last updated November 19, 2015

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COMMGRAD 6042:01 Seminar in Communication: Visual Rhetorics

Spring 2016

We 5:30-8:20 Lang 346

Catherine H. Palczewski, Ph.D.

office hours, Lang 341:


If these times do not work, feel free to call (319.273.2714) or email to make an appointment.

Description: Although scholars for many years confined the study of the available means of persuasion to the study of verbal symbols, within the last few decades, they increasingly have recognized the centrality of visuals to the study of rhetoric. This class will explore visual rhetoric and how audiences interact with those forms. The course will focus on four forms of visual rhetoric:





Beauty out of Damage

by Matuschka, 1993

Beauty out of Damage by Matushka






Kent State

John Filo, 1970

Kent State


Vietnam Veterans Memorial

designed by Maya Lin

photo by Jim Roth

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Image events:




Greenpeace anti-whaling action 1975

Greenpeace image event

These four forms do not exhaust the types of visual rhetoric, but I selected them because each illustrates something unique about visual rhetoric. Research on body rhetoric and body argument make clear that verbal messages do not exist free from a material body that creates those messages. Research on the rhetoric of photographs makes clear that images never represent a reality that is free from the influences of symbolic action; instead, photographs direct attention to a particular reality. Images can construct meaning, just like language can. Thus, monuments do more than simply record historic facts. They also direct how people think about those facts from the past, how to act in the present, and what possible futures should be sought. Finally, image events combine visual and verbal rhetorics in order to challenge the image people have of corporations and of protestors, and are structured in such a way as to elicit the attention of media outlets so that they appear on the public screen.


1) Familiarize one's self with the literature on visual rhetoric.

2) Develop a more precise vocabulary with which to describe the functions and forms of visual rhetoric.

3) Complete a presentation/publication quality paper. Accordingly, extensive time should be spent on the research and writing process.

Required texts: (available at UBS)

Lester C. Olson, Cara A. Finnegan, Diane S. Hope (eds.), Visual Rhetoric: A Reader in Communication and American Culture (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).

Lawrence J. Prelli (ed.). Rhetorics of Display (Columbia: University of South Caroline, 2006).

additional readings will have hyperlinks or be located on eLearning

General Information: see this link. This site includes my late policy, the university accommodation policy, as well as paper format descriptions. Really, you should check this out.

Assignments: The total worth of the assignments is 100 points. The individual point value of each assignment is noted in (parenthesis) immediately following the assignment title. Simply doing the base requirements of each assignment will earn you a "C" -- this means you have done acceptable work. To earn a "B" you must go beyond the assignment expectations or fulfill them in an above average way. To earn an "A" you must go far beyond the assignment expectations and fulfill the base expectations in an exceptional manner.

Page limits on all assignments will be rigorously enforced. You should spend time finding ways to write more concisely and clearly. If I find your paper long-winded, and you go over the page limit, I will quit reading. (If however, you are brilliant and keep me captivated, I may not notice). And, given the expectations of each of the assignments, you probably will need to use the number of pages required. If, however, you are exceptionally concise, then I may not notice if your paper falls short of the required pages.

A bibliography should be turned in with every assignment. It will not count toward your page limit. On the top of the page, indicate the style (APA or MLA) that you think you are using. The bibliography should correctly and studiously follow whatever form you choose (APA, MLA, Chicago). If serious errors appear on the bibliography, I will return the paper ungraded.

Detailed descriptions of all assignments appear on this syllabus. You are free to ask questions in class about the assignments, or contact me outside of class by email or phone. But, please be aware, I will NOT answer any questions about an assignment's expectations in the week before it is due. I recognize that students procrastinate, so, consider this an inducement to begin work early. This means if you have a question, you need to be prepared to ask it in the class sessions during the week before the paper is due. I will not answer questions after that time. I will answer specific questions about work you have completed toward the assignment.

