About the Course
This course is in the tradition of public orality. The character of our culture is shaped by leaders, and particularly by dramatic moments of leadership. These are times when we quite simply expect leaders to speak to us. Writing will not do. When they do, we respond to them by transforming our society. We are moved by the artistic qualities and the compelling arguments presented to us. The ability of our leaders to respond to their situations with compelling speeches is one of the marks of their leadership. This course will study such leadership and such moments.
We also want to study such leadership in a particular way. A speaking moment is a combination of many factors. An important one is the biography of the speaker. Each of us has our viewpoints and our abilities developed in a long process, the results of which we bring to the speaking moment. But, to understand the ways in which speeches in such moments alter the trajectory of history, we must understand the history to which the speaker responds. So, we must place the speeches in history, both the long term sweep of history and the immediate situation to which the speech responds. Finally, we are interested in tracking what happens because of the speech.
Obviously we are selective. We will study only seven speeches this semester (I had planned to study eight, but that just made too tight a schedule). We will study them in depth.
Which brings us to our second major objective in the course: to help
you understand how it is that scholars who seek to understand leadership
study the power of speaking. You will be doing the scholar's work. This
will be a research course. These speeches will come to you not by hearing
about them from me, but by learning about them through your research.
I will be your partner in this research along the way, but you will
be learning the process of research as well as learning about speaking.
It seems to me that you need to love two things to make this course enjoyable for you. First, you need to love history or the place of speaking in history. You will be doing a lot of historical digging. If you don't find it really interesting, perhaps compelling, to find out how people of other times and places lived, then you will probably find the course more work than enjoyment.
Second, you need to love the process of learning by digging up answers to questions. If you primarily believe in a "pitcher" analogy for education the instructor opens your brain each day and pours in the stuff then you are not going to enjoy this course, because here you will learn by doing research yourself. The curiosity and the satisfaction of learning that it stimulates has to be important to you.
One other characteristic I should mention. You will be doing lots of work with research groups during the semester. So, you need to be comfortable working with others in a group and contributing through group work. If your schedule does not permit group meetings outside the designated class time or you just don't believe in shared work, the course probably is not going to work for you.
So, who is the course for? People with a curiosity about leadership,
speaking, and history who think it would be kind of kool to dig around
in historical documents and to work with other students to learn about
leaders rising to their moment.
I suppose some knowledge of American history will aid you. You may have acquired that knowledge in a history course or through some other method including your own reading. This is not a course in history, however, but in the power of orality at moments in history. Your research will be marginally easier to get underway with some historical knowledge, but ultimately that will not be a great barrier.
Some understanding of how leaders use language to accomplish objectives
will also give you a step up. You certainly will have acquired plenty
of understanding of this process if you have had any one of a number
of communication courses including 401, 453, 460, or 461. But here again,
this is primarily an advantage early in the semester. Later in the semester,
you will have acquired this through the course itself.
You can think of the course as divided into two parts. In the first four or five days we will learn how to approach research and discussion of the speeches through which leaders influence our society. Then we will repeat a set process for studying seven such speeches, basically in three day cycles.
You will spend a lot of time working in groups and with me to develop material to present to the class. I will give you some class time for this, but you will probably also need some time outside the classroom each week. You will have four presentations, generally spread evenly across the semester (approximately every three weeks) that will be developed by the groups. There will be eight groups and four will work on each speech.
We will use class time in a number of ways. Early in the semester,
in those first four or five days, I will primarily be in charge. I will
give you some pointers on doing your work.
On the next day, we will have reports from each of the groups on their findings. Each group will have fifteen minutes to report to us. You will decide how best to do that, splitting up the task or having a single spokesperson for the group. These will help the half of the class not researching this particular speech on things they need to know to work with the speech the next class.
And then things will climax with a discussion which I will lead on
each speech. We will draw upon your research to draw conclusions about
the speeches that we study.