ENG 702: History of Rhetoric


This course is a survey of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment and twentieth century rhetorical theory. We will explore the changing definitions of rhetoric and examine the strategies by which rhetorics can reinforce or challenge the dominant theories of knowledge, persuasion and “right reason.”


Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric provides a useful starting place: “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” We’ll explore all aspects of this definition and how theorists before and after Aristotle address elements including context, genre, invention, persuasion, and education.


We’ll be reading at a fast pace to cover over 2,500 years of theory and practice in civic discourse. We’ll use various tools to make sense of so much material. Primarily, we’ll focus on seven lenses or key concepts, to help focus our reading and discussions. By the end of the course, you should be comfortable with the development of major themes in rhetorical thought and you should have cultivated a focused interest in one or more particular aspects of rhetorical theory. You should also have an improved understanding of rhetorical scholarship and how it differs from literary scholarship.