Lecture Series

The RL program sponsors nationally-known scholars of rhetoric--the study and analysis of how symbols (e.g., speeches, visuals, letters, memos, social protest, opinion pieces, web postings) influence people and so exercise power--to lecture at UWM on various aspects of leading people through language and arguments rather than formal authority.


David Zarefsky

2013-2014 Lecture

The 10th Anniversary Rhetorical Leadership Lecture entitled “Abraham Lincoln’s Rhetorical Leadership” was presented in February of 2014 by Professor Emeritus David Zarefsky of Northwestern University. Professor Zarefsky is an internationally recognized expert in rhetoric, argument, public address, and presidential studies. In this lecture, Zarefsky dissected President Lincoln’s challenges in persuading Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, a move that would abolish slavery permanently and throughout the nation not just during the course of war or only in the seceded areas. The Civil War’s impending end made the task urgent, even as seats lost in the recent election and the remaining members’ prior voting records cast doubt on prospects for Lincoln’s success. Professor Zarefsky argued that Lincoln’s rhetorical leadership in this situation combined high-minded appeals to principle and pragmatic tactics as two sides of a single coin. Most importantly, Lincoln employed rhetoric to mold public sentiment through his narrative construction of history, inoculating people with how they might respond to prejudicial arguments rather than advocating more directly, and his use of analogies.

Dr. Zarefsky has served as president of the National Communication Association, Rhetoric Society of America, and the Central States Communication Association and is former Dean of Northwestern’s School of Speech. He has published 6 books and over 70 articles. Zarefsky has earned numerous awards for his scholarship, including two Winans-Wichelns Awards for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address, one for his book on President Johnson and one for his book on the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Photos of the Event


Morris with a bronze Lincoln

2012-2013 Lecture

Professor Charles E. Morris III of Syracuse University’s Communication and Rhetorical Studies Department presented "Sunder the Children: Abraham Lincoln's Queer Rhetorical Pedagogy” as the 2013 Rhetorical Leadership Lecture. The lecture aimed to queer Lincoln memory and pedagogy in the interest of rhetorical K-12 education and LGBTQ world-making. Morris argued that schools constitute a primary habitat of homophobia that contributes centrally to devastating bullying in the U.S. Drawing on the work of queer educational theorists, Morris weighed constraints on intervention, especially longstanding and pervasive discourses of recruitment, against the prospects of curricular resistance by means of rhetorical pedagogy. Then, with a queer inflection on Lincoln’s rhetorical corpus and performance, Morris used Abraham Lincoln as the queer modality of turns on conventional thinking about his sexuality and lessons, examining what useful these might bring to the K-12 classroom. In the doubled sense of queering public address and embodying the “citizen-scholar,” this project extended and deepened what Cara Finnegan and John Murphy envisioned as “Lincoln’s rhetorical worlds.” Dr. Morris’s research interests include rhetorical criticism, queer studies, and public memory. He has twice won NCA’s Golden Anniversary Monograph Award (2003, 2010) for publishing the best article in the field. Photos of the event


2011-2012 Lecture

Kirk Wilson

In October, Pennsylvania State University Associate Professor Kirt H. Wilson presented the 2011-12 Rhetorical Leadership Lecture entitled “Imitation, Leadership, and Violence: How to Understand Racial Hostilities After the Civil War.” In the lecture, Dr. Wilson analyzed the rhetoric surrounding the birth and initial growth of the Ku Klux Klan. He posited that rhetorical leadership, which is often thought to originate from political and cultural elites, is sometimes little more than the rearticulation of widespread social narratives. He argued first that, after the Civil War, U.S. citizens debated the meaning of freedom and citizenship through narratives about African-American behavior. Second, Professor Wilson contended that contrasting narratives led to contrasting interpretations of social mimesis (imitation) in Southern communities. Some European Americans viewed the growing similarity between blacks and whites as a threat and responded violently. Southern white leaders who were not violent often rehearsed the narratives of those who were; consequently, rhetoric functioned not as an alternative to violence but as an explanation for why intimidation, whipping, murder, and arson were necessary. Finally, Professor Wilson speculated on what kind of rhetorical leadership via narratives might have helped to interrupt this cycle.

