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Elizabeth McKinney
Dr. Tulley
10 Nov 2015
Composition, Rhetoric, and the Digital Canon: Creating a New Field
Rhetoric and composition studies have been separate but related fields since
their origins. Scholars in these fields often disagree about the significance
and impact each has for and on the other, but they have found a new, solid
connection though the still-developing field of digital composition. The first
necessity for any new field is a canon: a fundamental principle, aphorism, or
axiom governing the systematic or scientific treatment of a subject (OED).
Despite the name, the rhetorical canons comprise the steps necessary for
composing a speech or print text, and have therefore been appropriated by
composition studies. The way the canon is used in each field has become
more similar as each field accepts digital components; this has led to a
narrowing of the division between composition studies and rhetoric studies.
A review of the literature in, of, and surrounding these three fields
reveals the connections between composition studies and rhetoric through
the digital realm as well as the connections that can be seen as a result of
the development of a new canonrevealing that these two fields are actually
two parts to a whole.
First, some definitions and histories are in order.

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The canons, first written about and defined by Aristotle, are: invention
(discovery), memory (traditionally rote memorization), delivery
(presentation), arrangement (organization), and style (transition from
thought to paper). Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg summarize the canons
based off of Aristotles works in their anthology The Rhetorical Tradition.
Invention uses logos to form arguments around which a speech or paper is
built. Arrangement reveals the most effective, or persuasive, order of the
components of the speech or paper. Style is the eloquence, dcor, figures of
speech present in the text. Memory is a skill that can be trained in order to
increase the likelihood that an orator would remember his speech; often,
visual aids were used while training and while talking. Delivery involves the
use of gestures, voice pitch and tone, facial expressions, etc. that transform
a speech into a performance (Bizzell and Herzberg 4-7).
Composition studies can be traced, formally, to the New Criticism
movement in the early 1900s and the development of the Conference on
College Composition and Communication in 1949 (Bedford), as well as to the
National Defense Education Act in 1958which allotted money primarily for
educational reforms (North 11). Stephen North gives Composition an
official birthday of 1963 with the declaration of an inquiry/research model
being the driving theory behind the field (North 15, 17).
Rhetoric is a technically more ancient practice, beginning around the
fifth century B.C.E. with the Ancient Greeks. Classical rhetorical practices
have developed and been used ever since in a variety of fields, in part

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because of its
overlapping meanings: the practice of oratory; the study of the
strategies of effective oratory; the use of language, written or spoken,
to inform or persuade; the study of the persuasive effects of language;
the study of the relation between language and knowledge; the
classification and use of tropes and figures; and, of course, the use of
empty promises and half-truths as a form of propaganda. (Bizzell and
Herzberg 1)
Public speaking and civil disputes were some of the earliest applications of
rhetoric. Today, we see rhetoric also used in marketing, teaching, politics,
sermons, and many other outlets. One of rhetorics main designs, originally,
but reaching into today as well, is the set of far-reaching, theoretical
questions about the relationship of language to knowledge generated by
the early scholars (Bizzell and Herzberg 2). Rhetoric addresses the following
questions, in relation to language and knowledge: How does my
manipulation of language influence what I teach my audience? What my
audience learns? What is lost?
Digital rhetoric is not quite as straightforward and easy to define;
indeed, some digital scholars think of definitions as limiting (Eyman 12).
This is especially true for digital fields, which are constantly shifting,
expanding, and adapting to changes in technology and culture; definitions
may encourage scholars to hold back on pushing limits and testing
boundaries that otherwise would fit under the field. Nevertheless, there are

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several proposed definitions for digital rhetoric. The most recent comes from
Douglas Eyman in his book Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. The
term digital rhetoric is perhaps most simply defined as the application of
rhetorical theory (as analytical method or heuristic for production) to digital
texts and performances (13). Eyman goes on to complicate his own claim by
asking what constitutes a digital text, and how one defines rhetoric (13).
Regardless, many educators realize the significance of digital composition as
not just intellectually beneficial but as relevant, as Jason Palmeri explains
in the prologue to his book, Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal
Writing Pedagogy: I began to recognize that many students were already
composing multimodal texts outside of school, and that my composition
courses might lose relevancy if I didnt make a space for composing beyond
the printed word (2). If educatorsboth composition instructors and rhetoric
instructorswant to stay relevant, they have to update their curricula to
match students interests, abilities, and, most importantly, their daily lives.
When defining digital rhetoric and qualifying the concept as a field, it is
important to keep in mind that the field does have its roots firmly attached to
its namesake: rhetoric. As a deviation from the overarching field of rhetoric,
digital rhetoric expands on, adds to, or rejects the theories and methods
used by rhetoric. For this reason, many suggest digital rhetoric needs a new
canon to fit its own uses separate from rhetoric. Consider Collin Brookes
Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media, which renames the
rhetorical canon to fit the rhetoric of new media being practiced by digital

