To understand rhetoric, students have to learn to dig like archeologists seeking artifacts. In this unit, they learn to probe rhetorical artifacts for the ideologies and commonplaces that shape their meaning. They reassemble the rhetorical appeals that went into them and research and reconstruct their origins and cultural content. Students learn, too, that an artifact doesn’t necessarily have to be old to be rhetorically excavated. They can analyze artifacts that they find today in their mailboxes, on the walls of their classroom buildings, and on their computer screens. In this unit, students practice presenting their findings in two different modes: an oral presentation and a thesis-driven academic essay.
Analysis of a Civic Engagement Artifact
Students select an artifact that frames the civic in a rhetorically compelling way. It could be anything from a corporate advertisement to a notice about an event or involvement opportunity happening on campus. The artifact could also be contemporary or historic. They then deliver a four-minute oral presentation about the artifact based on RCL course material and class discussions, explaining how the event or opportunity can be seen as civic and identifying the ideologies and/or civic commonplaces contained within or assumed by the artifact. Students may also address how context informs the message of the piece and how the artifact is framing the very idea of civic engagement.
Rhetorical Analysis Essay
In this five-page essay, students expand upon their oral presentation topic by comparing their artifact to other pieces that treat the same issue. The students consider how the artifacts target, respond to, or construct their audiences and how the pieces’ rhetorical choices make meaning. They examine how the artifacts use textual elements to marshall Aristotle’s three appeals: ethos, pathos, or logos. They also consider how social and historical contexts, ideologies, and commonplaces come into play. Students then shape their observations into an overarching argumentative (or thesis) claim and link the rhetorical strategies to ideologies and commonplaces that make the persuasive arguments float.