SPC 3230: History of Rhetorical Theory
Short Paper #1 – Discovering Rhetoric
The history of rhetoric plays an important role in both your course of study as well as the
field of Communication (and others) in general. Though we often associate it most directly with
oral communication, we should adopt an understanding of rhetoric’s various contexts that
acknowledges the connections between speaking, writing, and thought (as the Greeks of Plato
and Aristotle’s time did). This assignment encourages you to explore some of the specific
concepts you have read, and discussed, as part of this class. Consider what stands out to you the
most. What resonates? What do you see as having a specific contemporary value?
You have multiple angles from which you can approach this assignment, but regardless
of which option you choose, all papers should be:
1. 1200-1700 words (roughly 4-6 pages double-spaced, not including a works cited page) in
length. You also need to include a front page with your name, relevant course info, and a
brief (100-200 words) abstract that includes your thesis, main points, and the implications
or “take away” of your paper.
2. Well-organized with a clear focus.
3. Written with minimal mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. This is an upperlevel course in your major – your writing should reflect it. Use of the writing center is
4. Focused on material from the first section of the course (“Foundations of Rhetoric”).
5. Thoughtfully crafted multiple specific examples from course material as well as other
relevant (and credible) sources. As a general rule, however, no written work should
contain more than 10% quoted material.
6. Cited properly using APA format. You should also have a works cited page. If you use an
online citation generator, make sure you clean up the formatting and check for errors.
7. Submitted in .doc or .docx file format on Canvas by the due date.
8. Brought to me (as a draft) during office hours if you’d like feedback before your final
9. PLEASE NOTE: You use another option/angle for your paper (that still follows the above
requirements) but I will need to approve it first.
Please select ONE of the following prompts or options for your paper
(on the next page):
Option #1: Literature Review
Most of the ideas and people we have discussed so far are thousands of years old. How are they
relevant today? More specifically, how are they being used today? This is the question at the
heart of the literature review. Literature reviews explore the relevant work/research that has
focused on a given topic. Though they are typically seen as part of a larger written work, they
can also stand on their own, especially when combined with a short synthesis or reflection.
For this option, you will need to first select a significant, specific idea from one of our early
rhetors. This should be something that you find interesting and important. You will then explore
how those ideas have been used in a contemporary academic setting by doing a series of journal
searches (utilizing the FGCU library’s website, primarily). Look for articles from the past fifteen
years or so and identify any trends that emerge. Who seems to be using these concepts? How are
they being used?
After getting an understanding of the existing contemporary literature, you will need to select 3-4
articles or book chapters that sound relevant and interesting (while doing your search you should
be reading the abstracts of each article). Read each article carefully. Your resulting paper should
include an explanation of the concept as you understand it (utilizing specific examples and
material from our source readings), an overview of what you observed during your search for
literature, a brief summary of each of your selected articles, and finally an explanation of how
these articles “fit” together along with the original concept in order to contribute to your
Option #2: Rhetorician Profile
We have spent most of our time (so far) discussing a few primary figures in the early history of
rhetoric: Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero (and to a lesser extent, the Sophists). This option
encourages you to explore the work of other important figures in rhetoric’s early history. Start by
reviewing your notes from the Herrick readings, and identifying a person (or even a group or
school of rhetors) that you would like to learn more about. Do some initial surface-level research
to familiarize yourself with them and to identify their major works. Select one of those major
works, and read it (if there is nothing of their work that survives, you will have to review
multiple scholarly sources in order to put together a composite image of the work).
Your paper should offer a brief biography of your selected rhetorician/figure and discuss the
importance of their contributions to the field. Who were they influenced by? Who did they in
turn influence? What are their major works? How are they viewed and used today – what is their
legacy? You will also need to summarize the work of theirs that you have read, explaining its
major ideas. Finally, relate their work and ideas to those of the people we have focused more on
in class. If you have any questions about who would be an appropriate person to focus on, please
let me know. Keep in mind, we are not discussing contemporary figures – nothing later than the
Option #3: Rhetorical Analysis of an Artifact
For this option, you must select a specific theory or concept (from our course material thus far)
that can be utilized to explain some sort of rhetorical phenomena, and actually USE it through
the application to a specific text, artifact, or event. Your paper should provide an explanation of
the concept including its specific components, history, and how it is typically used. You will then
provide an overview of your selected text/artifact/event, including any important contextual
information. This object of analysis should somehow relate to the stated themes for this year’s
Southern Colloquium on Rhetoric. In the third part of your paper, you must discuss how you see
your selected theory explaining your selected phenomena. You must make specific references to
both the material that explains the theory (our textbook, out of class readings, class lecture,
outside research, etc.) as well as within whatever you are studying (use quotes appropriately).
Your analysis should be detailed, and thorough – it should comprise approximately 50% of your
The theory you choose may come from any era we have studied and may include those that we
didn’t specifically address in class (but were part of the textbook readings).
Option #4: Innovation in Rhetoric
One of the central “threads” throughout the history of rhetorical studies has been the changing
regard in which society has held the field. The phrase “just rhetoric” exists as a pejorative today
thanks to the early criticism by Plato (and others) of the Sophists. Cicero decried the “separation
of mind and tongue.” “Rhetoric” as an idea(l) has changed over the centuries, and continues to
do so (there is quite a reckoning going on right now, in fact, as a greater push for diversity and
In this option, you are tasked with identifying a specific innovation, change, revolution, or failure
(etc.) within the early history of rhetoric. How does the view of rhetoric change during the
Middle Ages and the Enlightenment, perhaps? What is rhetoric’s role in drastically altering the
way the Western world views education (hint – this question is at the heart of Socrates/Plato’s
criticism of the Sophists)?
Option #5: Revisiting Plato’s Dialogues
For this option, you will need to revisit the Gorgias and Phaedrus, reading whichever of the two
dialogues you didn’t read before. You will then give some extended answer to some of the
questions we discussed in class (as well as some new ones). You will need to select three
questions from the list below; your answers should acknowledge the interconnectedness of the
questions, rather than simply treat them as three “mini essays.” You MUST use specific quotes
and examples (including appropriate citations) from both of the dialogues in support of your
answers. For each question, you must also involve an outside scholarly source (journal article)
and/or a specific example or phenomena from our contemporary world. You should select your
questions based on a common line of thought that you clearly trace in your paper (make sure the
questions you address relate, somehow, to one another in a meaningful way). Your answers
should be a synthesis of all of your selected materials, and your paper itself a synthesis of your
three questions. The possible questions you may address include:
Plato’s Dialogue Questions:
1. While he certainly directly addresses rhetoric in each of the dialogues, Plato is also
concerned with other topics. What are the major ideas, themes, and/or concepts that Plato
uses to discuss rhetoric?
2. The participants in both dialogues clearly see rhetoric as an act of oration. Are there any
“hints” or indications in either dialogue that might suggest otherwise? How does this
influence YOUR understanding of rhetoric?
3. Given your close reading of the text, how would each participant in Gorgias and
Phaedrus define “rhetoric?”
4. Do you recognize any contemporary critiques of rhetoric reflected by the criticism voiced
by Socrates? Be specific.
5. Do the varying defenses and instances of rhetoric in either dialogue remind you of any
contemporary defenses, celebration, or uses of rhetoric? Be specific.
6. In what ways does Aristotle both reject and adopt from the approaches to rhetoric Plato
and the Sophists?
7. “Art,” as both idea and ideal, is used in both Gorgias and Phaedrus. How is it used in
each, and how do you account for any difference?
8. YOUR QUESTION. You may identify ONE significant question or trail of thought you
had while reading through the two dialogues. Be sure to state the question somewhere in