BA Liberal Arts with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Understanding Rhetoric: The Arts of Persuasion

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC21141
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In a world that is faced with the challenges of ‘fake news’, ‘information bubbles’, and ‘post-truth politics’, the importance of rhetoric cannot be understated. Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speech and writing, and insofar as it emphasises the importance of language in shaping our perceptions of the world, it offers a useful way of thinking about the value of the arts and humanities in contemporary society.

In Ancient Greece, an understanding of rhetoric was foundational to the Liberal Arts and to the empowerment of free citizens, and the course begins by introducing students to such early philosophical and philological approaches to persuasive speech and writing. Students are then introduced to different understandings of rhetoric throughout history, before exploring its significance in the contemporary world. These ideas are delivered via a blend of face-to-face lectures as well as access to bespoke online materials from experts in various fields from the arts to statistics, politics, and psychology. Students will be able to engage with these ideas through online exercises and group activities.

In addition to understanding the role of rhetoric in shaping past, present, and future societies, students will also have the opportunity to develop and reflect on their own persuasive speech and writing by preparing for and participating in formal debates. Face-to-face workshops throughout the course will train students how to use debating rhetoric, and this will develop important skills for further academic research as well as in a range of careers including (but not limited to) politics, law, and media.


Upon successful completion of the course, students will:

  • Understand what rhetoric is and why it is important in shaping past, present, and future societies
  • Be familiar with a range of classical and historical approaches to rhetoric from Ancient Greece to contemporary times, including global and non-western perspectives
  • Develop a critical understanding of the uses of rhetoric in fields such as politics, advertising, and media

Teaching and learning methods

Some of the lectures for this unit will be delivered online.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understanding of different approaches and historical/philosophical attitudes to rhetoric
  • Ability to demonstrate the significance of these different approaches for contemporary issues
  • Awareness of the links between rhetoric and truth as important broad issues that affect the development and restriction of free citizens

Intellectual skills

  • Understanding of what makes effective and persuasive speech/writing, according to different philosophical approaches to rhetoric
  • Ability to critically analyse the rhetoric of different texts, including those in the public sphere
  • Development of source handling skills through engagement with a wide variety of texts from ancient to contemporary cultures

Practical skills

  • Group-working skills
  • Debating skills
  • Independent research skills
  • Persuasive and argumentative writing skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Ability to critique and evaluate the successfulness of different arguments
  • Critical awareness of the role of rhetoric in the contemporary world
  • Application of knowledge about rhetoric to development of own writing

Employability skills

¿ Debating skills, which apply to a broad range of careers ¿ Written and oral communication skills, which apply to a broad range of careers ¿ Understanding of the role of rhetoric in the public sphere, which is especially important for careers in politics, media, law ¿ Ability to construct an effective argument, which is especially important for research careers

Assessment methods

Source analysis


Debate portfolio


Research essay



Feedback methods

Peer feedback in class discussions during lectures, and formative seminar debates


Written feedback on assessments

Formative and summative

Oral feedback during classes and office hours



Recommended reading

Sources that will help students to familiarise themselves with issues raised throughout the course include:

  • Sam Leith, You Talkin’ to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama
  • Sam Leith, Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama
  • John Mitchell et al., Trivium: The Classical Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic & Rhetoric
  • Richard Toye, Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction
  • Thomas Habinek, Ancient Rhetoric: From Aristotle to Philostratus
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue
  • David Kelley, The Art of Reasoning: An Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking
  • Gavin Faribairn and Christopher Winch, Reading, Writing and Reasoning: A Guide for Students

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Scott Midson Unit coordinator

Additional notes

A UCIL-coded version of this course is also being developed; students would not be able to take both courses.

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