Complete Story


Jerry Murphy

1923 – † 2021

James J. Murphy was, together with Marc Fumaroli, Anton D. Leeman, Alain Michel, Heinrich F. Plett, and Brian Vickers, one of the founders of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric (ISHR) at Zurich on 30 June 1977. He was President of the Society in 1979-1981, one of the Founding Members of the Society's journal Rhetorica, and Rhetorica's first Editor (1983-1987). He was also a Life Member of the Society.

Jerry Murphy taught at St. Mary’s College (California), Stanford University, and Princeton University, before settling down at the University of California, Davis, where he taught from 1965 until his retirement; he remained active in the university community until the very last years of his life. At Davis, he founded the Department of Rhetoric, which later became the Department of Communication. His primary interest was in the history of language use. In addition to medieval English literature, his research lay in the history of rhetoric in the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance periods, as well as the history of the pedagogy of language use including writing.

Jerry Murphy is the author of 75 journal articles and book chapters. Among his numerous book publications, he listed as his favourites Teaching Urban Youth (1967, ed. with Peter Kontos); The Debater’s Guide (1961; 4th edition, 2011, with Jon M. Ericson and Raymond Zeuschner), now available in Korean and Chinese; Rhetoric in the Middle Ages (1974, 2001), now available also in Spanish, Italian, and Polish; Medieval Eloquence (editor, 1978); Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts (editor and translator, 1971); Medieval Rhetoric: A Select Bibliography (1971, 1989); The Rhetorical Tradition and Modern Writing (editor, 1982); Renaissance Eloquence (editor, 1983), now available in Italian; Arguments in Rhetoric Against Quintilian, by Peter Ramus (editor and translator with Carole Newlands, 1986); Quintilian on the Teaching of Writing and Speaking (editor and translator with Cleve Wiese, 2015); A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric (with Richard Katula and Michael Hoppman, 4th ed., 2013); Renaissance Rhetoric: A Short Title Catalogue, 1450-1700 (ed. with Lawrence Greene, 2006); Demosthenes on the Crown: Rhetorical Perspectives (editor, 2016); Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A Bibliographic Supplement (2019); A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to the Modern United States (4th ed., with Christopher Thaiss, 2020); The Oxford Handbook of Quintilian (2021, with Marc van der Poel and Mike Edwards).

He was founder and publisher (1983-95) of Hermagoras Press, now an imprint of Routledge Publishing, and co-editor (with Krista Ratcliffe of Arizona State University) of the book series Landmark Essays, published by Routledge. He was a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, a Distinguished Scholar in the National Communication Association, a Fellow of the Rhetoric Society of America, and Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (France). He has been awarded the Papal medal, Benemerenti.

Jerry Murphy was a unique leader in his discipline, and it is impossible to overstate his importance for our Society.


Thank you, Jerry, for your companionship and the lively conversations we had over the years. We remember with special fondness your visit to Nijmegen, where Erdinger and Quintilian proved a well-matched couple.

Bé Breij and Marc van der Poel

It's impossible to say how much Jerry Murphy has meant to me and to the study of medieval rhetoric. I first wrote to him as a graduate student, in early 1975, as soon as I had finished reading his just-published, field-defining 1974 book Rhetoric in the Middle Ages. The last time he wrote to me was 19 December 2021, less than a week before he died. Over the years Jerry became first a generous mentor who advanced my early career in countless ways and eventually a dear friend who never missed an opportunity to share a drink or a meal and some lively conversation. For all his many books and articles, he always seemed to derive the greatest satisfaction from bringing together scholars who shared his fascination with the history of rhetoric. His living and lasting legacy is the global community that he helped to create as a founder of ISHR.

Martin Camargo


I know that many people will repeat these sentiments about Jerry, with different details. His Rhetoric in the Middle Ages has conditioned my work for forty years. I knew him from the very beginning of my career in the 1980’s. He was as respectful of early-career scholars who hadn’t yet proved themselves as he was of the distinguished colleagues of his own generation. He encouraged all, he shared valuable resources and knowledge, and he was enthusiastic in his reception of others’ work. He was utterly genial and boundlessly energetic to take on new projects. He knew so much that, borrowing Shakespeare’s description of Marc Antony, realms of knowledge were as plates dropp’d from his pocket. He got in touch with me in late 2021, asking to see a table of contents for my new project, and as always he was as eloquent in his praise as he was acute in his questioning. I am very grateful that I had those last communications with him before he left us so suddenly. 

