Department of Rhetoric & Writing
Department of Rhetoric & Writing


From the Department Chair

Rhetoric is one of the seven original Liberal Arts, along with logic, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. As a productive art, it involves effectively moving others to take up a particular action or attitude; as an interpretive art, it involves critical examination of persuasive appeals and motivating techniques, the rhetorical moves inherent in any communication, from a Facebook meme or a Twitter rant, to a news report, a Presidential address, or a loved one’s earnest plea. A savvy rhetorician also understands that the flow of a space, the sound or tone of a voice, the beat or rhythm of a song or a poem or a speech can be as compelling as a formally articulated argument; below the radar, colors, ambient environs, and habituated practices may move one to adopt a certain mood or conviction, just as identifying gestures or signs may prompt a feeling of belonging or of exclusion. Rhetorical study considers all “available means of persuasion,” consciously deployed or not, in any context, and through any medium (verbal, aural, spatial, visual, gestural, kinesthetic). Rhetoric is decidedly multimodal and trans-disciplinary: its fundamental principles operate at the heart of literature and politics, journalism and law, history and ethics, science and religion.

There is literally no communication—public or private, conscious or unconscious—that is not through and through rhetorical. Becoming an effective communicator in any setting and an astute critic of the persuasive acts and artifacts that vie for our attention every moment of every day requires some understanding of basic rhetorical principles. The Department of Rhetoric & Writing’s lower-division writing courses and undergraduate major are designed to prepare students to be effective rhetors and savvy rhetoricians—both online and off. Our graduate program in Rhetoric, offered through and in conjunction with the Department of English, is one of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished in the country and is designed to train teachers and scholars in the history, theory, and practice of this transdisciplinary “discipline.” Our teaching draws upon a continually growing knowledge base and discussion of best practices in the field.