COMM 711
Fall 2011

About the Course



About the Course




Preparation for Weekly Seminars

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What is COMM 711?

This course is concerned with studying communication using "humanistic methods." Those two words are loaded. For many, divisions such as those between humanistic and social scientific methods define huge gaps that they loath to cross. For many, "methods" has the sound of the distinctive separation of academic work from nonacademic work that they loath. Part of our goal this semester is to undermine these divisions. The methods we will talk about are very human activities which mark fundamental ways of knowing that we all use in our everyday lives. You are all historians and critics and writers. Yes, humanistic methods approach work by some assumptions that define their character. Yes, the refinement we expect of our academic researchers impose standards which exceed the standards we expect from others. But to see those distinctions as the heart of what we do in conducting humanistic inquiry is to encourage a stale understanding of human activity.

In approaching an understanding of the humanistic way of knowing many skills will cross our focus. Primary among these is writing. We have all written for a long time, but true understanding of writing goes far beyond the simple act of putting pencil to paper. Effective researchers, no matter what the object of their inquiry or the method of their choice, are able to effectively communicate their ideas. Given the diversity of research methods which one has to command in communication studies these days, effectiveness as a researcher requires that one command a number of different writing styles and know when to use them: to communicate information succinctly, to bring descriptions and situational elements to life, to argue a position effectively, and so on. We will be working on and talking about your writing a great deal. Our focus will be on writing in the critical enterprise, but we wish most of all to increase your consciousness of writing as a skill.

We also will be exploring the critical impulse. Humans in the presence of the activity of others naturally seek to say "I like that," or "I would not do it that way." We look at the behavior of others, and the reactions of still others to that behavior, to learn how we should behave. Even more fundamental is our encountering an ambiguous event and using all that is around us – previous experiences, theories, knowledge about how the world should be – to understand its meaning for us. These activities are the critical impulse at work and we seek to refine the skills which define that impulse.

Then there are the historian's skills tied to the interpretive impulse. What happened? Is it significant? What were its effects? Like our critical acumen, the interpretive impulse is ubiquitous. We construct accounts of events every day in conversations both significant and ordinary. These are fundamental skills for the historian because we seek to recall, to relate our actions to those of others who came before us. We seek to understand them. Somehow this gives us a sense of where we came from and where we are going. We will be studying skills of interpreting events.

You may think of these skills as skills you will use in research if you wish. You will certainly use them to that end. But think of them more broadly as well, as refinements of skills that you will use far beyond your graduate degree.

Finally, I want to urge you to approach the course with the spirit of adventure and the boldness which accompanies it. You will be writing your ideas and we will be commenting to improve them. That will work best if you are not afraid to err occasionally in the process of learning. So, like the turtle who makes progress only when s/he sticks his/her neck out, plod forward and enjoy learning about the ways we encounter human activity critically and historically.

Who is the course for?

Any graduate student who wants to work on his/her writing and to understand the place of communication messages in public life. The course is not designed specifically for students of rhetoric, nor specifically for students of the discipline we call “Communication.” The skills are critical to such students, but to others as well. We will welcome some students from other academic disciplines and will find their participation greatly enhancing the seminar. Generally, students will find the course appropriate if they are interested in the humanistic study of symbolic behavior.

What should you know and/or be able to do after completing the course?

Let’s keep that division of the title. On the knowledge side I intend to give you a philosophical grounding in humanistic methods. Why do we do what we do? What are we trying to accomplish as we do? What assumptions do we enact as we do?

On the skill side I intend to work with you on writing. Some of that work will be specific to the genres we label “criticism” or “accounts” or “history.” But we will go beyond that to work on writing as a general activity. I only claim you will write better when you come out, not that you will cause the muses to swoon.

What will the course be like?

I expect this to be a small seminar by modern standards. I hope this will permit us to do more in the seminar meetings to have you discussing your viewpoints on important issues in humanistic research. I will identify activities to prepare you for each seminar meeting.

With the small size, however, I would like to also accommodate specific interests. My current thinking is that this is the way we will do that. I will begin by defining some standard reading and writing assignments. But then we will deviate from that standard for each of you. Each of you will have a “reading program” in which you add (yes, on this one I will add) some things that relate specifically to your interests. You will report on these to the seminar. And each of you will also have a “writing program.” Here you will start with the standard but might substitute as well as add writing assignments that would cater to your objectives. The writing program will be a major portion of the grade of the course.

How much will you hear me and how much each other during our seminar sessions? Not yet certain. This will depend partly on how our discussions go and whether I think you could benefit most from discussion or from hearing some basic stuff from me. My current plan is you will hear me less and you more.

