From the category archives:

Graduate students/teaching

Relevant Readings for Roman Rhetoric

by Dr Davis on August 25, 2013

Quintilian Institutes of Oratory, Book II, chapter 15: What rhetoric is

Cicero’s De Oratore Book II, sections 178-184, 185-216, 333-340: on ethos, pathos, logos

Cicero’s Canon and its relationship to the business world


Relevant Readings for Greek Rhetoric

by Dr Davis on August 23, 2013

“Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric.”

“Paul and Sophistic Rhetoric”

Gorgias “The Scandal of Sophism”

Aristotle on the modes of persuasion (appeals): ethos, logos, pathos


Postcolonialism Musings

by Dr Davis on May 19, 2013

I am on a graduate thesis committee. (This is a first for me. I have read and edited graduate theses many times, but this is the first time I will be a part of the process of writing one–aside from my own.) I hope to avoid any repetitions of the single altercation in the hallways of English at my university (which, sad to say, was in reference to my thesis) and to avoid looking like an idiot.

Reading through a bit of postcolonial discussions.

First, let me confess, I know next to nothing (at this point) about postcolonial theory. I have read a lot of the anthropology which was used in service of colonialism, at least according to some authors. Having studied history as an undergraduate, I have a bit more than a passing knowledge of the colonial imperative and the devastation it imposed on various people groups, including some of my own ancestors.

Having said that, I am using this post to ruminate on my first thoughts upon reading in the literature of postcolonial theory.

Why does postcolonialism enshrine the duality of neo-colonialism or colonialism itself? While the authors argue against Orientalism as a monolithic cultural construct created to subjugate people groups and “native countries” (which are also colonial political structures), they create Occidentalism, in which the West becomes a monolithic cultural construct which must be violently overturned in order for the subaltern peoples to reach their potential. If there is no Orientalism, there should also be no Occidentalism. If violent conquest of a people group is bad, violent reconquest of a political fiction should also be bad. If the colonialists have exited the country, why does anyone need to rebel against them violently?

I would agree with the connection of power and knowledge, but debate that knowledge of another people/culture/time/space is inherently used to minimize that people/culture/time/space. I would also argue that knowledge alone, the purely academic knowledge that so many of us pursue on a regular basis, is not powerful nor power-creative in and of itself. Instead the knowledge must be allied with some other entity/imperative/discussion/decision in order to invoke connotations or realities of power. Knowledge by itself is not power, but only a potential for power.

Foucault is obviously going back on my reading list.


What Can You Do with a Graduate Degree?

by Dr Davis on November 13, 2012

Let’s take Klondike’s “Five Second Challenge to Glory.” Do something hard for five seconds. Brainstorm (that’s something we do well, right?) answers to the question: What can you do with a graduate degree in English? Go!

research– anything that needs it, even be a dramaturgue
write– analyze, evaluate, discuss: anything that needs to be long and involved, but could write shorter on demand
edit– excellent at finding the organizational or grammatical flaws in work already written
think– but not outside the box, perhaps at the edges of the box: a good thinker in an area where most of the work has been done and people are trying to finish it up
– also can come up with new reasons (interpretations) for things: This is someone who will not let the first word be the last. This can be useful to help others get out of their boxes.

I came to this challenge from a post on Why Grad School is a Trap, though it has been relabeled, and the statement that most intrigued me (as someone who escaped the trap and “made good” twice over):

But higher education is too formalized to be called pure learning. It is too geared towards the production of new knowledge, new scholars, new theoretical interventions to be a place where thinkers come to dialogue and to sit and converse in the garden.

Just thinking on the internet.


History and Theory of Rhetoric: A Retrospective

by Dr Davis on October 12, 2012

For the first time this semester, I taught the five week section of the graduate introduction to rhetoric.

This was the first time I taught as part of the team. I wanted to be as accurate to expectations as possible, so basically I took the book and the assignments that were given last year and repeated them. I like Herrick’s book and I am glad that was our text. I still have my colleague’s other text totally ticked out in page markers. I have not yet gotten my own desk copy. I may have to buy one myself. While I like it, I think Herrick did a better job of introducing rhetoric.

I did ask for permission to do a few things differently. These things included (with reasons for rejection):
assigning a reading before class began (late adds)
assigning primary reading (intro course)
assigning weekly blogging (intro course, another course at same time is overwhelming)

Because I have never taught the course before, I kept basically the same syllabus that anyone else teaching the course had. Almost every week I would assign each student a different question from the reading so that the students had to learn that one well enough to answer in front of the class. They could write notes and/or read their answers. I gave no length or format requirement for responses.

During Week 1 I used a PowerPoint to talk about rhetoric: how the students could relate rhetoric to what they knew, where it fit in history, how it appeared in the Genesis account of creation, then a short intro to Greek and Roman rhetoric, and multiple definitions of rhetoric. I also used a PowerPoint to introduce the major sophists.

During Week 2, I used the three chapters students read for homework to ask questions of the students and have discussion. I also introduced the lessons I use to present the Aristotelian appeals to my students.

