English 283: Rhetorical Theory and Its Applications

Lisa L. Phillips, ,
Illinois State University


This is a course on rhetorical theory and its applications for English majors. It is a core course. Students learn key concepts by engaging in critical and analytical examination of the nature and historical development of rhetorical theory and its applications to contemporary discourse. Students engage with a variety of rhetorical analyses including analysis of our shared environments. In addition to course readings and discussion, students will do field investigations in order to create sensory "maps" of different locations for a group capstone project. Student work is assessed through a series of reflexive writing and composing activities, two essay exams, and a capstone project.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is a core course for English majors with two pre-requisites and a mininum 3.0 GPA in the major. It also statisfies a department writing requirement for a writing specialization certificate. Students self-select from among several writing courses, but always fills.

Course Content:

The course integrates classical rhetorical theories from the Western Greek tradition within an ecofeminist, American Indian rhetorical framework. Students will do small group work that will include field investigations of the campus environment. Students will do sensory mapping and experiment with a variety of persuasive rhetorical strategies to convey the information they gather.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to:
-analyze foundational rhetorical concepts and their historical roots in Western civilization
-discover how rhetoric shapes and is shaped by language, beliefs, values, ideologies, and our senses
-consider how rhetorical concepts, ideologies, and beliefs inform discussions of "making sense" in contemporary U.S. society
-demonstrate knowledge of rhetorical concepts by applying them to contemporary discourses
-investigate how rhetoric functions in different disciplinary, cultural, and environmental contexts
-distinguish between ethos, logos, and pathos
-incorporate sensory rhetorics into a variety of argumentation tactics
-create different forms of delivery for different audiences, purposes, and rhetorical situations
-synthesize different forms of rhetorical appeals designed for specific audiences
-display nuanced understanding of rhetorical practices and theories
-work on written, oral, and visual delivery skills individually and in collaboration with others
-confront and focus upon historical and cultural paradoxes via rhetoric and sensory perceptions

Course Features:

The capstone project for this course is a persuasive presentation about a environmental justice issue including potential solutions to the problem. Teams of students will create a presentation based upon the sensory topic they investigated in field mapping of their sensory experiences, i.e. visual, auditory, olfactory, haptic (touch), or taste, but it will have to be extended to include a environmental justice issue.

Course Philosophy:

This course is designed following a sustainability initiative promoted on campus by faculty and supported by staff at the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. The course is not team taught, but will be observed and the instructor evaluated by a senior faculty member. The faculty advisor mentors the course instructor. A teaching internship is a required component for PhD students in English Studies. That said, a Rhetorical Theory course that incorporates field investigation is experimental, and the pedagogical results/implications will be published and shared.


Assessment takes place in several ways. Because the course is a core course for English majors key content needs to be addressed. To assess student learning of rhetorical theory content, two essay exams will be evaluated by the instructor and normed by the faculty evaluator. Five teams of six—one for each sensory category—will complete field investigations. Each team will need to triangulate data collection by having two sub-groups of three members each. Teams will map the same area of campus using different sensory modes and record their experiences. They will need to analyze and report on that data collection in the form of a sensory map, a video file, an audio file, a 3-D display-box, or a GPS map. They will turn in both individual contributions and a collaborative component that will be assessed. Initially, groups will have an online discussion forum for reflexive analysis and written responses assessed as homework. Each student will have an individual online blog, which will function as a personal reflective journal. There will be a final individual written rhetorical analysis that will be assessed individually. The group capstone project will be an oral and visual presentation presented to the public in a symposium-style format that will be assessed, in part, by audience participation. My syllabus has the percentage breakdown.


Syllabus for Rhetorical Theory (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 47kB Mar15 13)

Teaching Materials:

Annotated Reading List for Rhetorical Theory (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 114kB Mar15 13)

References and Notes:

- Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee's Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 5th edition
-Diane Ackerman's The Natural History of the Senses
-John M. Henshaw's A Tour of the Senses
-Readings from David Howes, The Empire of the Senses
-Readings from Jim Drobnick's Smell Culture Reader
-Additional Readings are in ReggieNet and listed on my syllabus
-Winona LaDuke All Our Relations