Assignment Due Date Point worth
1. Intuitive intelligence assignment January 27 5
2.1 Text selection February 3 5
-- Creative project proposal February 24 -
2.2 Literature review

March 9

2.3 Critical analysis Peer edit draft due: April 13. Final draft due: May ???? 25
3. Peer editing February 10, March 23, April 20 10
5. Creative project April 27 20
4. Paper presentation May ???? 5
6. Discussion every class period 20

Assignment 1) Intuitive intelligence assignment: (10) Visual communication scholar and documentary photographer Rick Williams argues “visual intelligence is the primary intuitive intelligence because the majority of information that the brain processes is visual and most other intelligences also employ significant visual cognition. This does not suggest that visual information cannot be used rationally, but that the initial, primary response to visual cognition is preconscious.” The goal of this assignment is to encourage student to think about how to access these intuitive intelligences in same way they access cognitive intelligences. How does one come to understand the expressive content of an image? Its overall effect on what one thinks? Williams offers seven steps of personal impact assessment (PIA) that can be used to assess intuitive intelligence.We will select a common text to which all will apply this approach. However, I also recommend you use this approach when beginning your analysis of your text for the progressive paper.

1. Choose and view the image. Look at the image for a few minutes, think about the feelings and reactions it engenders.

2. List primary words that describe key elements of the images in a column on the left side of a blank piece of paper. Leave space between each word.

3. List associative words that are triggered when you think about the primary word. Basically, engage in word association.

4. Select the most significant associative word for each group of words.

5. Relate associative words to an inner part of yourself (your trusting self, your vulnerable self, your strong self, your fantasy self, your feminine self, your athletic self, your racial self, etc.). The point here is that images resonate with a particular part of your self; they call forth inner symbols. So, try and figure out which part of your self resonates with the key associative words. There is no right or wrong answer here. Instead you are looking to identify from where your personal interpretation of and reaction to the image comes.

6. Review the inner symbols that are called forward and if some story arises about your self. The story “will often reveal the inner conflicts, emotions, values, or feelings that are behind your personal, intuitive creation of or attraction to the image.”

7. Write down the story. Consider how it explains your attraction or reaction to the image. In the case of an advertisement, consider how the product advertised may resolve some inner conflict or fulfill some inner need as identified in the story.

You should create some record of each of your steps of this process, and turn in all of them.

Due January 27

Assignment 2) Progressive Paper: (35 total) The assignments outlined below constitute a "progressive paper." This means each paper you complete is folded into the next paper after receiving editing from me as well as from your peers. The first paper becomes the introduction for the 2nd, the 2nd becomes the first part for the final paper, to which you will add an additional level of criticism as well as a conclusion. Page limits include the folded in papers. You will need to learn appropriate citation format (APA or MLA), and will be expected to complete extensive revision and editing of your work on the paper progresses. If a paper has numerous typographical, citation, or grammatical errors, I will return it ungraded and the "late clock" will start ticking.

I also suggest, if this project is to become part of your thesis, that you use thesis format for all assignments, meaning wider left margin, no right justification, single spaced block quotations, and appropriate sub-headings. If you do not yet have a thesis pamphlet, one may found online. (A slight page limit modification will be made in these instances -- basically, one extra page for every 5 required).

Paper 1) Text Selection: (5) [5 pages]. Write a 5 page justification for studying your text. The justification should include:

A) an introduction that situates the topic within a larger context,

B) background on when, where and to whom the text appeared,

C) a description of the creator of the text (if relevant),

D) a description of the text,

E) a description of reactions to the text (this may include an assessment of the text's effects),

F) an explanation on why the text is rhetorically interesting, and

G) a preview paragraph that outlines your research questions (this paragraph will transform into your thesis paragraph).

If your text is not readily available on line, bring enough clean copies of your text to class so that all class members can have their own copy. Due February 3

Paper 2) Literature review: (10) [10 pages]. This paper should provide a summary of the theoretical concepts to be used in your analysis, as well as a review of others' exploration and application of the theory. This section also should include a summary of others' analyses of your text (if any) and lay out how your analysis expands upon or differs from theirs. You will be expected to conduct additional research and, in all cases, rely on primary theory/method texts for significant quotations. I want to read YOUR summary of the theory. (Footnotes indicating others agree with your analysis are fine, but do not substitute them for your own work). A comprehensive literature review of communication books and journals is expected. For a general discussion of what a literature review should do, follow this link to literature review guidelines. Link to general literature review guidelines. Due March 9

Paper 3) Critical analysis: (20) [20 pages]. This paper should take the heuristic vocabulary developed in paper 2 to conduct a detailed critical analysis of the text. Peer edit draft due: April 13. Final draft due: May ????. YOU ALSO MUST SEND YOUR PAPERS AS AN EMAIL ATTACHMENT TO CATE AT Your papers will not be considered "turned in" until you send them as an email attachment and until you also turn in all the peer edits done of your paper.

