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American Rhetoric: The 2012 US Presidential Election for Students of English


Admission requirements



For students of English Language and Cultures the year 2012 is an exciting one. In November the American voters will decide who becomes the world’s most powerful man when they elect their president. We have the opportunity to study the events in the largest Anglophone country as they unfold. In this course we are going to study the 2012 US presidential election from a legal, political, cultural and linguistic point of view. In the first weeks of the course we will look at what the United States Constitution says about the election of the president and vice-president. We will then study the political circumstances in which this election takes place. We will try to get an idea of what the election means to ordinary Americans. Throughout, we will draw comparisons with the Dutch electoral system. But our focus will be on how the presidential candidates use language to persuade people to vote for them. Our tool will be classical rhetoric, the art of speaking well and of persuasion, and stylistics. We will learn how to analyse the debates that we will watch on TV. We will study speech writing and examine campaign speeches. Finally, we will ourselves try to write speeches and hold debates.

Course objectives

  • Understanding the electoral system of the United States and the role of the presidency and vice-presidency in the American Constitution.

  • Understanding the role of politics and political rhetoric in American culture.

  • Knowledge of rhetoric, speech-writing, and debating in theory and practice.

  • Improving students’ spoken and written English.

Mode of instruction

2-hour weekly seminar

Assessment method

Class participation (discussions, short writing assignments and presentations, speech writing and debate): 40%; test (essay questions): 60%.



Reading list

Milkis, S.M. & Nelson M. (2008). The American presidency: origins and developments 1776-2002. Washington DC: CQ Press.
Ritter, K.W. (2003). Presidential speech-writing: from the New Deal to the Reagan revolution and beyond. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Stewart, E.C. & Bennett, M.J. (1991). American cultural patterns: A cross-cultural perspective. Boston: Intercultural Press.
Texts and recordings on Blackboard.


Students should register through uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs