroy G. Dorsey, ed., The Presidency and Rhetorical Leadership (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 145-183." Print a copy from the Angel readings and resources folder; the essay reproduces the texts of the speeches.

Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White of the NAACP, March 19, 1936, on the anti-lynching bill. In the readings and resources folder.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, “The Ordeal of Franklin Roosevelt” (323-362).

Unit 6 -- Hollywood Imagines Washington



October 10


Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. [Please see the film on your own before coming to class; you may purchase or rent a copy or view it in the Arts and Humanities Library in Pattee Library, where it is on reserve for the course. The DVD is also available for rent from Netflix, and for purchase from Amazon.].

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 12, “What the New Deal Did” (363-380).



October 12


still from The City (1939)



Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Discussion continues.

The City (1939), Pare Lorentz.[The film will be shown in class].

Martin J. Medhurst & Thomas W. Benson, “The City: The Rhetoric of Rhythm,” Communication Monographs 48 (1981): 54-73. Print a copy from the Angel readings and resources folder.

Paper 1



October 14

Paper #1 due. 10-12 pages. Rhetorical analysis. Choose one of the following topics and write a detailed critical description, analysis, and interpretation of the text(s). You are encouraged to consult (and cite) a variety of journalistic and academic sources, to establish the historical context and scholarly views on your topic, though the core of your paper should be a detailed analysis and interpretation of the rhetoric of the text itself. For example, you should look at contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, or histories of the era, to establish the situation. You should consult and cite relevant academic books and journals for critical analysis with which you might find yourself agreeing or disagreeing. Please review the additional directions on papers for this class in another section of this syllabus.


(1)   “Speech” as action and theme in John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle or in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

(2)   Individual liberty and communal responsibility in one or more FDR speeches (not read in class) or in In Dubious Battle.

(3)   Tradition and innovation as themes in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (choose a speech not assigned in class).

(4)   Depicting politics, the individual, and the law in Dashiell Hammet’s The Glass Key (1931) or in Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here (1935).



have a nice weekend

(photo: Edwin Rosskam, FSA photograph, Swimming Hole, Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania, July 1941)

Unit 7 -- Imagining Community and Identity in Waiting for Lefty and Double Indemnity



October 17


Clifford Odets

book jacket, Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays (Grove Press, 1993)


Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty. Reading.





October 19


Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty. Reading and discussion.



October 21




James M. Cain, Double Indemnity.

(discussion will focus on chapters 1-7)




October 24


James M. Cain, Double Indemnity.

(discussion will include chapters 8-14)


Unit 8 -- The FSA Photography Project -- Pennsylvania



October 26


The New Deal and World War II in Pennsylvania.

Cohen and Filippelli, Times of Sorrow and Hope.



October 28

The New Deal and World War II in Pennsylvania.

Cohen and Filippelli, Times of Sorrow and Hope.



October 31



The New Deal and World War II in Pennsylvania.

Cohen and Filippelli, Times of Sorrow and Hope.

Unit 9 -- War Comes to America



November 2

Poster for WPA production of Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, 1936 or 1937

FDR, Warm Springs, Georgia, April 4, 1939


FDR, The Quarantine Speech. October 5, 1937.


Texts are at American Presidency project and in the readings and resources folder on Angel.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 13, “The Gathering Storm” (381-425).



November 4




FDR, The Arsenal of Democracy. Fireside Chat, December 29, 1940.



November 7


FDR, Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address), January 6, 1941 -- The Four Freedoms Speech.

Laura Crowell, "The Building of the 'Four Freedoms' Speech," Speech Monographs 22 (1955): 266-283.

Norman Rockwell "Four Freedoms" paintings at the National Archives.

FDR texts at American Presidency project and ANGEL.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 14, “The Agony of Neutrality” (426-464); chapter 15, “To the Brink” (465-515).



Wednesday Nov 9




FDR, the Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941.

FDR, Freedom of the Seas. September 11, 1941.




Nov 11

USS Shaw exploding, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941


FDR, War Message, December 8, 1941.


Texts in ANGEL readings and resources folder.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 16, “War in the Pacific” (516-564).



Nov 14




FDR, Fireside Chat on the war, December 9, 1941.



Nov 16



Nov 18


Casablanca. (Warner Brothers, 1943)[Please see the film on your own before coming to class].

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 17, “Unready Ally, Uneasy Alliance” (565-614); chapter 18, “The War of Machines” (615-668).

Class will not meet on November 16 and 18, as Professor Benson will be in New Orleans to attend the annual meeting of the National Communication Association. We will develop an alternate, online assignment based on your independent viewing of the film Casablanca available from on DVD.


