Welcome to the home webspace for the Arnold-Ebbitt Interdisciplinary Rhetoricians (AEIR) at Penn State.
AEIR is a registered graduate student chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA), and its purpose is to promote and enhance the community of graduate students at Penn State devoted to the study of rhetoric. Due to the history of rhetorical studies in the United States, AEIR draws its members primarily from the departments of Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS)—with a traditional focus on the practice and criticism of public speaking—and English, whose commitments to rhetoric arise from the teaching of writing. On behalf of its graduate student constituency, AEIR works closely with the Center for Democratic Deliberation, Penn State’s “nonpartisan, interdisciplinary center for research, teaching, and outreach on issues of civic engagement and democratic deliberation.”
There is no one settled definition of “rhetoric,” but Aristotle’s from the 4th century BCE is widely cited: “the faculty of observing, in any given situation, the available means of persuasion.” As an explicit teaching tradition, rhetoric extends from pre-Socratic “wise ones” (or “sophists”) to the present day. From ancient Greece and Rome rhetoric diffused throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, although contemporary scholars acknowledge that every culture, past and present, has a “rhetoric” insofar as it demands more or less consistent modes of insignia and appeal.
Somewhat discredited by “the first philosopher” Plato and long associated with scholastics of the medieval church, the term “rhetoric” fell out of popular favor during the European Enlightenment as prominent thinkers eschewed argumentation in favor of the so-called “objective standard.” However, today most rhetoricians would claim that they never abandoned rhetoric at all: they simply developed a specialized form of investigation and communication which they strategically labeled “science.” It was not until the mid-20th century, perhaps in response to the awful carnage of World War II, that the educated world once again began to embrace “rhetoric” as a positive term—even necessary, if we are to properly examine what Kenneth Burke calls “the resources and embarrassments of symbolism.” To study words, in other words, reminds one that language can both help and hurt, and we had better figure out how if we want to avoid another global military catastrophe.
Today rhetoric as an academic study flourishes both in the United States and around the world. With a rich tradition of rhetorical study, Penn State attempts to both represent and to break new ground on the national and international “conversations” of rhetorical scholars. To strengthen the contribution and community of graduate students, AEIR organizes both formal and informal events to support research, teaching, professional development, and social camaraderie.
You can learn about our projects—past, present, and future—by perusing our web site. If you are curious, we hope you learn something useful. If you would like to know more, or if you plan to visit the Penn State campus and want to meet some highly rhetorical graduate students, please get in touch with us through the Contact tab. In any case, may your experience afford pleasure and open for you new vistas of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.