Assignment 3) Peer editing: (10) We will use peer editing as a way to improve the papers. When peer editing, you are expected to provide both stylistic and substantive suggestions. You also are expected to proofread the bibliography. Use the sample editing marks provided in class. Throughout the semester, you will have 5 opportunities to edit each others' work.

Bring two (2) copies to class: one to turn in to me, and another to share with a peer editor. For each paper, your peer editor will change so that you may get as much diverse advice as possible. Peer editors should return the paper on these dates (edits for paper 1 due February 10, paper 2 due March 23, paper 3 due April 20. Peer editors can make a copy of the edited paper to turn into me on the same day they return it to the author. Remember to sign the paper you edit so you can get credit for the work.

Note: Draft of final paper for peer edit due: April 13.

Writing only "good job" will earn your zero (0) credit for that peer edit.

Editing guidelines: In order to receive the minimum passing credit for editing, you are expected to provide the following each time you edit:

1. Substantive edits: You are expected to provide a minimum of three (3) substantive suggestions. In order to make a good substantive suggestion, it usually requires at least a paragraph of writing. Given the length of these edits, you may want to type them. These suggestions can include:

a. Additional arguments to be made. You can point to additional evidence that supports their argument, or that modifies their argument in some way.

b. Additional citation on the history of the topic. You can provide the citation for a relevant essay or book, and explain the contribution it makes.

c. Additional variables or concepts that develop the thesis/research questions. You can provide a quotation and page number from the class texts, and explain what is revealed by using the concepts from the texts.

d. Additional scholarly citations. You can provide citations for articles from scholarly journals and books. You should summarize the concept from the scholar, and then explain it.

e. Major organizational changes. You can suggest a major reordering of the paper. This is more than moving the order of two paragraphs. Instead, it would constitute an alternative way to develop the argument.

f. Major differences in interpretation. You may disagree with some interpretive move the author makes. If so, make a case for an alternative interpretation, providing evidence.

2. Stylistic edits: You are expected to make a minimum of ten (10) style edits. They can include:

a. bibliographic citation corrections

b. internal citation corrections

c. typographical error corrections

d. grammar corrections

e. spelling corrections

f. sentence rewordings

Assignment 4) Presentation: (5). During the final exam period (December 15 Wednesday, 1-2:50 p.m.), we will have a formal presentation of all the papers. These presentations will be modeled after conference presentations of papers. Students will have 12-15 minutes to present their papers. Depending on class size, the length of the presentation may be changed. The presentation should provide sufficient background on the text and outline the core argument made in the paper. The student should also provide evidence to support the main argument. Please remember to bring a copy of your presentation outline so that I can use it to take notes.

More helpful hints:

A) Do NOT simply read your paper for your presentation. The presentation should be formal and professional, but not scripted. I suggest you speak from a detailed outline (remember to include quotations from the text in the outline to illustrate the points you want to make). Please bring two copies of the outline: one to speak from and one for me. DO practice the presentation to make sure your outline fits within the time limits. Time limits will be enforced.

B) Presume the audience is not familiar with your paper, but is educated about rhetorical criticism. Thus, your presentation should include: a description of the speech, a description of historical context, and illustrative quotations from the text. Your presentation does NOT need to include detailed definitions of common rhetorical terms (i.e. rhetorical situation, persona, metaphor). However, do provide sufficient theoretical explanation of more complicated concepts so that the audience can follow your analysis.

C) Do not try to present all the arguments in your paper. You will not be able to cover everything in just 8 minutes. Instead, give a brief overview of all your arguments, and then pick one or two on which to focus the presentation.

