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ERH302W Civic Discourse: ERH 302W

A course guide to assist students in ERH 302W Fall 2020

Research & Instruction Librarian

Col. Janet Holly's picture
Col. Janet Holly
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Preston Library
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, VA 24450


In ERH 302W, you will learn about rhetorical democracy as a concept and as a set of practical writing skills. You will research foundational knowledge we need in order to take rhetorical action in democracy, and you’ll write to educate your peers about this essential background information. You will also research contemporary issues in our use of civic discourse and write to argue these issues with others.

If you have questions regarding this guide or library materials, please contact Col. Janet Holly, Research and Instruction Librarian.


Assignment Paper 1:  Textbook Chapter: Using Rhetorical Resources to Shape Knowledge

For this paper, you will inform your classmates about a civic discourse topic by writing in the style of a chapter for an introductory, college-level textbook. Everyone in class will read everyone else’s final product as required course reading.

Your objectives in writing this textbook chapter are to

  • instruct your classmates in the topic by providing a summary of key facts and terms they need to know in order to be educated (see Topics and Required Content, below)
  • empower them with the most reliable information available
  • adapt to your audience’s needs for easy-to-follow arrangement and clear, unbiased language.

Length: minimum 1,200, maximum 1,300 words

Supplement to Paper 1 Assignment - Topics for Textbook Chapter

Two cadets will be assigned to each topic. You are required to answer the questions.

  1. Introduction to how local (city/township and county) government works: What are the levels and divisions? What sorts of things do local governments handle? What does a City Council do? (Include the web site for Rockbridge County and/or your home town or county as one of your sources.) 

  1. Introduction to how citizens can participate in legislation: What are the times in the legislative process at the local, state, national, and agency levels that citizens can intervene, and how can they do so?

  1. Introduction to community organizing: What are some different types and purposes of community organizing? What basic activities are involved?

  1. Introduction to online and in person activism: What are some different types and purposes of activism, both in-person and digital? What are different methods and strategies?

  1. Introduction to judging the trustworthiness of a website: How do you figure out who is behind the website, e.g. finding sponsors, locating underwriters and donors, tracking affiliations? What do you need to know about how corporations and other organizations use .org sites? How can you decide whether to trust the quality of the information on a website?

  1. Introduction to habits (good and bad) of interpersonal civic discourse: what are open-ended versus leading questions? What are body language habits to be aware of? How can you handle it when people monologue? When they interrupt? What should one do if one is a habitual monologuer or interrupter? What is “wait time” in a conversation? How do you monitor your own biochemistry during a discussion in order to exert self-control?

  1. Introduction to top influences on “news reporting”: Describe how each of the following can influence what gets covered or presented as “news”:  advocacy-based think tanks, corporate donors, political action groups, and special-interest lobbies. In addition, what is the difference between a wire service and a news aggregator?

Due Dates:

  • Sept. 14: List of Eight Sources for Paper 1. Write an MLA Works Cited page listing eight useful, credible sources that you might use in composing Paper 1. Citations must be complete; use Purdue OWL guide to MLA citation.
  • Sept. 23: Paper 1 Draft for PC (peer consultation). This must be a complete, polished draft: it hits the word count, and you’d consider turning it in as a final version.
  • Sept. 28: Final Version Paper 1


Video Resources

Find streaming video of documentary and instructional films via the library's catalog and the databases below:

All Assignments

To be added: all assignments for ERH 302W