Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 15:49 UK

Degree in rhetoric to be launched

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

President Obama has been hailed as a great modern orator

Rhetoric, once taught as a cornerstone of an aristocratic classical education, is to be revived as a university masters degree course.

The MA in Rhetoric, to be launched by the University of Central Lancashire, is being claimed as the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The university says it will be useful for law, politics and teaching.

As an example of its power, course leader Johan Siebers says: "Look no further than Barack Obama."

Rhetoric, the art of persuasive speaking, is described by Dr Siebers as an "old and endlessly fascinating area of study".

"In rhetoric we meet all the knacks and tricks, the schemes and ploys, people use to get their way, to poke fun, to make friends and enemies, to make things look other than what they are - for good or for bad," he says.

Articles of speech

"We want to promote the idea of considered debate rather than the soundbite," says Dr Siebers.

"Understanding rhetoric is important for citizens to be able to be function in a democracy," he says.

At the moment, Barack Obama is the finest exponent of political rhetoric, says Dr Siebers.

Wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was another great speech maker, he says. And in terms of written rhetoric, he says George Orwell was a "consummate user of rhetoric".

Among preachers, he says Martin Luther King remains a great example of how to use rhetoric.

"Rhetoric is about using the right word at the right time - and his speeches have an uncanny ability to transcend the situation," he says.

The one-year postgraduate course, taught within the media department, will begin in the autumn, reviving an ancient art of public speaking.

Classical education

Rhetoric was once taught alongside the other pillars of classical education - logic and grammar - with these three disciplines being known as the "trivium", meaning where three roads meet.

In ancient Greece, Aristotle explored how rhetoric could move listeners - such as the "ethos" of the speaker's character, the logic of the argument and the "pathos" of the delivery.

The formal teaching of speeches and oratory continued through the middle ages and into the Victorian era, where the ideals of classical Greece and Rome were held in high esteem.

The teaching of rhetoric has continued in universities in the United States and Europe, but the Preston-based University of Central Lancashire is claiming this course as an innovation for the United Kingdom.

The university says the course will give students "a comprehensive understanding of the history, theory and current status of the field of rhetoric and will be able to apply rhetorical theory and skills in a critical and reflective manner".

Print Sponsor

Edward Pearce: political rhetoric
03 Dec 06 |  The Westminster Hour

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific