Oratory in the Age of Obama

A course in rhetoric for the Honors College of Rutgers Camden

Archive for January, 2010

Readings and Activities for Tuesday, February 2

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 29, 2010



Keith and Lundberg, Essential Guide to Rhetoric, Chapters 1 and 2

King, Dr. Martin Luther Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”  (April 1963) (historical context)

First read the original text and note the appeals to authority and evidence. Then read the text a second time using the color-coded analysis of the text’s “means of proof” in the appeals to ethos, pathos and logos. As you do so, please remember that these appeals cannot be strictly pinned down to level of individual sentences. This analysis is more an illustration of the concepts of means of proof.

Additional Readings:

Watch (or read the transcript of) President Obama in a Q&A with the Republican opposition–an unprecedented and compelling moment of deliberative oratory.

If you’d like to see a superb example of close reading a speech, here is James Fallows’ annotation of SOTU 2010.

Here is Andrew Sullivan worrying that American may have already moved beyond civic republicanism toward corporate-


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Readings and Activities for Thursday, January 28

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 26, 2010

// <![CDATA[// One analyst says Obama's State of the Union speech was positive and optimistic, with a serious overtone.

The scheduling of President Obama’s first State of the Union Address (SOTU) shapes the path we will follow in appreciating rhetorical appeals (or means of proof). To that end, we will continue our reading of Killingsworth as well as consult the classical tradition on appeals in the trio of ethos, pathos, and logos. We also introduce one single term (kairos) and a second trio of terms (judicial, deliberative, and epideictic) that are very useful in identifying rhetoric as discourse rooted in a sense of occasion.


Killingsworth, Ch. 2





Watch: Pres. Obama’s SOTU address and take at least a page of notes connecting the speech event to concepts we’ve been reading and talking about.

http://stateoftheunionaddress.org/2010-barack-obama (video)

Responses: here and here

Key terms: authority, evidence, fact, discourse community, popular vs. special audience, expert

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Readings and Activities for Tuesday, January 26

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 22, 2010

Today we crack open the book on ancient (classical) rhetoric to learn about the culture in which the principles of oratory that have framed our governmental system were first conceived and put into practice, where the symbols and strategies of oratorical performance were first employed.


Habinek, Thomas. Ancient Rhetoric and Oratory. Preface, Chronological Chart and Ch. 1.

Key points (from “Preface”):

Oratory: formal public speechmaking; characteristic political act of ancient city-states and of later political entities that draw inspiration from them.

Rhetoric: according to Aristotle, the study of the available means of persuasion in response to prevalence of oratory; the study of successful oratory.

Rhetoric modes of discourse reflect contingency, emotion, and personal allegiances

Rhetoric = rhetorical analysis and training together with oratorical performance.

Rhetoric is always social, involves art, argument, conviction, power, play, pleasure, tolerance, exchange

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Readings and Activities for Thursday, January 21

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 21, 2010


Killingsworth. Appeals in Modern Rhetoric, Preface and Chapter 1.

Video: Address by President Obama at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church (1/10/10): here and here

This first reading introduces the notion of the rhetorical appeal as a site of persuasive activity in both speech and writing. It does so in a way that is not identical with the concept, in classical rhetoric, of the three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Killingsworth offers a model of speaker, audience and value that forms a conceptual triangle, one whose area may be understood as constituting the ground on which persuasion may take place.

In reflecting on this reading, it is valuable to keep in mind the various ways that people use the word “appeal” to indicate both verbal activity–“I appeal to your good judgment”–and also inherent attraction–a house with ‘curb appeal’ can sell more quickly. To plead as well as to please, as Killingsworth puts it. It’s also important to remember that in this model all manner of appeals are essentially rooted in values. One appeals to (and through) values. All appeals come down to shared or shareable values.

If you work through the clip of President Obama speaking at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church on the Sunday before MLK day (1/10/10), you can see instance upon instance of the President drawing upon all the appeals that are treated in detail in our text and in the course ahead.

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Readings and Activities for Tuesday, January 19

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 21, 2010

Today I welcomed Honors students to the seminar and described overall my intentions and expectations. I offered a brief account of the breadth and longevity of Greco-Roman cultural traditions as far as these were shaped by practices of oratory and education for public life and noted the importance of this tradition to the creation of the American political system. I introduced the books we would be using in the course as well as the general scheme we would follow. I assigned a short reading for our first substantive class on Thursday.

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