Graduate Spring 2023: Michael Young

The Sophistic Gambit: Dale Carnegie at the Origins of Speech Communication

Department of English

What does it mean to sell training in the art of rhetoric? This question was posed by ancient critics of the sophists in fifth century Greece, and it was also a major preoccupation of the founders of Speech as an academic discipline early in the twentieth century. This project, part of a larger dissertation on the history of commercial rhetorical education in America, revisits the controversy over fees, quackery, and elocutionism at the origins of disciplinary Speech in the context of larger developments in the public sphere that also changed the culture of commercial speech training. Understanding this context provides a fresh perspective on some of academic Speech’s foundational debates, and it also illuminates the function of an elusive rhetorical device that I call the sophistic gambit. Studying this device, I argue, can help rhetorical critics understand the complex entanglements of rhetorical education, social movements, and political culture in American history.