Course Information


  • Number: ENGL 354
  • Title: Modern Rhetorical Theory
  • Term: Spring 2023
  • Meeting: 11:30-12:20, LAAH 401


  • Name: Andrew Pilsch
  • Contact:
  • Office Hours & Locations:
    • WF 1-2, Zoom

Course Description

This course studies the return of interest in rhetorical theory and rhetorical training in the 20th century. There are three units: 1) we explore various texts that situate modern life (cities, cars, and mass media, especially) as a problem that rhetoric can solve; 2) we look at some theories of persuasion that respond specifically to these various challenges; 3) we use these theories to explore a rhetorical case study.

Course Learning Outcomes

In this course, students can expect:

  1. To learn about the development of rhetorical theory during the twentieth century
  2. To understand methods of rhetorical analysis
  3. To use these methods to understand cultural artifacts
  4. To identify problems in communication that persuasion can help solve


Assignment Values

Assignment Due Date Value
Weekly Recaps Weekly 20%
Paper 1: Modern Rhetoric 02/22 30%
Take-home Exam 1: Rhetorical Theories 03/31 20%
Paper 2: Case Study Analysis 05/01 30%

Weekly Recaps

Each week, you need to post a 1-2 paragraph account of the most important 1 or 2 things you learned in the preceding week. This should be considered less a summary of everything discussed in class and more what you think is the most important thing. My grading for these will be completion based, but I will ask for re-writes if the recaps you are producing are not focused enough.

These are due every Monday by 11:59PM.

Late work will not be accepted for this assignment.

Paper 1: Modern Rhetoric

We have identified a number of problems in the first few decades of the 20th century that make the practice of rhetoric and the study of persuasion crucial for the functioning of a mediated society. What is the single most important issue today that you think require a new theory of persuasion?

In an argumentative essay, discuss your problem, explaining what it is, giving some background on the issue, and why it is a problem that can be addressed through persuasion. You will need to rely on outside sources to support your argument, whether these are scholarly arguments about the topic, technical sources to add background detail, or popular sources to provide examples or to dimensionalize the problem.

Take-home Exam 1: Rhetorical Theories

This exam will be open-note and you will have 24 hours to complete it.

You will be supplied with a list of quotes from the material we have discussed in class so far. These will be quotes we talked about in class. For each quote, identify the following information:

  1. Author of the quote
  2. Full title of the work in which quote appears
  3. Explain the importance of the quote to the argument of the work
  4. In one page of double-spaced text, summarize the author’s full argument and what they contribute to a theory of argument

Paper 2: Case Study Analysis

For this assignment, you will write what is called a rhetorical analysis. In a rhetorical analysis, the strategies of persuasion of a particular cultural object are evaluated to explain why (or why not) a particular cultural artifact is (or is not successful) at being persuasive. Rhetorical analyses could study speeches by a politician or advertising slogans in a soda commercial; they can look at paintings, books, or anything else that participates in the creation and circulation of cultural myths.

Specifically, I want you to find a cultural object relating to food in some fashion (defined how you want, subject to my approval). Then, I want you to identify the appeals the object is making to its audience. Pay special attention to the theories of rhetoric we have identified this semester.


Unit 1 – Rhetoric as a Solution to the Problem of Modernity

Week 1 – Why Do People Do Dumb Things?


Wed 01/18

  • Course Overview

Fri 01/20

  • Sigmund Freud, from Beyond the Pleasure Principle

Week 2 – Why Are Cities So Scary?

Mon 01/23

  • Bronislaw Malinowski, from Myth in Primitive Psychology
  • Weekly Recap 1 Due

Wed 01/25

Fri 01/27

  • Finish Simmel

Week 3 – What Do Words Actually Do?

Mon 01/30

  • Ferdinand de Saussure, “Object of Linguistics” & “Nature of Linguistic Signs” from Course in General Linguistics
  • Weekly Recap 2 Due

Wed 02/01

  • Finish de Saussure
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”

Fri 02/03

  • Finish Nietzsche

Week 4 – How Do Words Manipulate the Public?

Mon 02/06

  • Edward Bernays, from Propaganda
    • Ch. 1-2
  • Weekly Recap 3 Due

Wed 02/08

  • Finish Bernays
  • Walter Lippman, From Public Opinion

Fri 02/10

  • Finish Lippman

Unit 2 – Modern Theories of Persuasion

Week 5 – Why Aren't We Talking About Rhetoric?

Mon 02/13

  • Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”
  • Weekly Recap 4 Due

Wed 02/15

Fri 02/17

  • Finish Booth

Week 6 – What Did Those Greek Guys Know, Anyway?

Mon 02/20

Wed 02/22

  • Finish Poulakos

Fri 02/24

  • Paper Workshop Day

Week 7 – What Happens When We Do a Rhetoric?

Mon 02/27

Wed 03/01

Fri 03/03

  • Finish Vatz

Week 8 – How Does this Work in the Real World?

Mon 03/06

Wed 03/08

Fri 03/10

  • Finish De Beauvoir

Week 9 – Spring Break!

Mon 03/13

No Class

Spring Break

Wed 03/15

No Class

Spring Break

Fri 03/17

No Class

Spring Break

Week 10 – How Else Do We Argue?

Mon 03/20

Fri 03/24

  • Finish Ratcliffe

Unit 3 – What I Did On My Rhetorical Summer Vacation

Week 11 – Where Did You Go?

Mon 03/27

Wed 03/29

Fri 03/31

  • Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones, “Welcome to Fabulous Roswell: The Rise of Postmodern Tourism”
  • Take Home Exam Due

Week 12 – What Did You See?

Mon 04/03

  • Umberto Eco, “Travels in Hyperreality”
  • Weekly Recap 10 Due

Wed 04/05

  • Finish Eco
  • The Simpsons “Itchy and Scratchy Land”

Fri 04/07

No Class

Reading Day

Week 13 – Why Is No One Having A Good Time? I Specifically Requested It

Mon 04/10

Wed 04/12

Fri 04/14

  • Finish Crider & Anderson

Week 14 – Why Don't We Stay Home Next Year?

Mon 04/17

Fri 04/21

Week 15 – What Should I Write My Paper About?

Mon 04/24

  • Consultations, Work On Your Papers
  • Weekly Recap 13 Due

Wed 04/26

  • Consultations, Work On Your Papers

Fri 04/28

  • Paper Workshop Day

Week 16

Mon 05/01

  • Paper 2 Due by 11:59PM

Wed 05/03

Course Policies

Student Visiting Hours

At the times listed in the sidebar throughout this site, I am in my office and it is your time to come talk to me about anything related (or unrelated) to class. This time is yours, I am not (supposed to be) doing anything else; you will not be interrupting me. If you have questions about class or have other questions I might be able to answer, please drop by.

Email Hours

I am available to answer email from 9:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Emails arriving outside of that time will be answered at my earliest convenience, but do not count on a quick answer to emails sent late at night or on the weekends.

Office Door

If my door is closed and it is not during office hours, please do not knock. I open my door when I’m available to chat outside of office hours, but close my door if I am working and cannot be disturbed.


Attendance in class is mandatory and is necessary for you to get what you need out of this course. You may have 2 unexcused absences. Every absence after 2 will result in a 5 point deduction from your attendance grade. I must have documentation (doctor’s notes, schedule for sports, etc) for excused absences. Please talk to me in advance if you have any extenuating circumstances.

Regardless of kind (excused or unexcused), missing more than 10 classes in the semester will result in your failing the course.

Late Work

Under Student Rule 7.4, I am under “under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence.” However, I do accept late work and will take off 5 points for every day late. A paper that would have received an 85% that was 3 days late will receive a 70%.

Extension Policy

Additionally, if you are falling behind on a project and feel that you are not going to finish on time, email me 24 hours before the assignment is due to request an extension. In this email, propose how many additional days you will need to finish the assignment. Requests for extension that do not contain this information will not be honored.


In the 21st century, it is unreasonable to accept “my computer died” as an excuse for late work. If you are working on assignments on a computer, please back up your work offsite. Sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive provide space for storing copies of your work; even a USB drive can be enough. I have recently started using BackBlaze and found it to be a great and inexpensive online, automated backup. Save multiple times throughout each work session to both your backup and your computer’s copy. In this class, I hold you accountable for making sure your technology is working correctly.

University Policies

Attendance Policy

The university views class attendance and participation as an individual student responsibility. Students are expected to attend class and to complete all assignments.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about excused absences, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Makeup Work Policy

Students will be excused from attending class on the day of a graded activity or when attendance contributes to a student’s grade, for the reasons stated in Student Rule 7, or other reason deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about makeup work, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Absences related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 may necessitate a period of more than 30 days for make-up work, and the timeframe for make-up work should be agreed upon by the student and instructor” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.1).

“The instructor is under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.2).

Students who request an excused absence are expected to uphold the Aggie Honor Code and Student Conduct Code. (See Student Rule 24.)

Academic Integrity Statement and Policy

“An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

“Texas A&M University students are responsible for authenticating all work submitted to an instructor. If asked, students must be able to produce proof that the item submitted is indeed the work of that student. Students must keep appropriate records at all times. The inability to authenticate one’s work, should the instructor request it, may be sufficient grounds to initiate an academic misconduct case” (Section, Student Rule 20).

You can learn more about the Aggie Honor System Office Rules and Procedures, academic integrity, and your rights and responsibilities at

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Policy

Texas A&M University is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. If you experience barriers to your education due to a disability or think you may have a disability, please contact Disability Resources in the Student Services Building or at (979) 845-1637 or visit Disabilities may include, but are not limited to attentional, learning, mental health, sensory, physical, or chronic health conditions. All students are encouraged to discuss their disability related needs with Disability Resources and their instructors as soon as possible.

Title IX and Statement on Limits to Confidentiality

Texas A&M University is committed to fostering a learning environment that is safe and productive for all. University policies and federal and state laws prohibit gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

With the exception of some medical and mental health providers, all university employees (including full and part-time faculty, staff, paid graduate assistants, student workers, etc.) are Mandatory Reporters and must report to the Title IX Office if the employee experiences, observes, or becomes aware of an incident that meets the following conditions (see University Rule 08.01.01.M1):

  • The incident is reasonably believed to be discrimination or harassment.
  • The incident is alleged to have been committed by or against a person who, at the time of the incident, was (1) a student enrolled at the University or (2) an employee of the University.

Mandatory Reporters must file a report regardless of how the information comes to their attention – including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Although Mandatory Reporters must file a report, in most instances, you will be able to control how the report is handled, including whether or not to pursue a formal investigation. The University’s goal is to make sure you are aware of the range of options available to you and to ensure access to the resources you need.

Students wishing to discuss concerns in a confidential setting are encouraged to make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Students can learn more about filing a report, accessing supportive resources, and navigating the Title IX investigation and resolution process on the University’s Title IX webpage.

Statement on Mental Health and Wellness

Texas A&M University recognizes that mental health and wellness are critical factors that influence a student’s academic success and overall wellbeing. Students are encouraged to engage in proper self-care by utilizing the resources and services available from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). Students who need someone to talk to can call the TAMU Helpline (979-845-2700) from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. weekdays and 24 hours on weekends. 24-hour emergency help is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) or at

Department Policies

University Writing Center

The mission of the University Writing Center (UWC) is to help you develop and refine the communication skills vital to success in college and beyond. You can choose to work with a trained UWC peer consultant in person or via web conference or email. Consultants can help with everything from lab reports to application essays and at any stage of your process, from brainstorming to reviewing the final draft. You can also get help with public speaking, presentations, and group projects. The UWC’s main location is on the second floor of Evans Library; there’s also a walk-in location on the second floor of the Business Library & Collaboration Commons. To schedule an appointment or view our helpful handouts and videos, visit Or call 979-458-1455.

Statement on Generative AI

We in the Department of English believe that writing is central to the production of knowledge. The written word is how ideas circulate but, more importantly, the act of crafting words, sentences, paragraphs, and essays refines thoughts into ideas that matter. As such, we strongly stand against the usage of generative artificial intelligence—applications such as ChatGPT or Bard—as a replacement for the act of writing that has been the bedrock of human knowledge for thousands of years.

Writing has always incorporated tools as well as the voices and ideas of other people. GenAI can be a powerful tool in any writer’s arsenal, but its use is not without risk. While GenAI’s ability to convincingly string words together has a place in the writing process, it also risks introducing factual inaccuracies and, more importantly, risks making invisible the important connections between writing and thinking we are cultivating in this class.

If you use GenAI tools to assist your writing process, I ask you to provide a short (1-2 page) GenAI Statement that includes the following:

  1. What GenAI Tools Did You Use?
  2. What Prompts Did You Provide to the Tool?
  3. How Did You Incorporate AI-generated Material Into Your Writing?
  4. How Did Your Use of GenAI Shape Your Thinking About the Assignment?

Without this documentation, usage of AI will be considered plagiarism and subject to the university’s academic integrity policy. Also, you are responsible for fact-checking any GenAI; errors in citation or other basic facts will also be considered a violation of academic integrity