Rhetoric is a way of seeing—of recognizing how we are constantly persuading other people or being persuaded ourselves. Some of the greatest figures of history have been defined by their ability to persuade their audiences to change their beliefs and actions. From Abraham Lincoln, to Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nelson Mandela, these figures have used rhetoric to change the course of history.
Through the ages and across cultures, rhetoric has meant many different things. In Western culture, the basis of rhetorical understanding is developed from the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, who described rhetoric as the art of persuasion through the written and spoken word. Our understanding of rhetoric has expanded to include images and other cultural artifacts. While rhetoric has been used to form the values of generations, it has also been used to transform those values.
For the modern student of rhetoric, rhetoric provides a set of critical lenses as well as practical advice for the analysis and use of persuasive discourse, transforming how one approaches, understands, and responds to the world. The study of rhetoric helps one think critically about discourse, produce powerful prose, and use language to affect social change.
As a student of rhetoric, one develops the tools to respond to moments of crisis and controversy in a variety of settings, whether academic, public, civic, or professional.