Writing and Rhetoric - Course Catalogue Skip Navigation

Writing and Rhetoric

(For 2016–2017 academic year)

Associate Professors Campbell (Chair), Darby
Assistant Professors Solomon, Worley
Visiting Assistant Professor LeMesurier
Director of the Writing and Speaking Center Lutman
Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of Second Language Writing Spring

A central part of the liberal arts tradition, rhetoric is the art of effective language use in written, oral, and visual communication. With roots in ancient Greece and branches in the most recent media technologies, rhetoric is simultaneously one of the oldest and newest academic disciplines, fundamentally engaged by dynamic relationships between language, power, and public culture.

As a discipline, rhetoric demonstrates how discourse generates knowledge, mediates power, and enacts social change; as an art, rhetoric enables the speaker/writer to invent arguments by making logical, ethical, and emotional appeals to an audience. The department offers courses in writing, public address, and the history and theory of rhetoric and language.

Courses in writing and rhetoric position students to become critical language users, preparing them to be effective communicators both in their future careers and in civic society, in the US and abroad.

The Writing and Speaking Center   

The Writing and Speaking Center provides one-on-one peer assistance with writing projects and oral presentations from across the disciplines. Writers and speakers of all levels and abilities are welcome, with no referral necessary, and students may visit at any stage of the composing process, from initial brainstorming of ideas to review of a full draft or presentation. Appointments and walk-in hours are available at several campus locations each semester. 

The Writing Requirement   

On the basis of standardized writing and verbal test scores, the registrar assigns some first-year students first priority in registering for writing classes. These students are required to complete one of the department’s eligible 100-level writing courses with a grade of C or better. This requirement must be met by the end of the second semester at Colgate. Students who fail to do so must continue to enroll in writing courses until the credit is earned. In all cases, however, the requirement must be met by the end of the fourth semester.

Minor Program  

The minor is designed to enhance students’ ability to think and write critically as they explore the connections between the theory and practice of rhetoric. Students in the minor demonstrate proficiency at crafting a suitable message as they deepen their understanding of rhetoric as an art and as a disciplinary subject of study. A minor in writing and rhetoric provides valuable intellectual resources and practical skills for students across the curriculum who are considering careers that call for excellence in speaking and writing. The minor is also ideally suited for students with interest in public life and civic responsibility in the evolving context of a global culture. 

With a variety of course options available, students are encouraged to tailor their minor to fit their individual interests, career goals, and majors. Students should seek advice from a member of the department when planning their course selections. The minor requires a minimum of five courses selected from the list below. No more than one course may be at the 100 level, and at least one course must be at the 300 or 400 level. A course taken in fulfillment of the writing requirement may be counted toward the minor.

WRIT 102, Introduction to Rhetoric in the Liberal Arts Tradition
WRIT 103, Rhetoric and Writing
WRIT 105, Colgate Talk
WRIT 110, Academic Persuasions
WRIT 203, Argumentation
WRIT 205, Writers and Readers
WRIT 210, The Rhetoric of Style
WRIT 215, Public Speaking
WRIT 222, The Narrative in New Media
WRIT 231, The Personal Essay
WRIT 242, Stand and Speak: Feminist Rhetorics and Social Change
WRIT 250, Kairos: The Art of Rhetoric from Ancient to Modern Times
RIT 260, Biblical Rhetoric
WRIT 270, The Rhetoric of Comics
WRIT 280, Rhetorical “Borderlands”: Introduction to Comparative Rhetoric
WRIT 315, Public Address: History, Criticism, and Performance
WRIT 340, Visual Rhetorics
WRIT 346, Language, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States
WRIT 347, Language and Gender
WRIT 348, Discourses of Whiteness
WRIT 354, Dialogue and Deliberation in Democratic Life

A minimum GPA of 2.00 is required in all courses counted for the minor.

Where appropriate, one semester of independent study in writing at the junior or senior level (WRIT 391 or 491) may substitute for another 300-level course.

