Narrative History of the Wake Forest University Biennial Argumentation Conference (and the "Venice Conference")

By Williams, David Cratis; Hazen, Michael David | Argumentation and Advocacy, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Narrative History of the Wake Forest University Biennial Argumentation Conference (and the "Venice Conference")


Williams, David Cratis, Hazen, Michael David, Argumentation and Advocacy


One of the seeming institutional tensions that has consistently challenged the connection between intercollegiate debate programs and their "host" academic departments is the research and scholarly production of the Director of Debate (or Director of Forensics). In the 1970s and early 1980s, when the vast majority of Directors were in tenure-line positions, there appeared to be a pressing need to promote and facilitate scholarship among Directors.

It was also the case at that time that the NDT tournament schedule featured ah east-coast "swing" in November: the Wake Forest University tournament in mid-November followed a couple of days later by the Georgetown University tournament, beginning on the Friday after Thanksgiving. To us--one a newly arrived interim Director of Debate at Wake Forest and the other a former NDT Tournament Director and also program coordinator for Speech Communication at Wake Forest--those "couple of days" seemed to offer a golden opportunity to promote and facilitate scholarship among Directors of Debate: we would host an argumentation conference on the Monday following the Wake tournament, before teams would need to travel to Washington.

And thus was conceived the Biennial Wake Forest University Argumentation Conference. The first conference was a one-day affair in November of 1982, and the second conference followed at the same time two years later. The Conference had some immediate success, and argumentation scholars no longer affiliated with debate (if indeed they had ever been) made special trips to participate in the conferences. The level of scholarship was exceptional (several essays evolving from those two conferences were published in 1990 by the University of Alabama Press as Argumentation Theory and the Rhetoric of Assent).

But a flaw in the original scheme had become apparent: the "couple of days" between the Wake Forest tournament and the Georgetown tournament were not as "dead" as we thought. Teams (and coaches) were eager to get from Winston-Salem to Washington as quickly as possible in order to take full advantage of the research opportunities uniquely available in the Capital. The Argumentation Conference was prospering, but it was not succeeding in significantly facilitating scholarship opportunities for debate Directors and coaches. We decided to "un-hook" the conference from the Wake Forest tournament and to look for dates that might optimize development of the Conference.

At the same time, a new opportunity came into focus. The International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA) was newly born in Amsterdam, and Wake Forest University had some years earlier purchased the former American consulate on Venice's Grand Canal as a study abroad facility for Wake students during the academic year. …

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