During Week 3, I had them write down the answers to a few questions based on their reading and then to get in groups and discuss them. In addition, we discussed the rhetoric that the AP Language exam expects and I read them a poem utilizing the kind of odd examples that were used on question 3, which I read this summer. I also talked about using that question as an in-class diagnostic and then having the students do brainstorming, discussion groups, and free writing on the topic before I gave it again, unexpectedly, as an in-class writing. I talked about the percentage of students whose grades increased and how many stayed the same.

During Week 4 I used three historical PowerPoints that covered the time periods we had already read about. These were too disjointed and not closely allied to rhetoric and I felt they were unsuccessful. (The students agreed.)

During Week 5 I brought artifacts from my office (books, art, and knickknacks) and we discussed them in terms of visual rhetoric. The students were at four tables and I had them discuss in their groups the texts on their tables. Then I had them introduce one that they felt was well created or odd or caught their attention and mention why and whether they thought it was appropriate to its apparent audience. The students loved this and felt like it was Show and Tell.

At the end of the five-week section, I asked for feedback. I did this by creating boxes on the board, listing what we did within each box, writing the homework between the boxes, and then soliciting both specific and general feedback.

Different in 2013?

Next time I teach the class I will use the first PowerPoint I created to introduce rhetoric. However, instead of only having them discuss once (in response to the Ecclesiastes 4:12 reading) I will also add multiple discussions to the PowerPoint exercise.

After the Genesis 1-3 discussion of rhetoric, I will ask the students to think about where they see language, persuasion, verbal trickery, or argument having an effect in the Bible. These can be for good or evil. Hopefully this will help students apply the concepts of rhetoric to their biblical knowledge.

I may add a section on the rhetorical lesson I heard at Southwest Central Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2011 on the book of Amos and entrapment rhetoric. I want to make it clear that even with a PhD emphasis in rhetoric, I am still learning.

I plan to repeat the slide asking how they can hook into rhetoric at the end of the presentation and have them discuss things they already know and care about which might relate to rhetoric, based on the definitions we will have reviewed of rhetoric.

I may shorten the Sophistic introduction. I will absolutely talk about the unilateral and bilateral approaches and where we see those in daily life. I will review the meanings after the introduction and ask students to suggest places where the unilateral approach of Gorgias (active speaker, passive audience) seems most likely/appropriate and then for the circumstances which make Protagoras’ bilateral view of the relationship between the rhetor and audience most likely.

preacher on Sunday morning
teacher in a classroom
lawyer speaking to a jury

group members working on a project
jury members trying to reach a verdict

I will work on adding applications of rhetoric to each class period.
We will look at ethos, pathos, and logos in commercials one week. This will be fine in the same week that I present my freshman lessons.
We will look at politicians’ metaphors one week. This will be particularly appropriate with the Roman rhetoric readings.
We will examine lyrics and contrast them with music videos one week. This will work well with the Renaissance rhetoric, since it talks about the rhetoric of poetics.
We will look at book covers and album covers one week. This will be specifically visual rhetoric and we can compare/contrast more masculine covers with feminine covers and see if there is anything to the oppressive persuasion versus the invitational idea.

Next time I teach the class, as homework I will assign the students to write a short blog post for each week. The students will respond to the week’s assigned readings in whatever way helps them think about and discuss rhetoric. Also, if they don’t have anything else they want to say, they will be able to answer one of the discussion questions on the blog. The longer blog post will remain the same.

The students liked this idea and most of them said they would prefer this to the single question from the reading I asked each to be responsible for.

I will still assign a single question each, just to make sure we can stay on track with the reading and that the students make the effort to understand the readings. In addition, I sometimes learn how other things in the book are related to the question because the students try to cover all the material that might possibly impinge on the question.

The students felt like this was unnecessary, as they are graduate students in English and can certainly handle reading. It has been my experience, however, that when people are not held accountable for their assignments, some tend to not do them. There are always a few students in a class who need that kind of accountability.

Finally, next time I teach the course, I will add a short primary reading (or possibly two) and/or an article applying the rhetoric to each reading in Herrick. These will be based on an accessible online text. For the first week’s homework, I like the article on Paul’s use of sophistic rhetoric. For the second homework, I would use Cicero’s canon section and Aristotle’s appeals. For the next reading, I would take a section of Augustine’s discussion of why Christians should use rhetoric, probably. I do like the idea of incorporating an early female rhetorician, though. I have purchased a book of their works to read, but have not yet read through it. If one wrote particularly well on the rhetoric of poetics or Christian persuasion, I would use her work. For the final week’s reading, I am not sure what I would do yet. I am leaning personally toward Bahktin, but the students seemed more interested in Foucault and/or Derrida.

This was something the students specifically requested. I was glad to hear about it. I also was kind of bummed, because I gave them links the first two weeks to short primary readings; however, because they weren’t assigned, no one read them.


Should I show this to my grad students?

by Dr Davis on September 28, 2012

It is not quite funny enough to be persuasive, but it gets close.

{ 1 comment }

Digital Rhetoric

by Dr Davis on September 27, 2012

This last month we were talking about digital rhetoric, or new media, or ____(fill in your term here) in a meeting. Then I saw this Digital Blog Carnival. It’s not brand new (June of 2012), but I like that it was up. If I had known about it earlier, I might have had my grad students read it.

