Penn State University
Communication Arts & Sciences 503

Fall 2013

Wednesday 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.

309 Sparks Building


Thomas W. Benson
216 Sparks Building

office hours: Tuesday and Thursday 2:30-3:30 and by appointment



Seminar in Rhetorical Criticism

A graduate seminar in the practice of rhetorical criticism, with an emphasis on the working practices of critics of oral, written, media, and visual rhetoric in the discipline of communication. Students will read widely in rhetorical criticism as it developed over the past century and will write an extended critical paper. The seminar is conceived as an intensive, advanced workshop in rhetorical criticism.


(1) Wednesday, August 28




(2) Wednesday, Sept 4


Preliminary Considerations: Theory, Scope, Object, and Method in Rhetorical Criticism

Thomas W. Benson, “Beacons and Boundary Markers: Landmarks in Rhetorical Criticism,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of Oratory,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Martin J. Medhurst, “The Academic Study of Public Address: A Tradition in Transition,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Donald C. Bryant, “Some Problems of Scope and Method in Rhetorical Scholarship,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Loren Reid, “The Perils of Rhetorical Criticism,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

A. Craig Baird and Lester Thonssen, “Methodology in the Criticism of Public Address,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Edwin R. Black, "Gettysburg and Silence," in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Edwin R. Black, “The Sentimental Style as Escapism, or the Devil with Dan’l Webster,” Form and Genre: Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Falls Church, VA: Speech Communication Association, 1978), 75-86.



(3) Wednesday, Sept 11

Paper Topic due

Rhetoric as a Way of Doing: Rhetoric as Situated, Instrumental Action

Marie Hochmuth Nichols, “Lincoln’s First Inaugural,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Carroll C. Arnold, “Lord Thomas Erskine: Modern Advocate,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Barnett Baskerville, “Must We All Be Rhetorical Critics?” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Martin J. Medhurst, “Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ Speech: A Case Study in the Strategic Use of Language,” Communication Monographs 54 (1987): 204-220.

Thomas Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1801. At The Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

Stephen Howard Browne, “The Circle of Our Felicities: Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address and the Rhetoric of Nationhood,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5 (2002): 409-438.

James C. Ching, “Fisher Ames’s ‘Tomahawk’ Address,” Speech Monographs 30 (1963): 31-40.

Eugene E. White, “The Preaching of George Whitefield during the Great Awakening in America,” Speech Monographs 15 (1948): 33-43.


(4) Wednesday, Sept 18


Rhetorical Criticism and the Crisis of Neo-Aristotelianism

Edwin Black, “The Practice of Rhetorical Criticism,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Michael Leff and Andrew Sachs, “Words Most Like Things: Iconicity and the Rhetorical Text,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Michael Calvin McGee, “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, “Object and Method in Rhetorical Criticism: From Wichelns to Leff and McGee,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living,” Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Richard M. Nixon, “Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam,” November 3, 1969. At American Presidency Project,

Robert Newman, “Under the Veneer: Nixon’s Vietnam Speech of November 3, 1969,” QJS 56 (1970): 168-178.

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “An Exercise in the Rhetoric of Mythical America,” in K. K. Campbell, Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1972), 50-58.

Forbes Hill, “Conventional Wisdom--Traditional Form--The President’s Message of November 3, 1969,” QJS 56 (1972): 373-386.

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “Conventional Wisdom--Traditional Form: A Rejoinder” QJS 58 (1972): 451-454;

Forbes Hill, “Reply to Professor Campbell,” QJS 58 (1972): 454-460.

Thomas W. Benson, “Another Shooting in Cowtown” (QJS 1981), in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.


(5) Wednesday, Sept 25


Ernest Wrage, “Public Address: A Study in Social and Intellectual History,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Wayland Maxfield Parrish, “ The Study of Speeches,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Marie Hochmuth [Nichols], “The Criticism of Rhetoric,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

G. P. Mohrmann, “Elegy in a Critical Grave-Yard,” in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Edwin R. Black, “Gettysburg and Silence,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address.”

Edwin Black, “Ideological Justifications,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 144-150.


(6) Wednesday, Oct 2


Rhetoric as a Way of Knowing

Robert L. Scott, “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Robert L. Scott, “A Rhetoric of Facts: Arthur Larson’s Stance as a Persuader,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Robert L. Scott, "On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic: Ten Years Later," Communication Studies 27 (1976): 258-66.

John Angus Campbell, “Darwin and The Origin of Species: The Rhetorical Ancestry of an Idea,” in Benson, Landmarks.

David Zarefsky, “Knowledge Claims in Rhetorical Criticism,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

David Zarefsky, “Making the Case for War: Colin Powell at the United Nations,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10 (2007): 275-302.