Dr. Wilson is Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University. His research specialty is public discourse regarding race relations. His 2002 book Reconstruction’s Desegregation Debate won both the Winans-Wichelns’ and the Nichols’ national book awards. He publishes in journals including Quarterly Journal of Speech and Rhetoric & Public Affairs. Photographs of the event


2010-2011 Lecture

Modern inquisition poster

On March 11, 2011, Professor Catherine Palczewski, delivered the Rhetorical Leadership lecture “Taming Women’s Embodied Argument: The Transgressive Potential of Suffrage Advocates’ Body Argument and Social Responses of Recuperation.” She argued that, although the rhetorical enactment of political leadership by suffrage advocates' body argument played a powerful role in winning the vote and reconfiguring meanings of citizenship, it did not proceed unanswered. The answers came not only through overt responses on the part of opposing rhetors, but also through dispersed reactions in the popular culture. Much as the infamous “Don’t tase me, bro” video domesticated police brutality by making it appear funny or merely a prank, Dr. Palczewski analyzed how postcard images of police reactions to woman suffrage protestors made police brutality against them funny and contained the oppositional potential presented by their protesting, hunger striking, and suffering bodies. Her insights are relevant to contemporary political protests based on the “massing of bodies ” and she challenges the notion that humor tends to be politically benign or progressive. Access the lecture.

Dr. Palczewski is Professor of Communication and Affiliate of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Northern Iowa. She is also the 2010 NCA Women’s Caucus Francine Merritt Award winner and publishes in journals including Quarterly Journal of Speech, Argumentation & Advocacy, and Women & Language. Photos of the 2011 event.


2009-2010 Lecture

John M. MurphyIn February, 2010, John M. Murphy, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois presented a lecture entitled "Barack Obama, the Joshua Generation, and Political Leadership." Professor Murphy argued that Barack Obama is unprecedented. Not only has an African American never before been elected to the presidency, but Obama did not possess the sort of military, political, or cultural experience that might have automatically qualified him for the office in the eyes of Americans. Murphy showed how Obama rhetorically adapted a powerful religious narrative, the Exodus story, and the roles available within it to assert his ability to lead the nation. In a series of speeches, Obama defined himself as a Joshua, Moses' successor, poised to lead Americans into the new millennium. In turn, Murphy claimed, citizens renewed their covenant as American citizens when they elected him president of the United States.

Professor Murphy's research focuses on American public address, with specialties in presidential rhetoric, the liberal tradition, and the Civil Rights movement. He is winner of the national Golden Anniversary Monograph Award and is a regular contributor to such select journals as Rhetoric & Public Affairs and Quarterly Journal of Speech. Murphy is especially well known for his work on the rhetoric of the Kennedys, Bill Clinton, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Photos of the 2010 event.


2008-2009 Lecture

Martin J. Medhurst

Professor Martin J. Medhurst delivered the 2008-9 Rhetorical Leadership Lecture entitled "Presidential Speechwriting and the Nomination Acceptance Address, 1932-2004" on September 25, 2008. His lecture examined the formal, functional, and stylistic dimensions of acceptance addresses across 72 years in order to identify the ways in which presidential speechwriters have influenced the creation, development, and generic expectations of this staple of political discourse. Professor Medhurst argued that acceptance addresses are a transitional form that draws from the candidate's rhetorical past while creating space for a new rhetorical future.

Professor Medhurst is Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication and Professor of Political Science at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. His research centers on studies of rhetoric and the presidency with additional specialties in Cold War and religious rhetoric. He is the author or editor of eleven books and more than 75 articles or chapters. He is founder and editor of the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs and of a scholarly book series of the same title published by Michigan State University Press. Professor Medhurst has earned numerous awards, including the National Communication Association's Distinguished Scholar Award and its Golden Anniversary Monograph Award. Photos of the 2008 event.


2007-2008 Lecture

Professor Parry-Giles

The 2007-8 Rhetorical Leadership Lecture entitled "Mediating Hillary Rodham Clinton: The News Media as Arbiters of Political Authenticity" was given by Professor Shawn J. Parry-Giles on April 16, 2008. Dr. Parry-Giles is Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland. Her research centers on the study of rhetoric and politics. This lecture drew on research for a book project examining the U.S. news media's coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady from 1992 through her U.S. Senate campaign in 2000 culminating in her bid for the presidency in 2008.

