Course Syllabus

English 206: The Rhetoric(s) of Democracy in Crisis

Instructor: Shane Peterson


Class Time:  TTh 2:30 – 4:20PM

Class Location: Remote instruction via Zoom

Office Hours: Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:00 am–12:00 pm (or by appointment) via Zoom


That's 2020': Photographer's California wildfire image 'a sign of the  times' | KGET 17

Course Description

There’s certainly no denying that we live in an age of perpetual crisis, especially given recent events over the past year. Some of these crises include—but are not limited to—the global pandemic, an economic recession, climate change, the resurgence of white supremacy in the public sphere, police brutality, nationwide protests against systemic racism, widespread misinformation or conspiracy theories being spread online, and entire universities or other institutions of higher learning being shut down. For this last reason, this class will take place entirely online with Zoom for everyone’s safety and well-being. And we will use the main topic of this class—rhetorical history and theory—to study and engage with some of these current issues plaguing our society.

This class will be devoted to studying the field of rhetoric, namely how people argue, deliberate, and create meaning in a variety of democratic, civic, or political spaces. We will discuss how both classical and more contemporary theories of rhetoric—dealing with inquiries of circulation, materiality, place, ecologies, bodies, affect, non-human entities, non-Western rhetorics, etc.—should be applied or reconfigured to best understand how people communicate in relation to large-scale societal problems. Some of the topics we will cover include the upcoming presidential election, the impacts of social media on the democratic process, global climate change, wealth inequality, protests, activism, systemic racism, and the COVID-19 pandemic. My hope is that we will use this opportunity to identify means of addressing these crises that beset us in ways that are ethical, equitable, productive, and hopeful.

In terms of structure, this course will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, meaning that we will hold both regular scheduled class times online and conduct remote lessons/activities to be completed on your own time. All scheduled class sessions, individual or group conferences, and offices will be hosted through Zoom. Despite the difficulties, I will do my best to make the course material as clear, accessible, and engaging as possible given the circumstances. All I ask in return is your patience with these (hopefully) temporary measures, to participate in this course in good faith, and to have compassion for others in this class and yourselves during these unpredictable, precarious times.


Course Objectives

  1. Practice critical reading skills that include the ability to critically analyze instances of rhetoric and other texts within their specific social, historical, academic, and cultural contexts.
  2. Engage in collaborative, intellectual, generative discussions with other writers, rhetors, and scholars about topics related to rhetoric and conceptions of crisis.
  3. Form complex, analytical claims supported with textual evidence in writing about theories of rhetoric.
  4. Apply these theories of rhetoric to real-world contexts to achieve generative action in the democratic process or other civic capacities.


Content Notice

Given that we will cover a wide range of intense and emotionally charged topics, self-care and compassion will be a priority for this course. We will also approach these topics through academic inquiry, research, and writing; therefore, professionalism and respect for your peers’ viewpoints, backgrounds, and emotional well-being will also be prioritized, especially those from historically marginalized communities. Finally, the intent of this course is not necessarily to use rhetoric, writing, or research to “solve” any given crisis in unrealistic ways but to learn how human communication affects (or is affected) by these crises and how to do the best we can to mitigate them within our immediate spheres of influence.


Course Texts and Required Materials

  • The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 6th edition, by
    James A. Herrick (available to rent as an eBook on Amazon, which is the cheapest, recommended option)
  • Zoom account (available for free to all UW students)
  • A working laptop or smartphone with a webcam and microphone connection (if you do not own a computer or have a webcam/microphone and are living near campus, you can rent them for free through the Student Technology Loan Program)
  • A UW email address that you’ll check regularly or that will forward messages to another email account

All other readings and materials will be made available to you through the Canvas website, which you should check regularly for readings, announcements, and other updates.


General Course Outline (subject to change)

  • Unit 1: History of Rhetoric
    • Week 1: Introduction to the Class and Rhetorical Theory
    • Week 2: The History of Rhetoric from Ancient Greece to Medieval Europe
    • Week 3: The History of Rhetoric from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century
  • Unit 2: Contemporary Theories of Rhetoric
    • Week 4: Rhetorical Ecologies, and Circulation
    • Week 5: Digital, Visual, and Multimodal Rhetorics
    • Week 6: Political and Public Rhetorics
    • Week 7: New Materialism, Animal and Non-human Rhetorics
  • Unit 3: Rhetorical Theory as Praxis
    • Week 8: Religious and Non-Western Rhetorics
    • Week 9: Feminist and Queer Rhetorics
    • Week 10: The Rhetorics of Activism and Protest
    • Week 11: Rhetorics of Hope and Resiliency


Major Assignments (subject to change)

  • Final Project Proposal, due November 9
  • Multimodal Project, due December 11


Weekly Discussion Posts

Throughout this class, you’ll be completing a series of six guided discussion board posts on Canvas that will help you contextualize, utilize, and respond to the course content. Each post should be 150 to 200 words long (or several sentences long) and either respond to the prompt directly or respond to another classmate's post. I will be grading these posts for completion (please see the "Participation Grade Contract" section below for more information), and while I won’t be directly responding to every post, be aware that I might draw upon your insights or have us revisit certain questions for in-class discussions.


Deadlines and Late Work

All major assignments and Canvas discussion posts are due at 11:59 pm on the Mondays on which they’re assigned (unless directed otherwise) and will be submitted online through Canvas. For the major assignments, if you are unable to meet any of these deadlines due to some sort of emergency, please let me know ahead of time if you need an extension, which will only be offered for extenuating circumstances. If you turn in an assignment late or are absent from the group presentations without my approval, you will receive no credit for your work, and I will not give feedback on that assignment. So please plan ahead, save your work often, and try not to put things off until the last minute.


Course Participation

For the most part, this class will be structured as a reading-intensive seminar, meaning that the reading load will be fairly extensive, and most of our "in-person" class sessions will consist of reading discussions, either in small groups or collectively as opposed to traditional lectures from the instructor. So in order to foster a productive and enriched learning environment, I will expect everyone to come prepared each day with comments and questions about the readings in order to contribute to these conversations. I would also ask that everyone maintain a professional, welcoming atmosphere for others.

Furthermore, given that this class will be conducted over Zoom, please do your best to prevent any outside distractions that may disrupt the class session and its recording, namely by muting your microphone when not speaking. (Displaying your screen on video is encouraged but not required if you are concerned about Internet connectivity, privacy, etc.). Displaying your full name on the screen for the instructor's and your classmates' benefit. Finally, we will be using a grading contract to assess everyone’s participation, which will be graded on a 4.0 scale, as described below.


Participation Grade Contract

In this course, we will use a grade contract system for participation, which enables you to be in more control over the grade you receive. I’ve created contracts for each grade option, with the obligations for each one listed on your handout and posted here on the syllabus. If you have any questions about these contracts at any point in the quarter, please come see me.


  • The participation choices for grades in this course are: 4.0, 3.7, 3.3, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0, or 0.0.
  • To earn a particular grade, your goal is to meet all the obligations assigned to it.
    • If you find out that you will not be able to meet an obligation (e.g. if a family emergency comes up), then communicate with me as soon as possible so we can discuss alternative obligations.
    • If you accidentally miss an obligation, then you must communicate about this mistake with me and do an agreed-upon “extra credit opportunity” assignment to make up for it. Extra credit opportunities can only be used up to three times. 
  • If you have any questions, you should communicate with me immediately. Please do not let confusion get in the way of your success.

What you can expect of me:

  • I will be available during my posted office hours. If I need to cancel office hours, I will provide additional hours when I will be available within one week, barring any illnesses or emergencies.
  • I will do my best to provide clear expectations for all homework assignments and major assignments and provide clarification for any questions asked before the assignment due date.
  • I will provide at least one week’s notice of any changes to the syllabus unless that change is to cancel an assignment or reading.
  • I will participate in class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • No writing assignment prompt will be posted less than two weeks before it is due.
  • If I mark any assignment as “incomplete” but you think otherwise, I will explain why.
  • When providing feedback, I will try to be as clear and prompt as possible, and I will answer any questions you have about your feedback.

Below are the contractual obligations for each grade. You can also use the checkboxes below to confirm your progress. Remember, you must meet these obligations to attain the grade you sign up for, but we can work together to create make-up work if need be (unless this becomes a habit and then we may have to re-evaluate your grade choice).


4.0 Participation Grade:

  • Participates in all class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways. 
  • Misses no more than one day of classroom activities as an unexcused absence.
  • Misses no more than one reading discussion post and turns in posts that are complete, thoughtful, professional, and engaging.
  • All major assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due. (Stipulations for “completion” will be fully articulated in each assignment prompt.)
  • Comes to at least one office hour to discuss the course content.

3.7 Participation Grade:

  • Participates in all class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • Misses no more than two days of classroom activities as unexcused absences.
  • Misses no more than two reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are complete, thoughtful, professional, and engaging.
  • All major assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due.
  • Comes to at least one office hour to discuss the course content.

3.3 Grade:

  • Participates in most class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways.
  • Misses no more than two days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than two reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are complete at the very least.
  • All major writing assignments are turned in on time and are complete by the day the project is due.

3.0 Grade:

  • Participates in most class activities with good faith, interacting with others in appropriate and productive ways but is occasionally engages in disruptive or unprofessional behavior (e.g. consistently coming in late, distracting others with inappropriate use of technology, talking about non-class related topics, etc.).
  • Misses no more than three days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than three reading discussion posts and turns in posts that are mostly complete.
  • One major writing assignment is turned in late or is incomplete.

2.5 Grade:

  • Participates in some class activities, but has a pattern of engaging in disruptive or unprofessional behavior.
  • Misses no more than four days of classroom activities.
  • Misses no more than four reading discussion posts or turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • One major writing assignment is turned in late or is incomplete.

