Four Sewanee students presented rhetorical criticism papers at the Theodore Clevenger Undergraduate Honors Conference in Nashville last month. The Clevenger conference, one of the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate research forums in the field of rhetoric, attracts students from as far away as the University of Puget Sound and Florida Atlantic University and nearly everywhere in between. All papers are competitively selected for presentation. The Sewanee contributions emerged from research projects in RHET 311: U.S. Public Address, 1620-1865, a course that surveys American rhetoric and oratory of the period. Each paper offers a close reading of a speech or rhetorical controversy in its historical context.
Chris Ryan (’18
) investigates attempts by Raphael Semmes, a Confederate military officer and envoy to Morocco, to influence British Consul to Morocco John Drummond Hay. Ryan, an International & Global Studies major, Politics minor, and Center for Speaking & Listening Advisory Board member, focuses his attention on a letter Semmes crafted in an attempt to alter Morocco’s long and cordial relations with the United States.
Cole Porter (’19), a Carey Fellow and Center for Speaking & Listening Tutor (and a finalist in last year’s inaugural Public Speaking contest), is pursuing an Economics major with Spanish and Honors Business minors. His paper, “Brooks and the Re-Occupation of Public Morality,” considers Phillips Brooks’ Thanksgiving Day sermon of 1863 as an instance of the “rhetoric of public moral argument,” and studies the
text through the lens of “rhetorical depiction.”
Julia Siebert, a Psychology major and Business minor, presented “A Rhetorical Criticism of ‘The Murder of Lovejoy,’ by Wendell Phillips.” In it Siebert reconsiders Phillips’ now famous oration on mob violence and pro-slavery rhetoric, arguing that depictions of savagery and inhumanity quite clearly highlighted the inhumanity of the pro-slavery position and functioned to stigmatize those who sought to expand slavery to newly created states.
William Merriman’s paper, “Reconstituting a Transcendent University: Rhetorical Criticism of William Giles Dix’s ‘An Address’,” was named the outstanding paper of the conference – out of 139 student submissions. Merriman (’19), an English major, Honors Business minor, Carey Fellow, and Center for Speaking & Listening Tutor, was named a “Clevenger Scholar,” an honor bestowed on authors of papers ranked in the top 10% of the conference, and won the Franklin Shirley Prize for best paper, a first for a Sewanee student. Merriman’s paper offers a close reading of Dix’s 1859 oration, delivered at Beersheba Springs, Tennessee, on the need for a new university to be called “The University of the South.”
Professors Sean O’Rourke (Rhetoric & American Studies) and Professor Melody Lehn (Rhetoric and Women’s & Gender Studies), both with the Center for Speaking & Listening, accompanied the students to Nashville. Lehn received the Dwight L. Freshley Award for Outstanding Teaching at the conference.
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