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composers today, or Jeff Rices The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies
and New Media, which has a two-fold purpose: to write a parallel history for
composition studies, starting in 1963, to prove the relevance of digital
composition alongside print composition and to provide a handbook for
educators who want to teach digital composition and new media.
Before I begin my own literature review, Id like to clarify some of the
terms I will use. Digital field refers to the new, combined field of
composition studies, rhetoric, and the digital realm. Digital rhetoric and
digital composition will be used to indicate the revised fields in conjunction
with the digital field. Additionally, new media, digital, and digital media
are interchangeable terms for my purposes.
Literature Review
Because the digital field is relatively new and still growing, the significant
and landmark pieces of scholarship rely fairly heavily on each otherfor both
support and dissent. Some scholars call for a new canon specific and
exclusive to the field of digital rhetoric; some call for the combination of
rhetoric, composition, and the digital; and others remain lost in the
discussion. Perhaps one reason digital rhetoricians are unable to agree is
because they are unable to decide upon the core components necessary to
the establishment of a credible field, despite their tendency to agree on the
foundational base. The difference between foundational and core here is that
foundational refers to the roots in other fields whereas core gives us the
methods and theories exclusive to digital rhetoric itself.

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One part of the digital rhetoric field has come to the conclusion that
the canon (and other traditional components of composition studies and
rhetoric) does not fit new media compositions as well as it fits print and oral
compositions. Jeff Rice, Collin Brooke, and Douglas Eyman are leading this
side of the debate. Each author presents a way to update traditional
theories, methods, or practices in either or both fields of rhetoric and
Collin Brookes book Lingua Fracta renames each of the canons,
analyzes ethos, pathos, and logos, as well as appropriates terms such as
ecology in order to make the argument that the terms we choose to label
the fields practices dont matter as much as the theories and practices the
terms embody. [The point] is to acknowledge that the practices associated
with these canons change in that context [of new media] and will continue to
do so and therefore we must be ready to embrace this change (Brooke 198).
His rewrites the canon as:

Proairesis as invention,
Pattern as arrangement,
Perspective as style,
Persistence as memory, and
Performance as delivery

Each of these terms, according to Brooke, also has an updated definition or

application for new media specifically. However, they all still have strong ties
to the traditional canonwhich is part of his argument: [lingua franca]
connotes connections, the crossing of boundaries whether linguistic or
disciplinary, for the purpose of shared interest (Brooke xiv). Updating the

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canon, but leaving the obvious connections to its traditional uses, makes a
stronger case for the validity of a digital field.
Jeff Rice, on the other hand, in The Rhetoric of Cool, presents a parallel
history of digital composition to the more widely known history of
composition studies as print-based. Although he doesnt rewrite the canon,
he does make connections to historical methods and practices. Using
cultural, literary, and textual examples spanning the years 1963-2007, Rice
argues composition studies has been composing digitally since its
conception: My re-presentation of a history (and not, necessarily, the
history) of composition studies is meant as a sub/version, for who would
think to associate composition studies and cool? (Rice 18). In his mind,
digital composition has been a significant part of composition studies history
since the beginning (with the beginning considered to be 1963). Both authors
take a long-standing tradition and flip it upside-down in order to show how
digital has roots in these more ancient techniques and practices; the digital
field does not have to be considered new when it has roots in these much
older, established fields.
James Porter aligns with this side through his article Recovering
Delivery for Digital Rhetoric. Here, he shares a purpose with Brooke; just
with a much narrower focus. By devoting his attention to delivery, Porter is
able to offer a more in-depth re-theorization of this canon, though it requires
an absence of the rest of the canon. He chose to write about delivery
because it had effectively disappeared by the mid-1900s, and insists it is

