Since no one can engage in discourse without discovery, so the system of discourse is the system of discovery

—Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Download a PDF version of the syllabus: here.

Whan smale foweles maken melodye, in the Year of our Lord, two thousand and eight

Tuesdays, Thursdays, 10:00-11:20, RCH 204
Course conductor: Allen of Harris, cleped "Randy"
Office hours: Tuesdays, 8:30-9:30, Thursdays, 12:30-2:00

Course epitome
Quoth the calendar:

"A study of rhetorical theories and practices from late Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance, and the Enlightenment periods, with an emphasis on how those theories and practices reflect changing attitudes towards language, society, and the self."

Well, yes, there's that. More specifically, though, we will see rhetoric in middle age—mature, reflective, strong and hitting its stride, but also a little grey at the temples, a bit soft around the middle, undergoing a crisis of identity and looking for a hot little red sports car to maintain its vigour (theology, poetics, business, psychology—anything cool).

Course credo

[The past] is so rich and strange that, if we turn to it merely for answers to our own questions, we shall needlessly impoverish our own intellectual lives. ... [But] if we allow ourselves to approach the past with a less importunate sense of 'relevance,' we may find our studies are taking on a relevance of a different and more authentic kind. We may find, in particular, that the acquisition of an historical perspective helps us to stand back from some of our own current assumptions and habits of thought, and perhaps reconsider them. The study of the past need not be any less instructive when it uncovers contrasts rather than continuities with the present.

Quentin Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 15



English 309B-S08 Course reader (purchase from bookstore)

Web readings, as listed on the schedule below (follow the links).

Wells, H. G. 1920. A Short History of the World. New York: MacMillan, 1922. ReadMe.

Style guide:

The Little, Brown Compact Handbook. First Canadian edition. Aaron and McArthur. Toronto: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997.

Requirements worth due
Midterm exam
15% 19 June
Final exam
30% 7 August, 4:00-6:30, PAC 12
40% proposal due: 26 June
essay due: 29 July
Being rhetorical
15% all the livelong day




You will have to know both "facts" and "ideas" for this course. The midterm will test mostly the former, with multiple-choice, true/false, short-answer questions. It will cover material up to and including the 17 June class. These facts will come mostly from the readings (chiefly from the primary texts, though there will be a few quite general historical questions thrown in as well, so you will have to be familiar with the Wells' chapters too). You need to read carefully, take good notes, ask any questions that surface, talk to each other; most of all, think about and apply what you read. If you use the information, it will stick.


More of the same, but with some essay questions thrown in to chart the "ideas" quotient of the course. It will cover the entire course, but the facts-questions will have a bit more emphasis on the post-midterm readings.

Being rhetorical

Come to class, contribute to discussions, participate in the development of the course. You need to be engaged in the course every time you're in class (and you need to be in class).

Ways to get a good grade: ask relevant questions, make salient observations, look for and point out connections in the material, use the rhetorical concepts we encounter to complain about the unbelievable pressure of having to be rhetorical on demand, ...

Ways to get a mediocre grade: sit in your seat; avoid eye contact with the professor.

Ways to get a poor grade: stay away from class (of course, but also), make long irrelevant commentaries, treat your fellow students with notable disrespect while they are commenting to class, read your e-mail, text your friends and enemies, review the calls on your cell phone, have a sandwich and a thermos of soup, ...


Your essay grade is the largest and most important component of your mark. Start thinking about your essay right away. I'm not kidding. It will not have to be very long (2,000 - 2, 500 words), but it will have to be very good. This is a third-year RPW course in the department of English Language and Literature; you should be writing and thinking about rhetorical issues at an advanced level, and you should know how to research and write an academic essay.

There are two options. You can do a critical analysis or a theoretical analysis.

A critical analysis will rhetorically examine a semiotic artifact in the light of some theory or theorist from the period we are studying. A typical artifact for analysis would be an oration, a political or cultural or scientific argument, a novel or play, perhaps an argumentative exchange. But a scene from a movie is perfectly acceptable, too, or a website or a DVD interface, or the poster over your room-mate's bed, even a gum wrapper would work. The aftifact can be from the period we are studying, but it need not be. The theory and/or theorist, however, must be from the period we are studying.

A theoretical analysis will take a concept or a particular theorist's framework and examine it for the rhetorical payoff it provides (or fails to provide)—what it tells us about the world, or fails to tell us about the world. The first step is to become an authority on some concept (ethos, figuration, stasis, ...) or theorist (Augustine, Vinsauf, Whatley, ...). As an authority, you will then see with particular clarity how successful the concept or theorist is, where the failures might be, whether there is a need to augment, constrain, reshape, or even discard the concept or framework. Your paper will argue such a position. It will not just be an explanation of the concept or the framework, but an analysis of it.