Professor Parry-Giles is the author or co-author of three books: The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism, Constructing Clinton: Hyperreality and Presidential Image-Making in Postmodern Politics, and The Rhetorical Presidency, Propaganda, and the Cold War, 1945-1955. Her research has garnered numerous awards, including the Eastern Communication Association's Everett Lee Hunt Award. She regularly publishes in top journals for political rhetoric and was guest co-editor for a special issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs on Campaign 2004. Parry-Giles also serves as Co-Project Director for Voices of Democracy: The U.S. Oratory Project and co-edits the on-line academic journal Voices of Democracy. Photos from the 2007 event.


2006-2007 Lecture

Bonnie Dow

Professor Bonnie Dow, Associate Professor of Communication and Women's and Gender Studies at Vanderbilt University, delivered the 2006-7 Rhetorical Leadership Lecture. The lecture, entitled "Rhetorical Leadership, Movements, and Media: The Difficult Case of 1970s Feminism in the U.S.," was delivered on March 28, 2007. Professor Dow's research interests include rhetoric and representation of the first and second waves of feminism in the United States. This lecture drew on research for her new book tentatively titled Framing Feminism: Television News and the Women's Liberation Movement.

Professor Dow is the author of Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement Since 1970, which won the prestigious Winans-Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address as well as awards from the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender and the Popular Culture/American Culture Association. She recently co-edited (with Julia T. Wood) The Sage Handbook of Gender and Communication and co-edited The Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers, Volume One: 17th-19th Centuries. Professor Dow also has served as co-editor (with Celeste Condit) of both Critical Studies in Media Communication and Women's Studies in Communication. Photos of the 2006 event.


2005 Lecture

Andrews lecturing

In February, 2005, Professor James R. Andrews of Indiana University presented "Rhetorical Leadership and the Struggle for an Ethical Culture." This lecture was based on the premise that civic and social values are largely shaped by history, tradition, sacred texts, and practical experience -- all of which are interpreted and negotiated through the art of rhetoric. Therefore, Professor Andrews argued, rhetorical leadership can be said to have played a singular role in defining the shifting, elusive "American identity" as well as the ethical code that both molds and reflects this identity. He developed these ideas and their implications for an ethical society using the illustrations of the 1963 March on Washington and President Woodrow Wilson's position on issues of race.

Professor Andrews, who is Professor Emeritus of Communication and Culture, American Studies, and Victorian Studies, is the author or co-author of seven books and scores of essays, many of which focus on the historical-critical investigation of American and British public discourse. His other research interests include the role of rhetoric in forming an "American" national identity and rhetoric and imperialism. The National Communication Association has honored Professor Andrews with the NCA Distinguished Scholar, the Douglas Ehninger Distinguished Rhetorical Scholar, and the Winans-Wichelns Award. He also earned the Paul Boase Prize for Scholarship, a lifetime achievement award. Photos of the 2005 event.


2004 Lecture

G. Thomas Goodnight

On March 17, 2004, Professor G. Thomas Goodnight of University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication presented the inaugural lecture entitled "Rhetoric and Risk: Problems, Puzzles and Paradoxes." He argued that the concept of risk structures public argument in the modern age. Professionals have to communicate with the client, institutional, and public levels to help people and institutions avoid, cope with, or change the nature of hazards. Before we can "manage" risk, Goodnight said, we must understand the role and flexibility of "risk" in contemporary public discourses. His presentation explored the communication strategies of initiative and containment and the challenges that they present. The examples used to illustrate centered on post-9/11 proof standards in discourse regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and terrorist attacks.

Professor Goodnight publishes widely on argumentation and the public sphere, rhetorical theory, history and criticism, and argumentation and foreign policy debates. He has won the National Communication Association's prestigious Woolbert and Golden Anniversary Monograph Awards for his scholarship. In 1999, the American Forensic Association named him one of the top five scholars in argumentation for the latter half of the 20th century. He has edited the journal Argumentation and Advocacy. Photos of the 2004 event.