Carnegie Mellon University


Ph.D. in Rhetoric requires seventy-two credit hours (or about three years) of coursework beyond the bachelor's degree. (Students with master's degrees typically take classes for about two years.) Required coursework includes five core courses, the equivalent of one course in a language or research methodology relevant to the student's research interests, and electives chosen from English Department offerings as well as those of other CMU programs. Following coursework, students complete a comprehensive exam and then propose, develop, and defend an original, research-based dissertation. Up to twelve hours of credit will normally be granted for relevant graduate work already taken at Carnegie Mellon or elsewhere; upon petition, additional credit may be granted for other graduate work deemed appropriate to the program.

Required courses are

Students may choose electives from a variety of course offerings each semester. Recent offerings have included

  • Process of Reading and Writing
  • Community Literacy and Intercultural Inquiry
  • Rhetoric and Public Policy
  • The Rhetoric of Place
  • Corpus Linguistics
  • Statistical Analysis of Text Collections
  • Patterns of English Usage
  • Narrative Theory
  • Comparative Rhetoric
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Rhetoric of Science
  • Web Design
  • The Rhetoric of Making a Difference
  • Argument
  • Information and Narrative in Argument
  • Writing and Technology

The English Department is offering a number of elective and core courses this term.

Additional requirements are:

  • satisfaction of the language and research method requirements
  • at least one directed research course
  • at least two semesters of teaching, normally including first-year reading and writing
  • a first-year performance review
  • a public presentation of a major paper during the second year
  • a qualifying examination
  • a prospectus and a dissertation followed by a public defense

The following are brief descriptions of courses in the Rhetoric core:

History of Rhetoric

This class focuses on a number of canonical texts within the history of rhetoric and rhetorical theory, beginning in antiquity with Gorgias, Plato, Aristotle and Cicero; moving through the Medieval and Renaissance reception of classical texts; and ending with Giambattista Vico in the eighteenth century. Throughout this survey we pair older works with newer ones (Derrida, Bakhtin, Blumenberg, Butler, Parker), suggesting that contemporary post-structuralism is a late episode in the history of rhetorical theory. Important themes in the class include: rhetoric as an alternative to philosopy, rhetoric as epistemology, rhetoric as a theory of culture, tropological versus topological rhetorics, and rhetorical literary criticism. [return to top]

Contemporary Rhetorical Theory

This course offers an introduction to various contemporary theorists whose works are frequently studied and employed by scholars in our field, as well as a systematic and historically informed study of what constituted rhetoric. Our readings and discussions will be guided by an important and ambitious question: what is rhetoric? With the help of contemporary theorists, we will try to determine whether rhetoric is still a discipline or rather a practice, and hence, whether it has a well-structured set of premises, methods, and goals, or whether it constitutes a fairly diffuse set of ideas, attitudes, and sensibilities. Among the issues we will want to tackle are: a) the demise of rhetoric and its subsequent revival, with the role played by modernity and postmodernity in this process; b) the relation between contemporary rhetoric and its tradition; c) rhetoric as a theory of verbal action. The foci of the course will be major figures in the field, as well as more controversial representatives of contemporary rhetorical theory: Chaim Perelman, Kenneth Burke, Paul de Man, Stephen Toulmin, Richard Rorty, Pierre Bourdieu, Jürgen Habermas, and others. Students will write two papers: a presentation of a major work or framework developed by one of the studied theorists, and a research paper addressing a question of significant relevance for rhetoricians in the contemporary arena. [return to top]

Discourse Analysis

This course explores how to move from a stretch of speech or writing or signing outward to the linguistic, cognitive, cultural, psychological, and rhetorical reasons for its form and its function. In the process, methodological issues involved in collecting texts and systematically describing their contexts are explored. Students work with data arising from their own work as well as with data provided by the instructor. Theoretical issues that may be discussed include language and ideology; linguistic determinism; speaking/writing roles, audience design and the co-construction of talk; genre; the effects of medium on discourse; speech acts and register. Methodological issues may include ethnographic participant-observation, transcription and entextualization, qualitative analytical heuristics and standards of evidence. [return to top]

History, Theory, and Practice of Writing Instruction

The course focuses on the pedagogy of writing and curriculum design. It includes a course design project appropriate for a specific curriculum and context and experience analyzing and constructing the major components of a writing course: grounding principles, objectives, course design, assignments and methods, and evaluation. Topics to be covered include the history of writing instruction in the U.S., contemporary theories of invention and related pedagogies, learning theory and its implications for pedagogy, the theory and practice of curriculum and course design, and related research. Like all courses in the core curriculum, it will include a guide to resources for further work. [return to top]