SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Emerson and the History of Rhetoric

Emerson and the History of Rhetoric

Add to Cart

Roger Thompson


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
174 pages, 6 x 9


Additional Materials

About the Book

Much has been written about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s fundamental contributions to American literature and culture as an essayist, philosopher, lecturer, and poet. But despite wide agreement among literary and rhetorical scholars on the need for further study of Emerson as a rhetorical theorist, little has been published on the subject. This book fills that gap, reenvisioning Emerson’s work through his significant engagement with rhetorical theory in the course of his career and providing a more profound understanding of Emerson’s influence on American ideology.

Moving beyond dominant literary critical thinking, Thompson argues that for Emerson, rhetoric was both imaginative and nonsystematic. This book covers the influences of rhetoricians from a range of periods on Emerson’s model of rhetoric. Drawing on Emerson’s manuscript notes, journal entries, and some of his rarely discussed essays and lectures as well as his more famous works, the author bridges the divide between literary and rhetorical studies, expanding our understanding of this iconic nineteenth-century man of letters.


Roger Thompson is an associate professor and the director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. He is the coeditor of four books, including The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo: “De doctrina Christiana” and the Search for a Distinctly Christian Rhetoric. His essays on rhetoric and Emerson have been published in a number of journals and books. He is a member of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society advisory board.


“The scholarship behind this brief study is superior, indeed prodigious. Thompson freshly brings rhetorical history to Emerson and Emerson to students of rhetoric. Few readers on either side will fail to be enlightened.”—Phyllis Cole, author of Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism and past president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society

“I have sensed for some time that Emerson is important to the study of rhetoric—and, particularly, American rhetoric—but I have not found a thorough summary explanation of how that is so. Roger Thompson’s unpretentious and careful book provides precisely that sort of explanation in ways that offer a fresh perspective on Emerson’s rhetorical theory and practice. His examination of this Emersonian rhetoric is rich, and as he juxtaposes his findings with current research and scholarship in rhetorical studies he informs and invites further work in rhetorical theory and, in particular, American rhetoric.”—Gregory Clark, author of Civic Jazz: American Music and Kenneth Burke on the Art of Getting Along