Literature and Social Change:
Rhetorical Activism and U.S. Civil Rights Movements

English 319
Professor Portnoy
Fall 2003

Course Description Waitlist Information

Announcements and Updates
(updated on August 25)


Course Description

The signers of the United States Constitution recognized the power of rhetorical activism when they declared freedom of expression the most important right of United States citizens. Susan B. Anthony and dozens of other women spent eight decades using the only power they had, the power of language, to ensure women their right to vote in this country. The persuasive eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr. changed this nation's consciousness as well as the experience of civil rights for all of its citizens. And although the United States did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, people like Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan forever altered the expectations and opportunities for women and men. How did these ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things by speaking up and speaking out? More broadly, how do people use language to define, reform, and even revolutionize politics and society? That will be our central question as we study texts representing a range of positions from several U.S. civil rights movements: the early woman's rights, antislavery, women's liberation, 1960s civil rights, and gay rights movements. Work for this course includes weekly readings (hard copy and online), exams, and quizzes. This course satisfies the Race and Ethnicity requirement for LS&A students as well as the New Traditions and American Literature requirements for English concentrators.


Waitlist Information

I will not make any adjustments to the class roster (i.e., oversubscribe or drop students) until after the second class meeting. At that point, I will automatically drop any student who has not attended both of the first two classes. After the second class, if there are spaces available I will authorize students who are on the waitlist and who have been attending class to register for the course until the course has again met its maximum capacity. Please do not email me requesting exceptions to this policy.


Most recent update: January 26, 2004.