University of Rochester

EVENT: Symposium Examines Rhetoric, Media and Public Opinion in Politics

March 30, 2010

Pollster John Zogby Delivers Keynote Address at Inaugural Symposium

In today's media-saturated environment, where disagreements are fought out in the mass media and settled in the court of public opinion, it comes as no surprise that American politics has become less about the issues and more about the private lives of politicians. This is apparent not only in media coverage of the private lives of political figures, but also in many politicians' decisions to tell their own stories by writing their political memoirs.

In an effort to understand the influence many of these best-selling books had on the American people in the 2008 presidential election, experts in political science, history, linguistics, and other disciplines will participate in an inaugural symposium by the Group for the Interdisciplinary Study of Political Rhetoric, Media, and Public Opinion, on April 1 to 2 at the University of Rochester.

John Zogby, political pollster and president and CEO of Zogby International, will open the conference with a keynote address titled, "Words Do Matter and Why." The event takes place in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library on the University's River Campus and is free and open to the public.

According to Stephanie Li, assistant professor of English at the University of Rochester and co-organizer of the group, its goal is to bring together a diverse set of literary and media analysts, linguistics, political scientists, cultural historians, and political professionals to investigate the relationships between democracy and public opinion. "The relationship between political rhetoric and public opinion is a critically important topic," said Li, "but no one academic discipline can seem to adequately capture the complexities of these relationships. Our group aims to change all of that."

Other featured speakers include Curt Smith, senior lecturer at the University of Rochester and former speechwriter for president George H.W. Bush; Amit Ray, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Julie Sedivy, associate professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences at Brown University; Sidone Smith, Martha Guernsey Colby Collegiate Professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan.

Sponsored by the University of Rochester's Humanities Project, the group also partners with Gordon Hutner, 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 and the most up-to-date schedule of events, visit the Humanities Project Web site:

Schedule of Events: THURSDAY, APRIL 1
10:30 a.m. Welcome: Tom DiPiero, University of Rochester
10:45 a.m. Introduction: Curt Smith, University of Rochester
11a.m. Keynote Address: John Zogby, president & CEO of Zogby International, "Words Do Matter and Why"
2 p.m. Craig Fehrman: "Presidents and Their Books: A Brief History of American Political Memoir"
3 p.m. Panel 1: "Personal Narrative and Political Fictions"
Moderated by Gordon Hutner

  • "Reagan and the Rise of the Blockbuster Memoir": Craig Fehrman, Yale University
  • "The Boy's Own President: JFK and Cold War Latency": John Michael, University of Rochester
  • "In Reality, Who Are You?'-Dreams from My Father, Authenticity and Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory": Amit Ray

5 p.m. Reception

10:30 a.m. Panel 2: "The Identity Politics of Storytelling": Moderated by Sharon Willis

  • "Black Leadership and Race Transcendence: Approaching Race in the Memoirs of Shirley Chisholm and Barack Obama": Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, University of Rochester
  • "Running for the Presidency: Life Narrative, Political Campaigns and Fables of Intimate Ethnicity": Sidonie Smith, University of Michigan
  • "The Parallel Lives of Bill Clinton": Stephanie Li, University of Rochester

2 p.m. "The Language of Identity in Political Discourse": Julie Sedivy, Brown University
3:30 p.m. "Presidential Speechwriting and Speechgiving": Curt Smith, University of Rochester
4:30 p.m. Closing Remarks: John Michael, University of Rochester