Nov 20-26




Freedom from Want

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, from his Four Freedoms series; image from Wikipedia





Nov 28

Keep Mum: The World Has Ears


FDR, Fireside Chat on the War, February 23, 1942.

Text in ANGEL.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 19, “The Struggle for a Second Front” (669-708); chapter 20, “The Battle for Northwest Europe” (709-745).



Nov 30


FDR, Fireside Chat, June 5, 1944.

FDR, D-Day Prayer, June 6, 1944.

George S. Patton, speech to soldiers before D-Day, May 17, 1944.

Texts in ANGEL readings and resources folder.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 21, “The Cauldron of the Home Front” (746-797).



December 2




FDR, the Teamsters Speech, September 23, 1944.

FDR, the Fourth Inaugural Address, Washington, DC, January 20, 1945.

Texts at ANGEL.



December 5


Winston Churchill, FDR, and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, February 1945


FDR, "Address to the Congress on the Yalta Conference," March 1, 1945.



December 7


FDR memorial

Statue of FDR and Fala at the FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C.



FDR, “Last Speech,” prepared for delivery April 13, 1945.

James Agee, "A Soldier Died Today," Time, April 23, 1945.

Thomas W. Benson, “Inaugurating Peace: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Last Speech,” Speech Monographs 36 (1969): 138-147.

Texts at ANGEL site or electronic reserve.

Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, chapter 22, “Endgame” (798-851); “Epilogue: The World the War Made” (852-858).



December 9


Edward R. Murrow, "For Most of It I Have No Words" Buchenwald: April 15, 1945. CBS Radio Broadcast, April 15, 1945 (on electronic reserve).

Harry Truman, Statement on the A-Bomb, August 6, 1945.

Harry Truman, Radio Address, September 1, 1945.

Paper 2



December 12

Paper #2 due. 15-20 pages. Rhetorical analysis. Choose one of the following topics and write a detailed critical description, analysis, and interpretation of the text(s). You are encouraged to consult (and cite) a variety of journalistic and academic sources, though the core of your paper should be a detailed analysis and interpretation of the rhetoric of the text itself. For example, you might look at contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, or histories of the era, to establish the situation. You might consult academic books and journals for critical analysis with which you might find yourself agreeing or disagreeing.

Please review the additional directions on papers for this class in another section of this syllabus.

(1) Representations of race and/or gender in selected photographs from Times of Sorrrow and Hope.

(2) The rhetoric of choice and fate in James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934); Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930); or Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939).

(3) Depictions of the enemy, of the United States, and of our allies in one of the films from the Why We Fight series.

(4) FDR Fireside Chat, September 8, 1943.

(5) The rhetoric of leadership and duty in John Ford's film They Were Expendable (1945).

(6) or, any one of the topics for paper #1 that you did not choose for that assignment.

Your paper is due in my mailbox in Sparks Building (and at ANGEL and TURNITIN) by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, December 12.



December 12-16




Final Paper -- due in ANGEL drop box and Turnitin December 12.



Required Textbooks

Some of the course readings will be available on ANGEL lessons folders and electronic reserves at the Library. The other primary texts, both books and two DVDs, are available for purchase. Please note that the two DVDs you are expected to acquire are not listed on the Penn State course schedule -- you can buy these and other texts through the Penn State bookstore or at online bookstores such as

Please buy the editions indicated -- that way we will all have the same page numbers for discussion in class and on ANGEL.

Casablanca . DVD. Warner Home Video. ASIN: B00009W0WM.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington . DVD. Columbia/TriStar. ASIN: B00003L9CJ

John Steinbeck. In Dubious Battle. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White. You Have Seen Their Faces . University of Georgia Press , 1995. ISBN: 082031692X

Allen Cohen and Ronald Filippelli. Times of Sorrow and Hope . Penn State University Press, 2003. ISBN: 0271022523

James M. Cain. Double Indemnity . New York : Vintage, 1992. ISBN: 0679723226

David M. Kennedy. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 . New York : Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN: 0195144031.

Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty. (Dramatists Play Service, 1998) ISBN: 978-0822212157

Gordon Harvey, Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students. 2nd ed. (Hackett, 2008).

The New York Times -- as a Penn State student you are eligible for a free subscription to the New York Times; try to follow the paper daily either in print or on-line -- this is part of understanding how the government and the press do their work, and how history looks when it is in process.

Internet Resources

Some of the readings, such as the speeches of FDR, will be made available as electronic texts on the course ANGEL site.

The American Presidency Project, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Searchable database of presidential documents, including all of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's official papers.

The American Memory project at the Library of Congress. Access to thousands of significant American documents, including digital copies of photographs from the FSA-OWI photography projects, posters, and related materials.

FSA-OWI photographs at the Library of Congress

Voices from the Dust Bowl at the Library of Congress.