Assignment 5) Creative project: (20) Students will be asked to create an example of visual rhetoric or visual argument in a medium similar to the one being studied in the progressive paper(so, if you are analyzing a photo, create a photo; if you are analyzing a memorial, create a memorial; if you are analyzing a webpage, make a webpage, etc.). A one page proposal for the project is due February 24. The proposal should be a one page document that details the following:

A) medium

B) topic

C) purpose

Along with the visual rhetoric created, students will be asked to turn in a 5 page self-reflexive criticism of the artifact, articulating why they made they choices they did in regards to composition, color, framing, spatial organization, light, expressive content, etc. Due April 27.

Assignment 6) Discussion: (20) Graduate seminars at their best are open and free flowing discussions, where you engage each others' hearts and minds. The professor should serve as a muse or a guide, but not a drill sergeant. For a seminar to be a location of invention, and not just regurgitation, you must come ready to talk, to think, to rethink and to engage. Otherwise, seminars can devolve into just being an instance where the professor tells you what to think. Being a good participant does not mean that you always have the answer; it can also mean that you know when to ask the right questions and when to recognize that the answers have already been offered by the class but need to be synthesized. Discussion is a central component of this class insofar as each person's analysis of the readings can be enhanced by others' insights. For a detailed description of the criteria used in the assessment of discussion, see my discussion link.


In order to be a full participant in discussion, you MUST have completed the assigned reading. I will open every class asking if there are questions, but beyond that, I will not review the readings. Instead, I will assume you have completed the reading, taken notes, and are ready to apply and analyze the readings. AnaLouise Keating (Teaching Transformation, 2007, p. 196) provides the following description of "graduate level academic practices" in regards to reading for class:

(1) I expect you to complete all readings by the date listed on the syllabus;

(2) I expect you to read the material thoughtfully and in an engaged manner;

(3) I expect you to read all endnotes and footnotes;

(4) I expect you to read (not skim) all of the required readings--even those you find "boring" or difficult;

(5) I expect you to reread those texts that you have previously read;

(6) I expect you to seek out definitions for words and terminology you don't know . . . try the following websites:

http:/// ... [added by Cate]

For those who are uncertain about their ability to participate consistently, I suggest you do the following. For each week, I would like you to prepare a discussion log, no more than 1 single space typed page for each half, due the next class period. The log should have 2 halves:

A. Pre-class: a description of how you prepared to contribute to discussion (key concepts outlined, examples developed, questions formulated.);

B. Post-class: A self-assessment of your contribution to class using the five elements outlined in the discussion link. You should attach a grade to your participation for the class period in question.

You do NOT need to use all the space. Think of the first half as preparation for discussion, and the second half as a chance to make an argument about 1) how well you did, and/or 2) how you can improve.


Syllabus: (This syllabus is subject to change, although that rarely happens.) If changes happen, they will be in hot pink. The citation format used in this syllabus is MLA.

WEEK Readings Assignments
1: January 13: Introduction to Visual Rhetoric

VR Forward (Gronbeck)

VR Introduction (Olson, Finnegan, Hope)

RoD 1 (Prelli)

2: January 20: Photography

VR 9 (Hariman & Lucaites)

RoD 5 (Hariman & Lucaites)

VR 20 (Cloud)

Zelizer, Barbie. "The Voice of the Visual in Memory." Framing Public Memory. Ed. Kendall R. Phillips. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2004. 157-186. (on eLearning site)

Supplemental Bibliography: Lucaites and Hariman blog: No Caption Needed (the early June 2010 entries are particularly good)

3: January 27: Photography and the ethics of looking

Azoulay, Ariella. The Civil Contract of Photography. New York: Zone Books, 2008. 9-30. (on eLearning site)

Azoulay, Ariella. Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. New York: Verso, 2012. 1-27. (on eLearning site)

Dauphinée, Elizabeth. (2007). The politics of the body in pain: reading the ethics of imagery. Security Dialogue, 38(2), 139-155. DOI: 10.1177/0967010607078529

Parkhill, Chad. (2015, September 9). On the memefication of Aylan Kurdi, and the power and ethics of sharing photos. Junkee. Retrieved from

Topp, Sarah. (2015). Disturbing images: Medical photography of the bodies of intersex individuals. In C. H. Palczewski, (Ed.), Disturbing argument (pp. 117-122). New York: Routledge. (on eLearning)

Intuitive intelligence assignment due January 27
4: February 3: Other still images

VR 6 (Edwards & Winkler)

Palczewski, Catherine Helen. "The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam: Visual Argument, Icons, and Ideographs in 1909 Anti-Woman Suffrage Postcards." Quarterly Journal of Speech 91.4 (November 2005): 365-294. Accessible with Ingenta.