Rita Copeland


Jerry Murphy was like a father to me. After completing graduate studies at University of Oregon in two areas – Middle English literature and Rhetoric and Composition – I began my career hoping to focus on medieval rhetoric, but I had never had an advisor in the field. Jerry kindly stepped into that role. We met at the Medieval Association of the Pacific, another society that Jerry co-founded, where he laughed a little at my respect for John Gower's rhetorical knowledge but nevertheless gave me tips about likely projects. He would meet me in Oxford for lunch to advise about medieval manuscripts, and once he showed up unannounced at the International Medieval Sermons Studies Symposium to hear my paper. He caused quite a stir, and I do believe the audience was more attentive than usual. He used his position to help other scholars, and I loved him for it. Several officers of the Medieval Association of the Pacific were grateful to be able to honor him at the society's fiftieth meeting at UC Davis, where Jerry had taught. A panel after the banquet became like a comedy club, with all the speakers competing to cast their praises for Jerry in the most humorous turn. Jerry rose to thank us, and for all at ISHR who have heard his witty orations, it is unnecessary to identify who gave the most masterful and amusing speech of all.

Georgiana Donavin


I met Jerry Murphy at the ISHR conference in Saskatoon, and we became good friends. Some years later, it was a tremendous pleasure and privilege to work with him and Marc van der Poel on the Oxford Handbook of Quintilian. Jerry was a fine scholar, but just as importantly he was, as the Greeks put it, a kalos kagathos: a gentleman.

Mike Edwards


In his lovely encomium to Jerry Murphy in the most recent volume of Rhetorica, Don Paul Abbott acknowledges his magisterial scholarly record but focuses his remarks more on the deep influences Jerry Murphy has had on individuals and groups, through founding learned societies, journals, and even a publishing house, and in particular, his work as an indefatigable mentor and sponsor. He notes that Jerry was active right up to the very end, receiving his newest work, the Oxford Handbook of Quintilian, co-edited with Marc van der Poel and Mike Edwards, a week before he died. This project, like so many others, speaks to Jerry as “an impresario, and organizer, and a promoter of rhetorical scholarship that benefitted many individual careers and the development of the field itself.”  The recent development of ISSJR is a perfect example – indeed, we are his last new society.
While most of us have been deeply informed by his scholarship across the years and have our own stories of encountering Jerry and his work, a series of informal discussions with him at an ISHR meeting in Chicago led to his work with American scholars on the collection Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies (Fordham Press, 2016). But he knew the work we had started was international, global in scope, and he helped work his impresario magic to create a space for us all at ISHR in Tubingen in 2015. There we offered an open invitation for interested scholars to join us for lunch. About twenty people RSVP’d. About forty people showed up. And Jerry did what Jerry did – he rolled up his sleeves, helped cut the sandwiches in half and serving them to the crowd! It was a 21st century version of the story of loaves and fishes.
By the end of the conference a small working group had been organized and we knew we would become a new scholarly community, connected to ISHR. We held our first formal set of meetings at ISHR London in 2017 and formalized our bylaws in 2019 at ISHR New Orleans and offer several panels at each biennial conference. Jerry was always there in person or in spirit, organizing, encouraging, sometimes even goading if he thought the work was too slow, but always inspiring us with his vision for the future of this new area of work, which he saw as rich and significant.
Even as his health began to fail, he kept us in mind and urged us along.  In a letter dated November 20, 2021 (just a few weeks before he died) his opening line was: “How is our Jesuit project coming along?”  We owe him all our respect and gratitude, and ISSHR will try to repay his efforts by offering our best labors to realize the vision he had for us.

International Society for the Study of Jesuit Rhetoric


‘Never leave home without rhetoric’ was Jerry Murphy’s commitment. Now he has left us, but he has not left rhetoric without home. He has built it a home in ISHR. Jerry Murphy truly was ISHR.

Manfred Kraus


Words are just words, but Rhetoric is much more. Who can deny that the name citizen, even with all its meaning, can only move us on the right lips, as pronounced by Cicero or Mark Anthony? Bur Rhetoric is much, more than inspiration, it can also change reality and drive History: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

María Asunción Sánchez Manzano

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