Rhetoric, Reflections, and Readings: Looking Back on Senior Seminar

Starting this course, I had an idea of what rhetoric was, but not a comprehensive history of it. I knew pathos, logos, and ethos; and that was about it. Not how to apply it, not how to examine texts or movements or visual media with it. Pairing rhetoric with social and political movements is actually quite easy, though. They aren’t subtle and they’re easy to analyze –– most of the time, because the rhetor wants to be seen and/or heard in order to make a difference. That’s what made this course so eye-opening and easy to define rhetorically: Literally every single social movement that we looked at was historically revolutionary. The abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement, and women’s rights –– they all happened with a bang that continues to make huge waves in modern times.

Members of the Women’s Liberation Movement protest in Washington, D.C., in 1970.


Although all of the social movements were impactful, the ones that stuck out to me the most were the new left and women’s rights movements. I wrote a blog post comparing and contrasting Angelina Grimké and Sojourner Truth’s rhetoric when it comes to them promoting women’s rights during a time when females had none.

Something that I learned in this class, or rather, someone that I learned about, were the many people who founded social movements and were at the very heart of them. I never knew about people like the Grimké sisters before, which is awful, considering my interest in women’s rights, so I’m glad that I learned more about them this semester.

My interest in the women’s rights social movements over time contributed to my desire to write about them in my capstone paper. Whereas you can find the digital version of my capstone essay here, it doesn’t come close to encapsulating everything I wrote about over 15 pages. In short, by comparing and contrasting visual mediums like television of the 1960s/70s and social media of today, I examined the rhetoric of women’s rights movements over time, how they were defined during a specific time period, and how they’ve changed.

Mary Tyler Moore covers TV Guide Magazine (23 May 1964)

It helps that I had a Rhetorical Theory class alongside this course to help me further understand rhetoric and apply it. I actually used texts from that class with the ones from this one and they worked in tandem really well.

Overall, though, I really appreciated learning about the social movements of times gone by. I’m not particularly a very political person, but have been more interested since the election of 2016 –– not necessarily for the best reasons, either. But being able to apply rhetoric to things that appear in the news nowadays, and to politicians’ speeches, makes all the more difference. For my Rhetorical Theory class, I rhetorically analyzed one of Donald Trump’s speeches, and the revelations were quite interesting. Now that I’ve taken this class alongside my other one dealing with rhetoric, I think viewing things through a rhetorical lens will come by easier than before.

That goes hand-in-hand with what I think my “ethical footprint” is. Being able to discern what’s right and what’s wrong rhetorically, instead of just using simple assumptions and unfounded arguments, definitely changes the game.

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