Hahner, Leslie. "The Riot Kiss: Framing Memes as Visual Argument." Argumentation and Advocacy, 49, 151-166. On eLearning.

Paper 1 Due February 3
5: February 10: Body Argument

DeLuca, Kevin Michael. "Unruly Arguments: The Body Rhetoric of Earthfirst!, Act Up, and Queer Nation." Argumentation and Advocacy 36 (Summer 1999): 9-21. (on eLearning site)

VR 4 (Morris and Sloop)

RoD 15 (Erni)

Peer edits of paper 1 due February 10
6: February 17: Body Argument

VR 10 (Brouwer)

RoD 16 (Chao)

Brouwer, Daniel C., & Horwitz, Linda Diane. (2015). The cultural politics of progenic Auschwitz tattoos: 157622, A-15510, 4559, . . . . Quarterly Journal of Speech, 101(3), 534-558.

7: February 24: Body Argument

VR 12 (Demo)

RoD 11 (Hauser)

RoD 12 (Blitefield)

Creative project proposal due February 24
8: March 2: Image events

VR 13 (Harold & DeLuca)

Johnson, Davi. "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 Birmingham Campaign as Image Event." Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10.1 (Spring 2007): 1-25. DOI: 10.1353/rap.2007.0023

9: March 9: Image events

VR 18 (Erickson)

RoD 3 (Farrell)

Paper 2 due March 9
10: March 16 spring break  
11: March 23: Image events

VR 19 (Parry-Giles)

DeLuca, Kevin Michael, and Jennifer Peeples. "From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the 'Violence' of Seattle." Critical Studies in Media Communication 19.2 (2002): 125+. Academic OneFile. Web.

Walker, Rebecca A. "Fill/Flash/Memory: A History of Flash Mobs." Text and Performance Quarterly 33.2 (2013): 115-132.

Peer edits of paper 2 due March 23
12: March 30: Memorials

Dickinson, Greg, Carole Blair, and Brian L. Ott. Places of Public Memory. Tuscaloosa, U of Alabama P, 2010. 1-54.

VR 7 (Blair & Michel)

Blair, Carole, Marsha S. Jeppeson and Enrico Pucci, Jr. "Public Memorializing in Postmodernity: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as Prototype." Quarterly Journal of Speech 77.3 (August 1991): 263-288. (on eLearning site)

If you have already read the Vietnam Veterans Memorial essay, then read . . .

Zagacki, Kenneth S., and Gallagher, Victoria J. "Rhetoric and Materiality in the Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art." Quarterly Journal of Speech 95.2 (2009): 171-191.

13: April 6: Memorials

RoD 6 (Halloran & Clark)

VR 8 (Biesecker)

Ott, Brian L., Eric Aoki, and Greg Dickinson. "Ways of (Not) Seeing Guns: Presence and Absence at the Cody Firearms Museum." Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies 8.3 (2011): 215-239.

Ryan McGeough, Catherine H. Palczewski, and Randall Lake. (2015). Oppositional memory practices: U.S. Memorial spaces as arguments over public memory. Argumentation and Advocacy, 51(4), 231-254.

14: April 13:

Laverne Cox, 7:30 GPPAC

Draft of final paper due for peer editing.
15: April 20: Memorials

RoD 8 (Gallagher)

RoD 10 (Morris)

Peer edits of paper 2 due April 20
16: April 27: Creative projects Olson, Lester C. "Intellectual and Conceptual Resources for Visual Rhetoric: A re-examination of Scholarhsip Since 1950." Review of Communication 7.1 (2007): 1-20. (on eLearning) Creative projects due April 27
17: May ??????  

Final paper due

Presentations of final paper