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Power of Persuasion

Tutor: Katherine Cross (tutor for 2018-19) / Mary Garrison

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module Code: HIS00050H

Rhetoric has been central to Western European Education and Public life since Antiquity. It has also been controversial in all eras. After several introductory seminars on rhetoric and its history, this module will focus on a few themes and topics which are particularly revealing when studied in comparative historical perspective.

  1. Changing definitions of rhetoric/rhetorical: from the art of speaking well, to the art of writing and then onto the use of the term today as a way of impugning a speaker or writer’s sincerity and truthfulness
  2. The development of the rhetoric of free speech and the history of ‘speaking the truth to power’
  3. The role of rhetoric in education: an technique to be the inculcated or formation of the civilized self?
  4. Case study of a small number of selected speeches.

The question of how historians can use knowledge of rhetoric to illuminate cultural history will be kept constantly in focus.

No prior acquaintance with rhetoric, rhetorical terms, or classical language is necessary; students will be have the opportunity to read some classical texts in translation.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:-

    • The Birth of Rhetoric
    • Plato, Aristotle
    • Cicero and Quintilian
    • Consolidation and review of classical rhetoric
    • Medieval Rhetoric
    • Renaissance and Early Modern Rhetoric
    • Rhetoric and Education
    • The Rhetoric of Free Speech
    • The Funeral Oration: Pericles and Lincoln at Gettysburg
    • Modern Avatars of Rhetoric: Nudge, Powerpoint


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.