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March 29, 2010

Forum will examine impact of political rhetoric

Throughout the 2008 presidential election, candidates from both major political parties sought to present themselves to the public through self-authored books that detail their personal and political lives. John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin all have bestselling memoirs whose texts have become bestsellers. The books pose provocative questions about the relationship between the public and private self in America’s media-saturated environment.

The Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Political Rhetoric, Media and Public Opinion will host a forum April 1 to 3 in the Hawkins-Carlson Room to examine the increasing prominence and influence of political memoirs, specifically the books’ impact on the 2008 presidential election.

“The symposium provides a forum for scholars interested in theoretical approaches to the interdisciplinary study of rhetoric, writing, culture, and politics,” says Stephanie Li, an assistant professor of English and the event’s principal organizer.

The event, sponsored by the 2010 Humanities Project, begins with a keynote address by prominent national pollster John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International. Other featured speakers include Curt Smith, a senior lecturer of English at Rochester and a former speechwriter for president George H. W. Bush; Craig Fehrman, a doctoral student in English at Yale; Amit Ray, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at RIT; Sidone Smith, the Martha Guernsey Colby Collegiate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at University of Michigan; Julie Sedivy, an associate professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences at Brown University; and Rochester faculty members John Michael, chair of the English department, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, an assistant professor of political science, and Stephanie Li.

The forum combines the knowledge and expertise of faculty in linguistics, political science, history, and English, prompting conversations among groups that don’t often have the opportunity to work together.

“Typically, this isn’t an area of scholarship where academics have the opportunity to work together,” says John Michael, one of the speakers at the forum. “The event is designed to change that.”

The forum also partners with Gordon Hutner, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and founding editor of the journal American Literary History. Proceedings from the event will be featured in a special issue of the journal in winter 2011.

For details on the forum, visit the Humanities Project Web site,

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