Normally, no more than one course from another department or program may count toward the minor. This course must focus on either language theory or the specialized expository writing of a particular discipline, and will require the approval of the departmental adviser. Examples of possible courses from outside the Department of Writing and Rhetoric include ENGL 374, Creative Nonfiction Workshop; HIST 200, History Workshop; and PSYC 355, Language and Thought. Other courses may be counted toward the minor depending on their curriculum and focus during a particular semester.


See “Honors and Awards: Writing and Rhetoric” in Chapter VI.

Course Offerings

102  Introduction to Rhetoric in the Liberal Arts Tradition
K. Campbell
Artes liberales — the liberal arts — those arts that are proper for a free citizen, according to Cicero. These arts numbered seven in the medieval curriculum, the language arts — grammar, logic, and rhetoric — constituting the first three or trivium. While the trivium has all but disappeared in today’s college curriculum, increasingly scholars across the disciplines are discovering the integral role rhetoric plays in equipping citizens for effective participation in a democracy. Drawing upon the liberal arts tradition, this course aims to cultivate students’ capacity for eloquence of thought and expression through inquiry. To foster this most human impulse to inquire, students engage in a number of inquiry projects that ask them to reflect on their personal experiences, to analyze the forces that shaped those experiences, and to look critically at the way that culture or cultural identity is formed. In conjunction with the inquiry projects, students engage in an intense amount of work on rhetorical invention (the discovery of ideas for writing), compose a workable draft, read and revise the draft, and edit it for fluency in grammar, punctuation, and style. First-year students only; it meets the writing requirement.

103  Rhetoric and Writing
This course teaches the basic elements of college writing, strategies for reading and effective note-taking, the discovery and development of ideas, thesis development, organization and coherence, and editing skills. First-year students only; it meets the writing requirement.

105  Colgate Talk
M. Darby
Consider those who write for Colgate. A number of students, and many more professionals, hold jobs here that require speaking and writing on behalf of Colgate University. This course samples these writings as both theme and organizing principle, forming a textbook of practical rhetoric. It trains students in the analysis of texts through traditional rhetorical questions: What intellectual claims are made? What values are attributed to Colgate? What audiences are addressed? In writing their own texts about Colgate’s current issues, students learn important speaking, writing, and reading strategies. In a sequence of expository essays, students develop new powers of persuasion by studying the interaction of language, point of view, and local cultural knowledge. First-year students only; it meets the writing requirement. 

110  Academic Persuasions: An Introduction to Rhetoric, Research, and the Academic Essay
J. Lutman, S. Spring
By taking a rhetorical approach to academic writing, this course asks students to cultivate sustained and reasoned understandings of the relations between writer, audience, subject/text, and disciplinary contexts. Students engage in analytic essays and research projects within the discipline of rhetoric, developing facility with analytic habits of mind, discursive moves typical in academic writing, and the construction of clear, complex, and logical arguments about civic discourse. The course focuses on several essential elements of college writing and research: strategies for active analytic reading and effective note taking; compiling and critical reading of research sources; the discovery and development of a strong thesis supported by persuasive evidence; the skills of summary, definition, analysis, interpretation, and synthesis; organization and coherence; revision processes; and editing skills. First-year students only; it meets the writing requirement.

203  Argumentation
K. Campbell
Students in this course learn critical techniques for argumentation by analyzing the arguments of other writers and applying these techniques to their own writing, especially at the revision stage. Both academic and popular sources are analyzed for their use of evidence, the presence of logical errors, and their use of rhetorical devices. Special attention is paid to problems arising from more complex critical analysis, such as appropriate ways to treat conflicting sources, detecting the biases in both primary and secondary source material, and examining the biases of the student’s own arguments. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