Colin Powell, “A Policy of Evasion and Deception,” speech to the United Nations on Iraq, February 5, 2003. Washington Post transcript is at


(7) Wednesday, Oct 9


Knowing: Memory, Metaphor, Meaning

Thomas B. Farrell and G. Thomas Goodnight, “Accidental Rhetoric: The Root Metaphors of Three Mile Island,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Ernest G. Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision: The Rhetorical Criticism of Social Reality,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Greg Dickinson, Brian L. Ott, and Eric Aoki, “Spaces of Remembering and Forgetting: The Reverent Eye/I at the Plains Indian Museum,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Victoria J. Gallagher, “Memory and Reconciliation in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Celeste Michelle Condit, “The Rhetorical Limits of Polysemy,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Leah Ceccarelli, “Polysemy: Multiple Meanings in Rhetorical Criticism,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.


(8) Wednesday, Oct 16


Rhetoric as a Way of Being

Edwin Black, “The Second Persona,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Thomas W. Benson, “Rhetoric as a Way of Being,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Maurice Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois,” in Benson, Landmarks

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “Stanton’s “Solitude of Self”: A Rationale for Feminism,” in Benson, Landmarks.

J. Michael Hogan and Glen Williams, “Republican Charisma and the American Revolution: The Textual Persona of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense,” QJS 86 (2000): 1-18.

Jeremy Engels, “‘Equipped for Murder’: The Paxton Boys and the ‘Spirit of Killing All Indians’ in Pennsylvania, 1763-1764,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 8 (2005): 355-382.


(9) Wednesday, Oct 23


Charles E. Morris III, “Pink Herring & the Fourth Persona: J. Edgar Hoover’s Sex Crime Panic,” QJS 88 (2002): 228-

James Darsey, “The Legend of Eugene Debs: Prophetic Ethos as Radical Argument,” QJS 74 (1988): 434-453.

Thomas W. Benson, “Rhetoric and Autobiography: The Case of Malcolm X,” QJS 60 (1974): 1-13.

Kenneth Burke, “Antony on Behalf of the Play,” Philosophy of Literary Form (electronic reserve).

Stephen H. Browne, “Encountering Angelina Grimke: Violence, Identity, and the Creation of Radical Community,” QJS 82 (1996): 55-73.

Andrew Hansen, “Dimensions of Agency in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 37 (2004): 223-254.

Philip Wander, “The Third Persona: An Ideological Turn in Rhetorical Theory,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Charles E. Morris III, “Contextual Twilight / Critical Liminality: J. M. Barrie’s Courage at St. Andrews, 1922,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.


(10) Wednesday, Oct 30

Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, “Public Identity and Collective Memory in U. S. Iconic Photography: The Image of ‘Accidental Napalm,’“ Critical Studies in Media Communication 20 (2003): 35-66.

David Blakesley, "Defining Film Rhetoric: The Case of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo," in Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers, editors, Defining Visual Rhetorics (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2004), 111-133.

Martin J. Medhurst and Thomas W. Benson, "The City: The Rhetoric of Rhythm," Communication Monographs 48 (1981): 54-72.

Brian L. Ott and Diane Marie Keeling, “Cinema and Choric Connection: Lost in Translation as Sensual Experience,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Cara A. Finnegan, "Recognizing Lincoln: Image Vernaculars in Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture," Rhetoric & Public Affairs 8 (2005): 31-58.

Anne Teresa Demo, "The Guerrilla Girls' Comic Politics of Subversion," Women's Studies in Communication 23 (2000): 133-157.


(11) Wednesday, Nov 6


First draft of seminar paper due – no reading assignment on this date, but please do not miss class as we will be exchanging drafts for peer editing and discussing procedures.


(12) Wednesday, Nov 13


Hermann G. Stelzner, “‘War Message,’ December 8, 1941: An Approach to Language,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, War Message, December 8, 1941. At

Michael C. Leff and G. P. Mohrmann, “Lincoln at Cooper Union: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Text,” in Benson, Landmarks.

Abraham Lincoln, “Address at Cooper Union,” February 27, 1860. At
and elsewhere online.

Stephen E. Lucas, “Genre Criticism and Historical Context: The Case of George Washington’s First Inaugural Address,” in Benson, Landmarks.

George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789.


(13) Wednesday, Nov 20


The issue of theory in criticism and the politics of academic gatekeeping

James Darsey, “Must We All Be Rhetorical Theorists? An Anti-Democratic Inquiry,” Western Journal of Communication 58 (1994): 164-181.

Carole Blair, Julie R. Brown, and Leslie A. Baxter, “Disciplining the Feminine,” QJS 80 (1994): 383-409.

Roderick Hart, “Contemporary Scholarship in Public Address: A Research Editorial,” Western Journal of Speech Communication 50 (1986): 283-295.

Roderick Hart, “Doing Criticism My Way: A Reply to Darsey,” Western Journal of Communication 58 (1994): 308-312.

Roderick Hart, “Theory-Building and Rhetorical Criticism: An Informal Statement of Opinion” Central States Speech Journal 27 (1976): 70-77 (on electronic reserve).

Stephen H. Browne, “Rhetorical Criticism and the Challenges of Bilateral Argument,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 40 (2007): 108-118.

Stephen E. Lucas, “The Schism in Rhetorical Scholarship” (1981), in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Stephen E. Lucas, “The Renaissance of American Public Address: Text and Context in Rhetorical Criticism” (1988), in Medhurst, Landmarks.

