ENGL 353 The History of Rhetoric

Course Description

The History of Rhetoric is designed to introduce students to the study of rhetoric from the clasiccal period until the end of the 19th century.

These are the assignments that will make up your grade in this class.

Assignment Values

Assignment Due Date Value
Participation Daily 25%
Writing Assignment #1 03/04 25%
Writing Assignment #2 04/15 25%
Writing Assignment #3 05/04 25%


Your participation grade has three components:

  1. Attendance
  2. Participating in Class Discussion
  3. Class Discussion Leader (2)

For attendance, you are simply required to show up to class (see the policy page for more information on this). For participating in class discussion, I ask that you speak up and offer your opinion on the texts we are discussing. These texts are not facts; they are not perfect and there are certainly no right answers. Offer what you think!

The final, and most heavily weighted, component of your participation grade is the class discussion leader. For two readings, you will serve as a discussion leader. In a presentation at the beginning of class, you will identify one moment (a passage or an idea) that you think is the most interesting about the reading. You will then explain why you think this is interesting or important. Finally, you will ask the class one discussion question that will serve as a way of opening up the discussion. This should take around 2-3 minutes and is meant to be fairly informal. However, you are required to provide me with some written account of your presentation on the morning of the day you are presenting, so that I can be prepared to incorporate your ideas and your discussion question into class.

Writing Assignment #1 – Socrates Today

We have read two Socratic dialogs. In both Socrates debates some question pertinent to the nature of reality with a variety of interlocutors. Given that this form of debate is central to the Western conception of rhetoric, what might Socrates ask after today? Are questions of what is good or true still relevant? Should we still be concerned with writing as a pharmakon?

For this assignment, write a 2-3 page paper detailing what you think a Socratic dialog might look like today (in terms of form and content). Then produce a sample of this dialog (written or otherwise) that should run to about 4-5 pages of “text.”

Writing Assignment #2 – An Abundant Style

We have read Erasmus’s De Copia, which constitutes an almost embarrassingly detailed account of how to be eloquent. In this text, Erasmus provides examples of copia, little textual machines for producing variations on a topic so that the rhetor may appear spontaneous.

For this assignment, imagine a copia that might be needed today. What situations require a variety of spontaneous, eloquent responses? How else might a person appear eloquent? Compose a copia and then complete the exercise with 100 or so variations on the form.

Document Elements

  1. Introduction—1-2 paragraphs explaining the value of your copia or the use of it or situations in which one might need an abundant style.
  2. Description—As with the beginning of the Book XXXIII in De Copia, break down each term in your *copia, explaining how the user might expand each term.
  3. Examples—Provide ~100 examples of the expansion of your copia. Remember that you can vary the sentence structure as well as the words themselves.


Writing Assignment #3 – Rhetoric Today

We have studied a variety of models for eloquence throughout this class, in addition to attempting to update some of these forms to the present. However, what do you find lacking? What are other ways of being persuasive today?

For this final assignment, you have three options:

  1. Devise a rhetorical exercise for the needs of rhetors today and write an explanation of why you think your exercise is useful.
  2. Following some of the less pedagogical examples we have studied, compose a piece (written or otherwise) that embodies some aspect of eloquence today.
  3. Choose two texts we have studied in class and compare and contrast their discussion of one of the following topics
    1. Style
    2. The Ideal Orator
    3. Morals and the Orator
    4. Content of Rhetoric
    5. Goal of Oratory

For any of these three assignments clearly indicate which assignment you are completing. You should be writing between 4 and 6 pages of content for this assignment.