205  Writers and Readers
M. Darby
This course focuses on one of the most important characteristics of a successful writer: the ability to, first, imagine a reader’s point of view, and second, to establish an imaginary dialogue with that reader. The more the imagined reader anticipates the response of a real reader, the more power the writer can command. The course considers the following topics in depth: the split in the writer’s self — creator and editor; automatic language — the clichéd medium of conscious life; the practice of self-paraphrase to get beyond the automatic; the development of the writer’s potential voices; control over real readers; the imagined reader in the writer’s head; and alienation and authority in college-level writing. To accomplish the goal of developing awareness and control of the relationship between writer and reader, the course establishes a writing community that works primarily with rough drafts in a workshop format. Principles of helpful feedback/response are taught explicitly, and learning to be a supportive but critical reader improves the students’ editing skills at the same time that it models the realities of a reader’s difficulties in the hands of an unskilled but developing writer. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement. 

210  The Rhetoric of Style
J. Lutman
In ancient Greece and Rome, teachers of rhetoric taught style (elocutio) as one of five essential canons, or rules, for effective and persuasive communication. By this rule, an effective communicator reaches an audience not just through the content of speech, but also through its artful expression. This course studies how writers’ stylistic choices can profoundly influence the reception and interpretation of texts. With the goal of practicing new stylistic techniques in their own writing, students closely analyze published authors’ diction, sentence structure, punctuation, and figures of speech. Readings for the course include short sample pieces from a variety of genres, written by a variety of authors, as models. Because an understanding of prescriptive English grammar is essential to experiments in style, students review the parts of speech and study the parts of sentences, principles of syntax, and punctuation conventions. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

215  Public Speaking
R. Solomon
Since the origins of western democracy, rhetoricians have taught the study and practice of public speaking as an essential art of public life and civic responsibility. This course fuses theory to praxis in introducing students to basic public speaking skills, including researching, organizing, and writing effective oral presentations; developing skills of critical listening and audience analysis; surveying key examples of public address; and providing students the opportunity to work in different speech situations. Students develop poise and self-confidence in public speaking as they deepen their understanding of the evolving aesthetics of public discourse in the context of new media and global cultures. (Formerly WRIT 115, Introduction to Public Speaking.) This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

222  The Narrative in New Media
M. Worley
This course immerses students in the study of narrative craft, grounding students initially in the print essay tradition, but soon departing into multi-media narrative forms, including the audio essay, the serial blog essay, and the video essay. A central premise for this course is that every narrative — every story — inquires into both experience and ideas, and that writers compose not just what they know but in order to know, articulating these experiences and ways of knowing to chosen audiences. Thus, this course asks students to mediate the “subjective” and “objective” positions of the writerly “I” and “eye” in an effort to invite readers to see anew and to read and experience stories through aural and visual media. As a workshop-based course, students are expected to circulate their writing-in-process to each other — and their completed texts to various public spheres. No previous expertise in audio or video composing is necessary. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

231  The Personal Essay
By exploring the boundary between private and public writing, this course examines how personal reflection intersects with critical analysis to develop a disciplined expository essay. Drawing on examples from a variety of fields, it develops skills in autobiographical and biographical writing, journal writing, narration, description, synthesis, and peer response, and then shows how these skills can enrich the expository essay without sacrificing its academic tone and structure. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

242  Stand and Speak: Feminist Rhetorics and Social Change
As an introduction to rhetoric, rhetorical history and criticism, and feminist rhetorics, this course foregrounds the study of how 19th-century women used both pen and voice with rhetorical precision to “stand and speak” to issues that marked their personal lives and their times. By studying women who composed and embodied what is now understood as the early years of the first wave of U.S. feminism, students access a genealogy of women rhetors who serve as exemplars — and cautions — for later waves and for their own contemporary visions of social change. By positioning the study of rhetoric as the study of language as it constitutes social relations, power, and knowledge, students become more acutely aware of and fluent in the composition, circulation, and criticism of private and public discourses, the verbal material through which they construct social worlds. The work for this course requires close reading and active discussion of course texts through a rhetorical lens and through the category of gender; an analytic essay that draws from and contributes to feminist rhetorical criticism; a performed (or recorded) text that addresses a pressing contemporary issue; and a final exam. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

