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The Art and Practice of Public Speaking: an exploration of historical techniques


Admission requirements

Admission requirements and any restrictions.


Before the invention of the microphone, in an age that relished rich and elaborate oratory, public speakers had to move large crowds in open spaces for hours on end. How did they do this, without their voices failing? What can we learn from past techniques to improve our speech today?

This course is a practical exploration of the physicality of historical oratory using 18th and 19th-century sources as a guide. The emphasis will be on learning to speak in public, using exercises drawn from acting and elocution manuals. Rather than reading secondary literature about oratory, we will explore together how it feels to speak fluently, passionately and convincingly. The twice weekly classes will be intensive, but there will be little reading outside of class so that the students’ time can be fully devoted to practice: learning to know one's own voice and body builds confidence, which facilitates performing in contemporary styles and contexts.

Topics include:

Rising and falling vocal inflexions
musical approach (rhythm and melody)
the importance of poetry for the delivery of prose
gestures and body activation
emotions and their projection
examples of public speakers: Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Rutte, Barack Obama

Course objectives

Concise description of the course objectives formulated in terms of knowledge, insight and skills students will have acquired at the end of the course. The relationship between these objectives and achievement levels for the programme should be evident.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Choose from:

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Research

  • Excursion

  • Internship

  • Thesis BA or Thesis MA

Assessment method

Please indicate here how the course is assessed.
Possibilities (Note that in case of mid-term examinations the weighting must be specified and how the final mark is established):

  • Written examination with closed questions (eg multiple choice)

  • Written examination with short open questions

  • Written examination with essay questions

  • Take home examination/assignment

  • Active Participation/coöperation in class/group

  • Essay, paper

  • Oral examination

  • Abstract, oral presentation.

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:
the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average
the final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) additional requirements. These additional requirements generally relate to one or more of the subtests always be sufficient

Please describe how the resit will be arranged. The resit may consist of the same subtests as the first opportunity, but this is not compulsory. The alternative is to combine subtests for the resit. Offering a resit is mandatory.




Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Materials will include: Gilbert Austin, Chironomia (1806); Aaron Hill, The Art of Acting (1754); James Burgh, The art of speaking (1761); John Walker, The melody of speech delineated (1787) and George Vandenhoff, The art of elocution (1846).


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: [Naam Onderwijsadministratie](link naar contactgegevens OA)


All other information.