The Dangerous Blog for Grad Students

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“A Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition” Precis August 26, 2008

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 2:23 pm
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bartholomae-inventingThe Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing

Rhetoric and composition are finally coming back into their own.  The study of rhetoric first began with the ancient Greeks:  the Sophists, Plato, Aristotle.  Rhetorical studies were then centered around giving speeches using a five-step process, including invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.  As the years passed on, the latter two fell by the wayside, with the main focus on the first three, but most especially on style.  The Scottish rhetoricians emphasized that style, if it was correct and compelling, would not only make a persuasive speech, but also showcase the speaker’s virtuous nature. 

As rhetorical studies moved to the United States, style remained at the head and the use of rhetoric was shifted to writing.  Eventually, however, most English studies focused on literature, and rhetoric all but disappeared for a time.  It was into the twentieth century before colleges began expanding their composition courses.  Discontent with writing only about literature, they viewed composition as a way to understand text better, by responding to it.  Following it, rhetorical studies ultimately found their way back into the classroom, as colleges emphasized the writing process, which was very like the classic Greek style. 

In the past four decades or so, many different issues have problemitized the ideas of rhetoric and composition, including women’s studies, language differences with ESL students and even regional dialects, a push for writing across the disciplines and new technologies such as the Internet.  Each of these has attempted to work their way into the studies of rhetoric and composition. As it is, these tracks are made up of very diverse and varied interests, and provide to students a real-life productive example of English Studies at work.


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