Liz Losh, in attempting to define digital rhetoric over the last decade plus (and having written a book on the topic) said: “I’ve always thought that “digital rhetoric” means both rhetoric about the digital and rhetoric conveyed by digital platforms, interfaces, and code.”

Steve Krause, who finished his dissertation in 1996, said: “[T]he evolving speed and presence potential of new technologies have been in some sense gradual and historic (the way that postal systems and then the telegraph changed communication in the 19th century comes to mind now), and in other ways radically fast (the way we find out about emerging situations/events via social media on ever-connected smart phones). The tool is not the only thing that matters, but when it comes to contemplating “digital rhetoric” generally or immediacy in particular, it’s critical. Without contemporary and future-looking computer and media technologies, there’s no “digital” in “digital rhetoric.””

Mike Edwards of Vita said: “Rhetoric as error, lies, or bullshit is for the most part uninteresting to me. But rhetoric as something that stands in relation to truth even as it seems to swerve away from truth at the last moment, as it becomes something other than logic, reason, philosophy, or coercion — that’s interesting to me. So a metaphor: rhetoric is an act, a doing, a verb, a process of skating on the thin ice of persuasion that rests between the materiality of our everyday social lives and the dark and cold waters of contingency, even as that thin ice is constituted by the frozen, solidified, embodied aspects of that contingency.”

There’s more. Lots more. Go and read it. Let it settle into your head and into your brain. Then, go back and read it again.

That’s what I am going to do.


A Podcast

by Dr Davis on September 1, 2012

Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses rhetoric; supported by Aristotle but reviled by Plato. Guests include Angie Hobbs, Ceri Sullivan and Tom Healy.
42 minutes

I think I might load this onto the class blog.


First day of grad class

by Dr Davis on August 31, 2012

First night of grad class is over. We all survived. I was very nervous. I bet they were too.

Since I want to end on a high note, I’m going to talk about my shortcomings last night first.

The bummer:
I lectured for about 2.5 hours. It was their first introduction to rhetoric.

I gave them way too much information on the Sophists, way more than they will ever need unless they get a PhD (which I am actively discouraging, though my colleagues don’t like that).

I did not want to overwhelm them with definitions of rhetoric, but I wish I had concentrated on thinking of or finding activities to get them involved.

The good stuff:
Since I don’t know the grad students, I had them go around and give their names, their areas of interest, and what kinds of books they like to read (or are potentially embarrassed about reading). I learned lots of interesting things.

I put up an image and asked them to think about sets of three things that were in their lives–maybe in relation to class, maybe not. Because of their major emphases, one of the triads I thought of consisted of: creative writing, literature, rhetoric and composition.

Shared a poem about learning. Since we have lit and creative writing people, I thought that was a good idea, too.

Talked about my immersive (and very overwhelming experience) with rhetoric at the PhD level.

Introduced the metaphor that the class is like a video game. If you are a beginner, you have a million lives and you can keep restarting. If you get it, you can move on up to a harder level.

Talked a little about the need for memory and hooks for new information to be assembled or organized on/with. Mentioned history as an option for that.

Talked about the beginning of rhetoric, officially and in reality.

Talked about rhetoric being used for good in Genesis 1 and for evil in Genesis 3–emphasizing that rhetoric is a tool, not inherently good or bad on its own.

Talked about what fyc students are getting in their freshman comp classes about rhetoric. (Mostly ethos, pathos, and logos and Cicero’s five canons.)

Shared a few definitions of rhetoric.
Two Greek (Plato and Aristotle)
Two Roman (Cicero and Quintilian)
Three Renaissance (Bacon, Locke, and Anonymous)
Six modern
and one modern definition of sophistic rhetoric for and by the sophists.

Then I included two ppt slides of additional readings.

I had a PowerPoint presentation on Sophistic rhetoric.
The background was nice. I did a good job introducing the major sophists. I didn’t use enough images in that PowerPoint.


Reading List

by Dr Davis on June 27, 2012

I’ve gotten stackloads of books this summer to read. I’ve mostly been doing the fiction recently.

I did finish The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Intorduction by James A. Herrick, that I thought was very good.

I also re-read parts of RAW (Reading and Writing) New Media for the fourth version of an R&R for a review. (Yes, sometimes I wonder if I really want to do the review that much, but since most of the work was done…)

A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love by Alan Jacobs has some interesting stuff. I am only on page 29, though. I’m expecting it to get even better.

Reading still to get to:
Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students by Crowley and Hawhee (textbook for grad class I am teaching part of)
Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition, Andrea Lunsford, editor.
Culturematic by Grant McCracken. The cover also has a beginning part of the title as “How Reality TV
John Cheever
a Pie Lab
Julia Child
Fantasy Football
Burning Man
the Ford Fiesta Movement
Rube Goldberg
NFL Films
Two and a Half Men
a 10,000-Year Symphony
and ROFLCon Memes
Will Help You Create and
Execute Breakthrough Ideas.”
Maybe I should move that one to the top of my reading list?