250  Kairos: The Art of Rhetoric from Ancient to Modern Times
K. Campbell
Rhetoric — the effective use of language to persuade a given audience — is as old as human speech itself. Yet attuned as they were to “kairos,” the opportune time of a fledgling democracy in Athens, the ancient Greeks were perhaps the first to codify rhetorical practice as an art. This is a course about time, about the art of rhetoric as a most effective medium of change at the right time. Students see this when rhetoric served as a vehicle for change in 5th-century Greece, when it equipped individuals to write and preach to effect change in the so-called dark ages, and when it gave women and former slaves the voice to change attitudes and institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Students survey the entire history of western rhetoric from the earliest treatises to the most recent theories. In addition to examining this history through a close reading of canonical texts, students come to know the rhetorical tradition through experience, by engaging in the very practices (e.g., medieval preaching and letter writing, and 18th-century exercises in elocution) associated with rhetoric in a particular historical period. The many rhetorical terms, concepts, principles, and practices covered in the course provide students the proper background for further study in the more specialized areas of rhetoric. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

260  Biblical Rhetoric
M. Worley
This course examines the various ways that writers and speakers draw on the Bible for rhetorical force. Many of the works that call on the Bible for inspiration are not of a religious nature at all, raising questions about the nature of biblical style. Readings range from the Venerable Bede and Queen Elizabeth I to Bob Marley and Douglas Rushkoff, in addition to source material from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (as well as a smattering of biblical history). No previous knowledge of the Bible is needed, and all views will be respected. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement. 

270  The Rhetoric of Comics
M. Worley
This course focuses on the ways that comics - often defined as the interplay of words and images - convey specific messages, whether instructional, narrative, persuasive, or other. Close analyses draw on principles of visual rhetoric, comics scholarship, photography, and related disciplines. Readings cover the theory, history, terminology, and genres of graphic narratives.

280  Rhetorical “Borderlands”: Introduction to Comparative Rhetoric
S. Spring
By taking a transnational comparative perspective, this course introduces students to several key questions in comparative and intercultural rhetoric, from the most basic question of “How does culture shape language, and how does language, in turn, shape culture?” to more complicated questions: How do cross-border and cross-cultural engagements constrain and influence rhetorical practices and interactions? How do cultural logics, values, and assumptions hierarchically govern different geo-political spaces? In what ways have individuals and groups both conformed to and resisted discursive structures of power and privilege? And finally, in what ways can comparative and intercultural study sharpen our own critical insights about and rhetorical agency within such dominant structures? This course will address these questions and others as students work to develop and strengthen skills in critical analysis, research, and reflective practices through the lens of transnational comparative intercultural rhetoric. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

315  Public Address: History, Criticism, and Performance
R. Solomon
The study of public address has long been considered the cornerstone of a liberal arts education — meant to prepare graduates for success in public life as citizens, community members, and professionals. Students in this course survey the rich oratorical tradition of US public discourse with a focus on 19th-century rhetorical history, familiarizing themselves with key debates regarding the theory and criticism of public address, and performing speech and debate exercises that draw on the rich rhetorical heritage students encounter in class. As students immerse themselves in the history, criticism, and performance of American oratory, they also consider how rhetorical dynamics inform issues of democracy and citizenship, reflecting differences of ethnicity, race, class, and gender. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

340  Visual Rhetorics
M. Worley
This course approaches the study of rhetoric by foregrounding the dynamic relationship of text and image. How does a writer’s combination of verbal and visual elements communicate different arguments when circulated among different audiences? How do verbal/visual texts imitate, represent, and/or constitute cultural identities, norms, values, or practices? With the goal of becoming effective rhetorical critics, as well as incisive consumers and producers of visual culture, students in this course study a variety of visual texts in print and electronic form and examine these texts’ complex powers of persuasion. The primary work of this course is to develop and strengthen fluency in rhetorical discourse and visual literacy, as students work to perceive and analyze, as well as design and create, verbal-visual texts. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement. 