The New Deal Network is a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and Teachers College, Columbia University.

ANGEL homepage at Penn State. Course documents and message boards.

Google search page.

American Rhetoric online speech bank.

PBS Great American Speeches archive.

Links to journals in rhetoric

National Communication Association -- the national academic association for academics in communication studies.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

U. S. National Archives and Records Administration. Access to government archives and presidential libraries.

Miller Center, University of Virginia, Presidential Speech Archive -- texts and, in many cases, audio and video.

A number of excellent resources may be found in the electronic databases available on-line at the Penn State University Libraries; search the databases of Academic Ideal, Lexis-Nexis, America: History and Life; Communication and Mass Media Index; JSTOR; MetaPress; MUSE; New York Times Historical; Periodicals Contents; ProQuest -- among others.

To read some of the Internet and Angel files, you will need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. You may download this software free at


Academic Integrity

All work submitted for the course is assumed to be your own unless otherwise indicated. Violations of this standard will result in failure of the assignment and possibly in failure of the course or sanctions by University discipliinary authorities. You may of course discuss your work with other students, but all work that is quoted or paraphrased should be clearly identified. Do not submit for this course work that you have also submitted or plan to submit for other courses. Please consult me if you are in doubt about how to handle these issues.

The College of Liberal Arts policy states that, "Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students' dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20). Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University's Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction."


Grades will be based on

How Penn State calculates grade equivalents:

Quality of Performance   Grade Grade-Point Equivalent
Excellent Exceptional achievement A
Good Extensive achievement B
Satisfactory Acceptable achievement C 2.00
Poor Minimal achievement D 1.00
Failure Inadequate achievement F 0.00
Academic dishonesty   XF 0.00



Here are some general guidelines for your papers:

To find academic journal articles that might be helpful, search the following databases, which you can find from the main search page at the Penn State Libraries -- JSTOR, PROJECT MUSE, PROQUEST, COMMUNICATION AND MASS MEDIA COMPLETE. For newspaper and magazine files, have a look at NEW YORK TIMES HISTORICAL and LEXIS/NEXIS. If you have any trouble finding materials, please check with me, and also consider consulting a reference librarian.

Under no circumstances write your paper about a topic you have used in another class.



Attendance is expected and required. Readings are due on the date indicated in the syllabus, and students are expected to be ready to discuss them. Please bring to class the assigned readings for the day. Failure to attend will affect final grades. This class is based on a model of cooperation, participation, and active learning. Your work is to learn more about rhetoric and rhetorical criticism, and also to teach others about these subjects through your participation in discussion of course readings and film viewings.

The College of the Liberal Arts policy: "It is the policy of the University that class attendance by students be encouraged and that all instructors organize and conduct their courses with this policy in mind. A student should attend every class for which the student is scheduled and should be held responsible for all work covered in the courses taken. In each case, the instructor should decide when the class absence constitutes a danger to the student's scholastic attainment and should make this fact known to the student at once. A student whose irregular attendance causes him or her, in the judgment of the instructor, to become deficient scholastically, may run the risk of receiving a failing grade or receiving a lower grade than the student might have secured had the student been in regular attendance."


In order to prepare for and extend class discussion beyond the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday meetings and to provide an opportunity for each student to participate fully in the discussion, each student is assigned to contribute to an on-line class discussion at least twice and preferably three times each week. These contributions will be counted as part of the class participation grade. At a minimum, each student should send a well considered contribution to the class by Sunday and Tuesday evenings, commenting on the readings that will be discussed in class on the next day. For full credit, these commentaries should be submitted BEFORE the class in which the readings are to be discussed. An excellent contribution would be 100-250 words, stating one or more questions or observations about the text and, ideally, citing one or more examples from the text for analysis. Additional comments are welcome, and you are invited to respond to the notes of other students in a spirit of cooperative inquiry.
You are also encouraged to comment on the readings in additional postings following class discussion.

Send your notes to the discussion forum on the Angel lesson pages for the course.

ANGEL also contains a number of other resources for the course, including some of the texts assigned in the syllabus, quizzes, and drop boxes for papers.

Cell phones and laptop computers

We will do much of our work together on ANGEL, and you will want to access readings and other resources on the Internet. But please do not use your laptop or cell phone in class -- they are a distraction to you, your fellow students, and the instructor. Please turn your phone off and leave it in your pocket or bag while class is in session.


 "The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admissions, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. The Pennsylvania State University does not discriminate against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status." Penn State University Affirmative Action Office.

Note to students with disabilities: Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services.  For further information regarding policies, rights and responsibilities please visit the Office for Disability Services (ODS) Web site at:  Instructors should be notified as early in the semester as possible regarding the need for reasonable accommodations.

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