Oratory in the Age of Obama

A course in rhetoric for the Honors College of Rutgers Camden

Course Overview and Schedule

Honors 109 – 02 — Oratory in the Age of Obama

Dr. William T. FitzGerald
Office: Armitage 420; T, 5-6, Thursday 12:30-1:30

Contact: wfitz@camden.rutgers.edu
Course homepage: https://oratoryobamaage.wordpress.com
856-225-2925 (O), 610-642-3823 (H)



The rise to prominence and power of Barack Obama also marks a renewal of interest in oratory, the art of public rhetoric. Employing the persona and speeches of our current President as a touchstone, this course examines the continuing vitality of rhetoric as a force in civic affairs. Though rhetoric developed in the classical era as a practical art of persuasive speech, we approach rhetoric as a critical lens for understanding the multiple factors that contribute to effective political discourse.

You will thus develop the ability to analyze speeches, debates and public arguments of various kinds through a critical vocabulary that will serve you well here at Rutgers and beyond. This vocabulary largely draws upon rhetoric’s classical heritage, but we also turn to more recent formulations of rhetorical principles as a guide. Our ultimate goal is to apprehend the complex terrain of our fractured political landscape, itself a reflection of various rhetorical appeals to unity and division, to identity and difference, by politicians and pundits. You will come away with increased appreciation of relations between speech events and their situations.

We look forward to lively discussion, stimulating readings and speeches, and a field trip to Philadelphia to better understand the role of oratory in civic life.

Texts (available at the campus bookstore or online stores)

Garsten, Bryan. Saving Persuasion. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Habinek, Thomas. Ancient Rhetoric and Oratory. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004

Keith, William & Christian Lundberg. Bedford/St Martins, 2008.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Appeals in Modern Rhetoric. Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.


In addition to daily attendance and keeping up with the readings, a number of written and oral assignments are expected. These will determine successful performance as follows:

— coming to class on several occasions prepared with a question or two to initiate discussion (5%)

— occasional quizzes or in-class writing prompts (10%)

— frequent brief postings to the course blog in response to readings (5%)

— two short papers (2-3 pp.) practicing rhetorical analysis (20%)

— an in-class midterm (15%)

— one 6-8 pp. paper (25%)

— a final exam (20%)


Timely attendance and reasonable preparation is expected in this discussion-based seminar. Quizzes and other daily assignments cannot be made up, though one or two low grades will be dropped. Papers are due on the dates specified in both electronic and hardcopy form; while late papers may be accepted, depending on circumstances, grade deductions will typically apply. An attitude of respect and courtesy guides our dealings with one another.

The highest standards of academic integrity are upheld in this course. For details on University polity with respect to integrity, please consult: http://www.camden.rutgers.edu/RUCAM/info/Academic-Integrity-Policy.html

Finally, note that accommodations will be made in response to any documented disabilities.

Schedule of Classes

Week One (January 19 – 21)

1/19 — Course Overview and Introduction
1/21 — Killingsworth, Preface  & Ch.1

Week Two (January 26 – 28)

1/26 — Habinek, Preface, Chrononogical Chart, Ch. 1

1/28 — Killingsworth, Ch. 2 + links on classical appeals

Obama (2010 State of the Union)

Week Three (February 2 – 4)

2/2 —  Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 1 & 2

Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” + rhetorical analysis

2/4 —  Killingsworth, Ch. 3

Keith and Lundberg, Ch. 3

Obama (2004 Democratic Convention) + analyses

Week Four (February 9 – 11)

2/9  — Habinek, Ch. 2 + links to Pericles & Demosthenes
2/11 — Killingsworth, Ch. 4

Obama (Iowa Caucuses Victory Speech)

Week Five (February 16 – 18)

2/16 —  Habinek, Ch. 3

Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”

2/18 — Killingsworth, Ch. 5

Obama (2009 Inaugural Address)
Paper #1 due

Week Six (February 23 – 25)

2/23 — Habinek, Ch. 4, Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 4
2/25 — Killingsworth, Ch. 6

Obama (Notre Dame Commencement Address)

Week Seven (March 2 – 4)

3/2 — Habinek, Ch. 5

3/4 — Midterm Exam

Week Eight (March 9 – 11)

3/9  — Field Trip to Constitution Center

3/11 — Garsten, Introduction, Chapter 1

Week Nine (March 16 – 18) — SPRING BREAK

Week Ten (March 23 – 25)

3/23 — Garsten, Ch. 2
3/25 — NO CLASS (Paper #2 due)

Week Eleven (March 30 – April 1)

3/30 — Garsten, Ch. 3

Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 5

4/1  —  Killingsworth, Ch. 7

Sojourner Truth, “Aint I a Woman?”

Barbara Jordan (1976 Democratic Convention Keynote)

Week Twelve (April 6 – 8)

4/6 — Garsten, Ch. 4

Keith and Lundberg, Ch. 6

4/8 — Killingsworth, Ch. 8

Obama (Philadelphia “Race Speech”)

Week Thirteen (April 13 – 15)

4/13 — Garsten, Ch. 5

Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 7

Paper Topics due

4/15 — Killingsworth, Ch. 9

Lincoln, “Second Inaugural”

Week Fourteen (April 20 – 22)

4/20 — Garsten, Ch. 6

Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 8

Paper draft due for workshopping

4/22 — Killingsworth, Ch. 10

Obama (Cairo Speech)

Week Fifteen (April 27 – 29)

4/24 — Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”

Keith & Lundberg, Ch. 9

Oral Presentations I

4/26 — Course Wrap-up

Oral Presentations II

Final Exam — Friday, May 7, 2 – 5 pm


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