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Reading Lincoln's Rhetoric

Leader: David Zarefsky

  Reading Lincoln's Rhetoric

David Zarefsky (Northwestern University)

This workshop commemorates the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth and the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858), the Ohio campaign (1859), and the Cooper Union address (1860).  Lincoln's corpus of rhetorical texts can be studied profitably in order to appreciate his strategic and tactical artistry in the face of difficult situations and also in order to extract his implicit theories of rhetoric.

The workshop will have two major foci.  First, it can be a writing workshop.  Scholars engaged in research on Lincoln's rhetoric are invited to circulate a draft of a paper in progress to all workshop participants in advance.  We will discuss the paper with a view to helping the author to refine and strengthen the argument.  Second, together we will examine several Lincoln texts in order to identify and assess Lincoln's rhetorical choices and methods.  Included will be several under-studied texts such as the Peoria speech (1854), the Dred Scott speech (1857), and the address to a special session of Congress (1861), as well as one or two "classics" such as the House Divided speech (1858) and the Second Inaugural Address (1865).

How the time is divided between these two purposes will depend upon the number of scholars bringing papers for workshop review.    We will spend more or less time on the textual analyses accordingly.  Brief time also may be devoted to discussion of approaches to teaching Lincoln's rhetoric.

The workshop is for any scholars who are interested in Lincoln's rhetoric, ranging from beginning graduate students to professors emeriti.  Before arriving in State College, everyone will be expected to read any papers to be reviewed by the workshop and the Lincoln texts (probably about 5 of them) that the workshop will discuss.

Questions can be directed to David Zarefsky (

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