2.0 Grade:

  • Participates in few of the class activities and has a pattern of engaging in disruptive or unprofessional behavior 
  • Misses more than four reading discussion posts and turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • None of the major writing assignments are turned in on time or are complete.

1.0 Grade:

  • Does not participate in class at all, is consistently disruptive, or engages in behavior that is overtly disrespectful to others.
  • Misses more than four reading discussion posts and turns in mostly incomplete reading discussion posts.
  • None of the major writing assignments are turned in on time.

0.0-0.6 Grade:

  • Does not complete any of the assignments and reading discussion posts and is absent for a majority of the quarter.


Percentage Breakdown

Class Participation   25%

Discussion Posts        25%

Assignment #1            25%

Assignment #2            25%


Scoring Guide

For the grading rubrics of each assignment, here is a preliminary guide for the four-point scale that we will use to holistically assess each assignment in this class as well as each weekly discussion posts. I will grade everything according to a grad school scoring rubric that scores higher than usual, under the assumption that each student will do their best to make the best version of this assignment possible.

  • 4.0: The assignment meets each criterion with mastery. Any opportunities for improvement detract little, if at all, from the assignment’s overall quality.
  • 3.9: The assignment is strong in almost all areas and could be strengthened further with a few minor revisions.
  • 3.8: The assignment is effective overall with only a few minor opportunities for improvement or expansion that can be accomplished with more thoughtful revisions.
  • 3.7: The assignment is strong for the most part but has a few but prevalent enough problems that require some rewriting on the author's part.
  • 3.6: Despite a few strengths, there are more opportunities for improvement that require more extensive revisions.
  • 3.5: All of the basic assignment requirements are met, but there are many significant errors that inhibit the assignment’s meaning, clarity, or quality.
  • 3.4 or below: Needs significant improvement on multiple fronts or is partially incomplete.

Code of Conduct

We at the English department have a zero-tolerance rule for hate speech. According to the American Bar Association, hate speech is “any speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” While this could and does apply to many groups, one of the tenants of this course is that hate speech is violence, and this violence does not impact everyone equally. Rather, the force of their impacts is dependent on systems of power. Marginalized communities and people are vulnerable to and impacted by such speech in ways that groups or individuals in power are not. With this in mind, I will specify that I interpret “hate speech” to be any forms of speech that targets already vulnerable people/communities. Racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated in this course, nor will transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism, or other statements or practices that uphold white supremacy. Violations of this code of conduct will result in removal from my classroom.


Language Policy

Class lectures and discussions as a whole will be conducted in English, and all class assignments must be completed in English. If English is not your first language and you are still in the process of learning it, do the best you can and remember that correct grammar isn’t as much of a priority as fulfilling the assignment requirements or applying the class material. Also, if you find it helpful, you’re more than welcome to write in another language for your personal class notes and talk with a partner (when appropriate) in that same language during breakout discussions. Bear in mind that many of the principles of rhetoric, writing, and research can be applied to other language contexts as well. Other resources for international students or multi-language learners (MLLs) are also available outside of class through the Odegaard Writing and Research Center, MLL Studios, and others. I will provide more information about these resources, but come see me if you have other questions or concerns.

Land Acknowledgment

The University of Washington acknowledges the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. We acknowledge the people–past, present, and future–of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh, the Duwamish Tribe, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and other tribes on whose traditional lands we study and work.


UW Statement on Religious Accommodation

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (


Disability Resources for Students

If you need any accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information can be found at Though in any case, please let me know what accommodations I can make.


Q Center
The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit .


Counseling Center

UW Counseling Center workshops include support for a wide range of issues such as managing stress as a student, dealing with depression, handling issues involving mental health, experiencing culture shock as an international student, and much more. Check out available resources Please don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help or let me know if any of these problems affecting your work in this class; I’m more than willing to make reasonable accommodations when necessary.

Writing Resources

There are two excellent writing resources here on campus at UW. Both are free of charge to students, and I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of them. The Odegaard Writing and Research Center allows you to schedule 45-minute tutoring sessions with a trained tutor to discuss your writing or specific assignments for any class. You may book these online at Also, the CLUE Writing Center offers late-night drop-in tutoring on any academic topic at Mary Gates Hall. You can find more details about CLUE at

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is blatantly presenting someone else’s ideas as your own and not citing them properly. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s work as long as you give them due credit through formal citations. As a matter of policy, any student caught plagiarizing in this class will be reported immediately to the College of Arts and Sciences, who may take disciplinary action. This is a matter I have zero tolerance for, and the university will deal with each instance seriously


Concerns or Complaints

If you have any concerns about or issues with the course, please come talk to me first. If you are not satisfied with my response, then you may get in touch with English Department Undergraduate Director, Jesse Taylor, at



Course Summary:

Date Details Due