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “Criticism Ephemeral and Enduring,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Celeste Michelle Condit, “The Critic as Empath: Moving Away from Totalizing Theory,” in Ott & Dickinson, Reader.

Thomas W. Benson, “A Scandal in Academia: Sextext and CRTNET,” Western Journal of Communication 76 (2012): 2-16.


November 21 - 24


National Communication Association, Washington, DC


November 24 - 30


Thanksgiving Holiday


(14) Wednesday,
December 4


Presentation of Seminar Papers

Tiara Foster, Dominic Manthey, Emily Hobbs, Lauren Camacci


(15) Wednesday,
December 11


Presentation of Seminar Papers

Jeremy Johnson, Rachel Lemashov, Keren Wang, Jeff Kurr


December 16


Final Exams begin; seminar papers due at 5:00 p.m.




Seminar Papers

Seminar Papers: You are asked to prepare a major, article-length seminar paper--a rhetorical analysis of a single text or group of texts. Subject the text to a close textual analysis, situated in whatever contexts (theoretical, situational, historical) seem appropriate to support interpretive work. A central feature of the seminar will be the sequential preparation of the paper, followed by shared editorial consultation and thorough rewriting. The product will, it is hoped, be a manuscript that might be thought of as a draft for a journal article, which, with some judicious cutting and rewriting, could be submitted for publication review to a journal. The seminar manuscript will be "expanded" in the sense that it will probably contain a more extended review of context and earlier scholarship, and perhaps more detailed description, than some editors would have space for in a journal.

Major dates for paper development (all these assignments are due, typed, double-spaced, one side of paper only, with a title page, on the dates indicated). In addition, please deposit a copy of your paper in the ANGEL drop box for the assignment, and a copy on the TURNITIN site for the course.

September 11. Topic due, in writing. Briefly identify the text(s) you wish to analyze and the central critical problems or questions you wish to investigate. What is the text? Where is it available? What, at this point, strike you as issues, questions, or problems worth investigating? (1-2 pages) It is strongly suggested that you talk with me before choosing a text for analysis. In any case, do not choose a text that you have written on for another class.

November 6. First draft of paper due. A complete and finished version of the paper, suitable for formal review. Include title page, abstract, paper, endnotes if any, and list of works cited.

November 6 - 20. Editorial reviews of first draft. Each student will read and respond in writing to several other student papers with suggestions for revisions.

December 4, December 11. Final oral reports to class.

December 16. Seminar paper due.

Paper Style. In preparing your paper, follow the style guidelines presented in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, latesst edition; or Chicago Manual of Style A form, latest edition; or APA style, latest edition. If you use MLA style, you may use the citation method that employs a list of works cited and parenthetical references in the text, or an endnote style (in which case you should also include a bibliography). If you use commentative notes in addition, use endnotes rather than footnotes. It is a good idea for a writer to have a basic grammar reference handy; one widely used guide that I recommend is Diana Hacker, A Writer's Reference.

On-line participation

Electronic Mail and Class Discussion. The primary discussions in this seminar will be conducted face-to-face, on Wednesday afternoons, and throughout the rest of the week on the ANGEL message boards. Although it is hoped that participation will be intense and ongoing, at least the following deadlines must be met: A contribution to discussion 24 hours before each class meeting, in which you offer some questions about the reading assignment for the next class (with supporting citations, thoughts, or suggestions) for possible discussion in class or on-line. You are also invited to participate in ongoing followup on-line conversations that extend some aspect of class discussion or raise an issue that did not make it into the discussion. In your contributions, please try to frame a proposition or question for discussion, relate it to some part of the readings, quote or paraphrase the relevant passage in the reading (including a page reference), and sketch a reasoned discussion-opener. In these conversations, your opinions are important, but we should also work beyond mere clash (or coincidence) of opinion to mutual enlightenment and a shared willingness to learn new ways of thinking.


Cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers are wonderful technologies and highly useful for researhing databases, reading research articles and books, and watching films; but in a class discussion these devices are distracting to you, your fellow students, and the professor; please do NOT turn them on during class.

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity. Submission of all written work in this course is taken to imply that the work is your own unless otherwise indicated. Please be careful to document the work of others where appropriate. Under no circumstances submit for credit in this course any work that has been submitted in other courses. In selecting a text for critical analysis for your seminar paper, do not write about a text that is part of the syllabus of other courses you have taken without special permission.


Grades. All elements of your work in this seminar will be considered in formulating a final grade for the course--participation (in class and on-line) 25%; written work (including first and final drafts of the seminar paper, progressive development of various stages of the paper, and editorial comments on peer reviewed papers) 75%.


Benson, Thomas W., ed. Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Criticism. Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1993; rpt. Erlbaum.

Medhurst, Martin J., ed. Landmark Essays on American Public Address. Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1993; rpt. Erlbaum.

Ott, Brian L., and Greg Dickinson, eds. The Routledge Reader in Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Routledge, 2013.


Additional Readings

It is expected that you will be reading widely in rhetorical criticism during the semester, particularly in areas that support the development of your seminar paper.

This syllabus may be accessed on the world wide web at

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