American Rhetoric Frees Web Speech

Article excerpt

It's convention and campaign time--the nation's grandest and busiest occasion for speeches: nomination, acceptance, keynote, stump, etc. Most of them, of course, will be forgotten immediately upon completion, if not before. But not all: The best speeches are statements of unsurpassed historical and cultural importance. Consider King's "I Have a Dream" speech, or JFK's first inaugural ("Ask not ..."), or Churchill's stirring WWII addresses. Nor are historic speeches all historical; the most important speech of the last 10 years is probably President Bush's second State of the Union address, the "Axis of Evil" speech that presaged U.S. military involvement in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, speeches lack the bibliographical control that has organized access to books, journal articles, newspaper articles, and other content types. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that speeches are multimedia; you want to hear the speech as well as read the text. It is necessary to hear the cadences of Martin Luther King Jr. or Franklin Delano Roosevelt to understand fully the profound effect that their words have had. However, this means obtaining not only a text file or document, but an audio clip as well. This is more complicated, even with the Internet and its downloadable audio files.

Speech Study on the Web

American Rhetoric (http://www.americanrhetoric.com) is a welcome solution both for reading and listening to important speeches. It's a fascinating portal that scours the Internet for speeches and then arranges them into several useful classifications, yet it's not just a set of links. It presents speech as one part of the larger subject of rhetoric and contains other rhetorical genres, including sermons, U.S. Supreme Court arguments, eulogies, and interviews.

The breadth of American Rhetoric (AR) is explained by its academic roots. It is operated by Michael Eidenmuller, a professor of communication at the University of Texas-Tyler, and the site has several instructional resources. One is a glossary of rhetorical figures of speech, with audio examples. You already know what alliteration and hyperbole mean, but what about epizeuxis, diacope, and scesis onomaton? Look them up and listen to the sound clip; you may be able to use them in your next speech.

AR's educational mission is also reflected in its diverse content. The majority of speeches are political, but social, cultural, and business realms are well-represented. It necessarily has many speeches from alive and dead white men, but it also has large collections representing the rhetorical traditions of women, blacks, and Native Americans.

Speech Bank Portal

AR's main section is the Speech Bank, a set of links to dozens of sites collectively containing more than 5,000 speeches. The majority have audio, and a few, especially the most recent, have video. The Speech Bank ranges chronologically from Socrates to eulogies for Ronald Reagan. Key speeches from throughout Western history are included, but the large majority are from the 20th century, not coincidentally the era of recorded sound. All are in the English language (or nearly all; I didn't check every link).

American political speech is the largest category in the Speech Bank. Every U.S. president is represented, with an emphasis on those from the past 50 years. There are collections from congressional leaders, cabinet secretaries, federal agencies, and the military leadership. The breadth of political discourse is represented by collections from sources like the National Rifle Association, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Voice of America, the Cato Institute, Feminist. …