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Course of Study

  1. Three required seminars establish the context, objects, themes, problems, and methods defining the program, with special attention to leading examples of historical movements and contemporary problems.
    1. Proseminar: Designed to acquaint students with the RPC faculty and their various approaches to the field, this seminar introduces students to key theories, vocabularies, and analytics used in the fields of Rhetoric and Cultural Studies.
    2. Modes of Cultural Analysis: This seminar prepares students to engage in the cultural analysis of communicative forms, genres, and practices as situated in given contexts and historical moments. As such, it begins with the examination of some of the complex, even contradictory concepts of “culture” that have been used to describe and analyze the constitution and consequences of communicative behavior. Drawing on political economy, critical cultural theory, and the literatures on identity, subject, and community formation, this course introduces students to the challenges involved in connecting rhetoric and culture. 
    3. Classical Rhetoric and its Afterlives: This seminar attends to several of the classic texts in the history of rhetoric as it can be a tradition of erudition for the study of discourse, culture, and the conduct of inquiry, with particular regard to the problem of having to invent that tradition within the modern era. The purpose of the seminar is to help each student develop hermeneutic strategies for productive use of the historical legacy in respect to contemporary theoretical interests, institutional practices, and cultural conditions.  The course includes representative texts from Greek and Roman antiquity as well as examples from later historical periods of significant recuperations and reconsiderations of the classical legacy.
  2. Additional courses: Each degree-track student will develop, in consultation first with a temporary advisor and later with the dissertation advisor and the consent of the program faculty, a plan of curricular study to maintain normal progress toward completion of a Ph.D. It is assumed that many of the courses will be taught by core RPC faculty but that others will include offerings by CS department faculty and faculty from around the university. Students entering with a B. A. typically take 27 courses. Students entering with an M. A. typically take 18 courses. Some independent study courses can be used to prepare for the qualifying exams.
  3. Other requirements: Students without an M.A. or equivalent degree must complete either a Master’s thesis, Master’s project or written exam en route to the Ph.D. Successful completion of three written qualifying examinations, oral defense of the exams and preliminary discussion of a prospectus, dissertation prospectus, oral defense of the prospectus, dissertation, and oral defense of the dissertation. Exams are administered by the advisor and selected other faculty who serve together as the examining committee; the committee supervising the dissertation and the oral defense of the dissertation need not be the same committee as that assembled for the qualifying examinations. Students are responsible for timely completion of the degree according to University, School, Department, and Program rules, procedures, and deadlines, and should review the written regulations of the Graduate School and the School of Communication regarding these and any other pertinent requirements.
  4. Additional programming, which is provided by the program, allied departments, and University centers, includes:
    1. conferences organized by program faculty;
    2. summer seminars by the Center for Global Culture and Communication: a one-week period of intensive study of a topic with a series of visiting faculty;
    3. ad hoc seminars: one-time sessions organized by graduate students, often focused on work in progress;
    4. lectures by visiting scholars.


Seminar study is supplemented by frequent conferences and summer workshops. The program also enjoys Northwestern University’s rich intellectual environment of public lectures, workshops, and conferences.

Students receive twelve-month funding for five years and other support as well, with teaching or research assistance obligations in the second, third, and fifth years.