342  Rhetoric in Black and White: Communication and Culture in Conflict
K. Campbell
In the nearly 400-year history of social relations between Blacks and Whites in America, rhetoric has often failed. Civil war, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Black Power were all actions or movements that ensued largely because words fell short of persuading persons of good will to submit to reasoned arguments. Arguably a pillar of American democracy (as in the freedom to speak and to dissent), why has rhetoric been so seemingly ineffective in securing mutual respect and understanding between America’s Black and White citizens? This course seeks to answer this question by closely examining the styles of communication that historically have shaped the cultural identities and public personas of the two groups. From slave speech to the languages of protest in the 1960s to verbal expression in rap music and social media today, the course considers why communication or dialogue involving race is often doomed to fail. 

346  Language, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States
K. Campbell
This course examines the ways in which language has reinforced racial and ethnic identities and divisions in American history. It explores the conceptual origins of race, ethnicity, and other categories of difference, particularly those produced through legal, scientific, social scientific, and journalistic discourse. Recognizing that the United States is not just a multicultural society but a multilingual society, the course investigates how ethnic Americans have “talked back” to power and seized the power to name. It focuses on the vernacular speech, humor, and literature of Latin Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Italian Americans. The course also traces the causes and consequences of historical silences, as suggested by Martin Luther King’s dictum: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” First-year students by permission only. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

347  Language and Gender
M. Darby
This course explores the intersection of linguistic theory and feminist theory, defining gender as essentially cultural, but without assuming beforehand that women and men do, in fact, use different language. It considers the following questions in depth: To what extent does English have a sexist, or patriarchal bias? Do women and men speak differently in our culture? Do they think differently? What is the difference between gender and sexuality in language use? To what extent should writing avoid gender-specific forms, and to what extent should classrooms honor gender differences in language use? What is “political correctness” in language and what is its value? The course looks at English from theoretical, political, and social viewpoints, with readings taken from a wide range of fields, but with a particular focus on linguistics and feminist theory. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

348  Discourses of Whiteness
J. Spires
This course claims that whiteness — white racial identity — is more about language than biology. Whiteness is a rhetorical construct that exists only in discourse, yet its concrete effects impact societies all over the globe. Drawing on texts from around the world, this course traces the evolution of this construct from its inception up to the present day, examining the rhetorical strategies whereby whiteness is both hidden and revealed in a variety of genres: personal memoirs, philosophical essays, scientific investigations, political writings, legal documents, critical analyses, historical essays, and such mass media as television, film, newspapers, and magazines. By engaging in the rhetorical analysis of these texts, this course examines how the discourses of whiteness continue to frame reality and mediate power relations. A required evening film series accompanying the class has students viewing, discussing, and analyzing feature films, documentary films, and television shows. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

354  Dialogue and Deliberation in Democratic Life
R. Solomon
Public communication is a vital part of democratic life. It is through the circulation and exchange of public speech that citizens shape the contours of public life, build community, and determine their core civic values. More importantly, it is through the work of democratic dialogue that citizens struggle with their inevitable differences and seek to find ways of working together despite those differences. The purpose of this class is to examine both the theory and practice of deliberative democracy, with the aim of better understanding how communities might use dialogue and deliberation to effectively engage across different perspectives. Students are asked to think critically about the possibilities and challenges of democratic dialogue. Students are also trained in facilitation techniques, with the major project for this class providing students an opportunity to facilitate an open forum on a campus-related issue. This course counts toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

291, 391, 491  Independent Study
The department offers intensive study to qualified students. Appropriate background, plus permission of instructor, is required.