Rhetoric is a civic and cultural art.

Rhetoric’s origins are at the invention of democracy in the ancient Greek polis. The Christian church maintained the foundational rhetoric texts during the Middle Ages and scholars rediscovered them during the Renaissance. Since then rhetoric has flourished as a fundamental aspect of modern democracy. At Bates, rhetoric is the study of the symbolic as it is enacted in the process of negotiation in culture, civil society, and history. The major teaches students to understand how citizens use the symbolic in processes of negotiation within democratic states. Rhetoric is both performance and a field of study. Rhetoric as performance is the ability to fundamentally navigate in the public sphere as an agent. Traditionally successful agency has included skills in oratory, writing, and debating. As the public sphere has expanded, so have the skills needed for successful agency. Skills may now be in purely visual media such as film, television, and virtual worlds. Argumentation and debate are traditional aspects of the practice and study of rhetoric, and have long been considered essential elements to a functioning public sphere. Bates has a storied history of excellence in debate, and students may study argumentation in courses or participate in competitive debate, or both. Through the Brooks Quimby Debate Council (BQDE), the Bates rhetoric program teaches non-rhetoric students basic elements of rhetorical practice and theory and enriches the public sphere at the College. The major in rhetoric offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human communication. Students complete a series of core courses in rhetorical theory and criticism, history of public address, and film and television studies, complemented by courses on language, media, and communication drawn from the curricula of other departments. All students complete a senior thesis.