What matters for your understanding, and consequently for your grade, is how you develop your analysis: what your examination yields in terms of understanding the artifact or the concept or the framework, and how you demonstrate that yield (significantly including the research you marshall and deploy, and the cogency of your argument).

Whichever form your paper takes, you will need to write up a proposal and discuss it with me before you write the essay. You will need to identify the thesis you will be arguing (for instance, the argument in Brian De Palma's Redaction is effective, or not, because of its understanding, or not, of the relation between, presumption, burden proof, and emotion; Augustine's notion of ethos is obsolete, or not, because its conception of rhetorical situation is not applicable to digital social networks). You will need to do preliminary research on your thesis—what are the important primary and secondary texts, and why are they important—which means visiting the library, even if only virtually, and going beyond the course readings, lectures, and discussions.

My evaluation of the essay (including the proposal) will depend on the soundness, analytical sophistication, research depth, and rhetorical appropriateness of your work, along the following metrics:

Articulation of your thesis
3% 10%
Research outline
Style and grammar (sentence and paragraph structure, diction, spelling, punctuation, agreement, ...)
Articulation of your thesis
10% 90%
Use of evidence (research and analysis)
Quality of argument
Style and grammar (as above)

309B, The podcast

This course is being podcast. The discussions will be recorded and mounted on the web, for download. Whenever I use presentation files, as will happen occasionally, they will also be mounted for download (in pps format).

Please note that these are not true podcasts, in the sense of being designed for solitary listening. They are largely verbatim records of class lectures and discussion. As such there are glitches, false starts, occasional rants, poorly recorded student questions, excrutiating silences as the professor waits for answers to questions or searches for a piece of chalk, and so on. You should in no way think of these as substitutes for attending the class, and listening to them is not mandatory. But they may be useful, and we have the technology, so we are making them available.


Userid: ENG309BS08

Password: DayShics (i.e., DayShics)


The Medieval Sourcebook (letters, contrcs, other documents)

Humanism (overview)

The Englightenment (overview)

The Victorian Web (comprehensive discussions, loads of material)

Silva Rhetoricae (figure definitions, rhetorical terminology, loads of examples)

American Rhetoric (video, excerisizes, definitions, speeches)

Culture Cat (rhetoric and feminism)


Do the readings before the assigned class.

If you have any questions, please make sure you ask them.

Familiarize yourself with Policy #71, especially as to plagiarism and other forms of cheating.







6 May

Hello; how art thou?

8 May


De doctrina Book 4

Wells, 37, 38

13 May


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius
"An Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric"

Wells, 39, 40

15 May


Robert of Basevorn
from The Forms of Preaching

Wells, 42, 43

20 May

Wells, 44, 45

22 May


Geoffrey of Vinsauf
from Poetria Nova

Wells, 46, 47

27 May


Philip Melanchthon
In Praise of Eloquence

Wells, 48, 49

Listen to a podcast on Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies; read excerpts from it (16 - 20).

29 May

Laura Cereta
Letter to Bibulus

3 June


Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst
From A Short History of the Printed Word

Wells, 50, 51

5 June


Peter Ramus
from Logic

Check out Ian Blechschmidt's
Ramus Learning Object

10 June


Thomas Wilson
from The Arte of Rhetorique, Book 3; From "What a figure is" up to (and including) "Resting vpon a poinct"

Lit students may want to check out George Puttenham's The Art of English Poesy (e.g., 1.3 - 1.5, Book 3)
12 June

Francis Bacon
from The New Organon, Aphorisms XXXVIII - XLIV; LIX, LX
from The Advancement of Learning, 2.13, 2.14, 2.15, 2.16, 2.18

Wells, 52

17 June

Wells, 53

19 June

24 June Dissent

Margaret Fell
"Women's Speaking Justified"

Wells, 54

26 June

Humanist backlash

Essay proposals due

Giambattista Vico
from On the Study Methods of our Time

Wells, 55

1 July


3 July


Madeleine de Scudéry
Of Conversation

Wells, 56

8 July


Thomas Sheridan
from A Course of Lectures on Elocution

Gilbert Austin
from Chironomia

Wells, 57

10 July


Hugh Blair
Summaries of Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres—I, II, XIV, XV, XXV, XXVI

Wells, 58

15 July

Wells, 59

17 July


Bishop Richard Whately
from Elements of Rhetoric

Wells, 60
22 July

Herbert Spencer
Philosophy of Style

Wells, 61

24 July

The compositional turn

Alexander Bain
from English Composition and Rhetoric

Wells, 62

29 July

Course review, exam preparation; Essays due

7 August
Final Exam, 4:00-6:30, PAC 12