The 2009 Brigance Colloquy on Public Speaking as a Liberal Art


The Wabash College Rhetoric Department, with support from the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, hosted the Brigance Colloquy on Public Speaking as a Liberal Art from February 26–28, 2009. Sixteen communication scholars gathered to discuss connections between public speaking, the Liberal Arts, and democratic citizenship, with a primary focus on teaching the introductory speaking course. Their conversations focused on such topics as goals for the public speaking course, appropriate pedagogical methods and texts, and the benefits and drawbacks of extending the public speaking classroom into the local community.

Informing colloquy discussions was the keynote address delivered by Dr. Denise Bostdorff, Professor of Communication at The College of Wooster. In her lecture, “Citizens Speaking: Rhetorical Education and Civic Engagement,” Dr. Bostdorff traced the decline of public speaking’s status as a liberal art, expressed concerns about the quantity and quality of Americans’ civic engagement, and suggested specific ways rhetoric scholars can revitalize connections between public speaking and democratic practices.

Also influencing colloquy discussions were position papers the invited colloquy participants wrote in advance of the conference. Their papers covered an array of topics, including reasons to reconnect the course both to its classical Greco-Roman roots and to 21st century democracy, with its diversity and conflict; specific models and texts for teaching public speaking as a liberal art; and ways of conceptualizing the audience in public speaking.

The work produced for this colloquy joins the growing body of scholarship devoted to revitalizing connections between speech instruction and democracy. These supporting materials and resources are published here to stimulate further discussion about the important role the public speaking course can play in a robust democracy.

The colloquy was named in honor of William Norwood Brigance, a former Speech Association of America President, NCA Distinguished Scholar, and Wabash College Professor, who fiercely advocated for the importance of speech in a free society.

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