Communicating with Klumpp

Above all you should look on me as a resource for your learning. I do know a bit about criticism, about history, and about writing. So, you should mine my knowledge and soak up my advice, turning it to your learning. And you should do that beyond the three hours a week in the seminar room. Let me list my preferences for communicating:

  1. By far the best is to drop by my office and talk about it. My door is open a whole lot, and not just to let fresh air into my office (or hot air out). Face to face communication is the most efficient way to answer your questions and to develop your understanding of contemporary rhetorical theory. My designated office hours for this semester are Tu 2-3 and W 11-12. Please check my website for weekly schedules. But remember I am in a lot more than that.

  2. If you have a single question or are sitting at home reading and need help, call me. Really! Telephone. Alexander Graham Bell. Great invention. It isn't as good as sitting in the office, but is the next best thing.

  3. Email has become my least favorite method. It is great for short messages such as setting up a meeting, but otherwise is dreadfully inefficient. For example, you don't understand something. You send me an email. But chances are if you don't understand it, I may not understand the question. Then there has to be another exchange. Compare that with the other two methods. In fact, as some of you may have discovered, my priority to email has sunk to the level that I am now scheduling some time each week to respond to email. That will make it even more inefficient. Nonetheless, email has its advantages. No telephone tag. So, if other methods fail, email me.

  4. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, etc. Don’t friend me. I don’t do it yet.


We will share two major texts for the course:

  • Barzun, Jacques, and Henry F. Graff. The Modern Researcher. 6th ed. Ft. Worth: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 2002. ISBN: 9780495318705
  • Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780226065663

I have not ordered these into the book store, but will let you order them from your own sources. I have done this because I discovered there are used sources for much more reasonable prices. I do think that Barzun and Graff particularly (but perhaps both) will be a book you will want to keep. We will use Barzun and Graff to learn about doing history. But I also recommend you read what it has to say about writing. It is excellent. If the Booth, Colomb, and Williams is better, it is marginally so. I have added it for its writing advice.

There are other books that you should have at your elbow:

  • An unabridged dictionary. Webster's is the best. Do you want a paper copy? Often it can be acquired at Barnes and Noble for under $30. That's a steal. I also use the American Heritage Dictionary on my computer.
  • A thesaurus. Roget's is the best. Alphabetized are not as good as indexed. You need to know how to use a thesaurus in conjunction with a dictionary. Frankly, although I use the computerized thesaurus every day, the indexed Roget’s is still better. It allows for more subtlety in your writing. I recommend it.
  • At least one publication style manual you have mastered. I recommend the Chicago Manual of Style for Humanistic work. Turabian is an abridgement of Chicago. I will tolerate APA if that is the one that dominates your home discipline.
  • A writing style or usage manual. The standard is Strunk and White. I use a Webster's. Some dictionaries include these and these are probably sufficient. I have found no computer substitutes for these. If you have, let me know and we will try it out.

Our third source will be a list of readings. I will put these on reserve at the library. But many of them are reprinted in one of the following if you would like to purchase either for your personal professional library:

  • Burgchardt, Carl R. Readings in Rhetorical Criticism. 4th ed. State College, PA: Strata, 2010. ISBN: 9781891136238
  • Parry-Giles, Shawn J., and J. Michael Hogan, eds. The Handbook of Rhetoric and Public Address. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. ISBN: 9781405178136. URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/book/10.1002/9781444324105

I will set up an internet site for the course, but am not certain yet how I will use it. I may well place some material on the site to expand on some of the concepts of the course. I will announce additions in class.

Weekly Activities and Seminar Topics

I am going to leave our schedule more fluid than I typically do for several reasons. Part of it is a desire to exploit the size of the seminar. Part is to let topics emerge, if they will, from your work. So, the following is a projection that may be revised frequently. Specific readings and seminar preparation guides will be posted online.

Thursday, September 1

I. Introduction

A. Administration
B. Key terms

Thursday, September 8
II. Writing Critically

A. Reading Criticism
B. A History of Critical Scholarship of Communication

Thursday, September 15

C. The Purposes of Criticism
D. Criticism as Argument

Thursday, September 22

E. Critical Sensitivities
F. Critical Categories

Thursday, September 29

G. Using Methods in Criticism

Thursday, October 6
III. Constructing Interpretation: Historical Methods

A. The Purposes and Forms of History
B. Digging up the bones of history: history as discovery

Thursday, October 13

C. Constructing Accounts: history as narrative experience
D. Testing Historical Evidence

Thursday, October 20

E. Historical Logic
F. Writing History

Thursday, October 27
IV. Writing Skills

A. Envisioning Your Reader
B. Formulating Your Argument

Thursday, November 3

C. Structural Choices in Writing
D. Creating Images

Thursday, November 10

E. The Mechanics of Writing
F. Quoting and Footnoting

Thursday, December 1

G. The art of revising
H. Matching style to research and journal

Thursday, December 8
Evaluations and Completion of Course