This course will examine the social and political history of America through a reading and critical appraisal of the rhetorical, public discourse of leading rhetors and movements from colonial times to the present. Public discourse, spoken and written, illuminates American political culture. The search for meaning in rhetorical discourse is what links America’s past with America’s present. This course will explore that connection by examining the public words of Americans from 1630 to the present. Through those words we will examine themes and questions such as “the city on a hill,” “the American frontier,” the American mission or destiny, the proper role of government, and what it means to be “an American.” We will investigate how many prominent figures, through their rhetoric, have advanced their own definitions of America and outlined the nation’s triumphs and shortcomings. Our goal is not to recall every minute of American history, but rather to listen closely to the words and people who have contributed to our definition of America today.
Questions that we will ask include: How did interested parties use rhetorical discourse to establish, maintain or revive power? How have Americans used persuasion to mitigate the uncertainty of particular moments and conflicts? How do we analyze the public discourse of previous eras?
This special topics course was last offered in Spring 2007.