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The Power of Persuasion: Rhetorics, culture & politics - HIS00120H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Becca Grose
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

Rhetoric has been central to Western European education and public life since Antiquity. The invention of rhetoric in Ancient Greece has been linked to both the birth of democracy and to the dangers of harmful public manipulation. After a series of foundation weeks covering the origin and practice of rhetoric in Ancient Greece and Rome, the module will focus on selected themes and topics which are of special interest when studied comparatively, including examples of Chinese, Arabic, and Indian theory and practice. The content covered will invite consideration of how and why classical rhetoric has been perceived as a male and western phenomenon, and how this stereotype could be deconstructed. This is a module about how persuasion, deliberation, and public speech have been theorised, practiced, codified, transmitted, and reflected upon across a broad spatiotemporal area, rather than a history of famous speeches. Nonetheless, we will analyse a number of speeches and students will have the opportunity to master essential rhetorical terms and concepts, the tools for such analysis.

No prior acquaintance with rhetorical terms or classical languages is required. There will be an opportunity to study some classic texts intensely.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23 to Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to the practice of comparative history;
  • To enable students to acquire skills and understanding of that practice by studying a particular topic or theme; and
  • To enable students to reflect on the possibilities and difficulties involved in comparative history

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp the key approaches and challenges involved in comparative history;
  • Understand a range of aspects of the topic or theme which they have studied;
  • Be able to use and evaluate comparative approaches to that topic or theme; and
  • Have learned to discuss and write about comparative history
  • Have developed skills in group work

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term, and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following: The Origin and Development of rhetoric in Antiquity; Rhetorical education; Global rhetorics; Rhetoric, deliberation, dialogue and democracy; the birth and rebirth of logic in Antiquity, the Latin West, the Arab world, and India; Invective, blasphemy, and satire and their regulation; the Rhetoric of Free Speech in theory and practive; dark arts of persuasion at the turn of the 21st century; Women and Rhetoric;


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - The Power of Persuasion
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For procedural work, the students will make group presentations towards the end of the autumn term. In addition, they may choose to submit an optional 2,000 word formative essay between weeks 7-9 of the autumn term. Essays should not be submitted in the same week as group project presentations are scheduled.

For summative assessment students will complete a 4,000-word group project due in week 6 of the spring term -- this will account for 33% of the final mark. They will then also take a 2,000-word 24-hour open exam during the common assessment period in the summer term, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. The open exam will be worth 67% of the final mark.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - The Power of Persuasion
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive feedback that will include comments and a mark. If this takes the form of live feedback in class it will be supported by a written comment sheet.

All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Harris, Robert. Imperium. London: Arrow, 2009.

Spence, Sarah. Figuratively Speaking: Rhetoric and Culture from Quintilian to the Twin Towers. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.

Lanham, Richard. The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.