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long past time to revive the rhetorical canon of delivery . . . an expanded and
retheorized notion of delivery designed for the distinctive rhetorical
dynamics of Internet-based communications (207). His argument matches
Brookes here, in that both authors arent rejecting the traditional rhetorical
canon, but instead are updating the canon to parallel the updates of
technology. Porter outlines five koinoi topoi of delivery for readers: body
and identity, distribution and circulation, access and accessibility,
interaction, and economics, claiming not to [create] a new theory but
establishing and coordinating a well-established body of research and
scholarship under the rubric of digital delivery (211-12). His goal here is to
help establish the tools needed to effectively apply delivery, which he
considers the most important of the canons, especially in terms of digital
Douglas Eyman, with the most recent book of the three, has the first
publication to explicitly define digital rhetoric and the theory, method, and
practice behind the name. He uses paralleled histories like Rice, and
recovers some components of classical rhetoric like Brooke; but the bottom
line is Eyman is writing a manifesto, a definite proposal. In contrast, Brooke
and Rice are offering new lenses with which to look at the fields of rhetoric
and composition studies. Eyman believes contemporary approaches to
rhetoric, like the ones Brooke and Rice offer (though their works are older),
have already reconstructed classical rhetoric into such a comprehensive
system, and continues to claim these approaches tend to emphasize the

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significance of the Sophists, and a reevaluation of their usefulness for new
forms of composition, particularly those at the intersection of visual and
verbal rhetorical forms (28). Part of the distinction between Eyman and the
rest of the authors on this side of the scholarship is the difference in time:
Eyman is writing later than them (and references works from several of
them), and consequently has a stronger base of contemporary digital
rhetorical theories to draw from. Additionally, Eyman offers a long list of
intentions and goals for this book. He draws an extensive map of digital
rhetoric, a commentary on the significant literature in the field, and
connects digital rhetoric to other fields, such as game studies, humancomputer interaction, and Internet studies (9). Furthermore, he encourages
both educators and scholars in all fields to use his book as an introductory
lesson to digital rhetoric by introducing the significant digital rhetoricians,
main theories, and praxis in ways that allow opportunity for overlap among
the fields (9).
Another side to the literature comes from the traditional field of
composition studies, with authors and scholars who recognize the
importanceand historical significanceof digital composition. Cheryl Ball is
one of these voices. Her article Show, Not Tell: The value of New Media
Scholarship argues by way of a case study that new media texts can be an
additional channel for the application of rhetoric and composition studies
but it is not the only one, because print text composition is still important.
Although not necessarily explicitly connected in her article, Ball includes both

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rhetoric and composition to make her argument; this is evident in the
definition . . . new media scholarship, which uses modes other than only
written text to form an argument (404). In this partial sentence, the reader
recognizes form an argument and written text as components of a
composed text. Rhetoric also appears in the phrase form an argument. But
Ball doesnt differentiate here; in new media scholarship, composition and
rhetoric are equal contributors to the final product.
In Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy,
Jason Palmeri ignores the traditional method for looking at history as a list of
discrete events and instead looks at the evolution of composition studies
from the perspective of the remix artist; his intention is to find intriguing
[moments] and appropriate them for a different material or practice (13).
Again, the author isnt rejecting the teaching or importance of alphabetic,
print text. Rather, Palmeri claims all kinds of compositioninside and outside
the classroomare important and relevant: teachers should build upon the
knowledge of composing that students already bring with them to the
classroom (40). Therefore, if students are communicating multimodally
outside of school, a teacher will be most effective when teaching
multimodally. Additionally, Palmeri sets out three calls to action in his
conclusion. One of these is apply and adapt rhetorical and process-based
theories to compose persuasive alphabetic, auditory, and visual texts (152).
In a way similar to Ball, Palmeri isnt always explicit in the connections
between rhetoric and composition. Instead, he intertwines the two fields

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subtly, implying there is no separation at all.
Alejandro Tapia furthers this side of the argument when he claims the
methods used to compose digitally are not new, even if digital media is new.
Though this differs slightly from the rest of the literature here, it does tie in
with the reconsideration of history. Specifically looking at hypertext and
linearity, Tapias article Graphic Design in the Digital Era: Rhetoric of
Hypertext determines these two tools that provide a pragmatic
determinant of the way in which a text can be approached, one which
defines certain specific rules of syntax (9). Tapia allows for the traditional
use of hypertext and linearity, whereas Brooke says these need to be
updated in order to fit new media texts (71). Another way Tapia doesnt fit in
with these scholars is he pulls rhetorical terms and applies them to rhetorical
practices: his combination of composition and rhetoric is not quite as clear as
the others.
In a less theory-based text, and without the overt context of
composition studies or rhetoric, Dennis Baron presents a history of
technology, beginning with writing itself and moving into current-day
technologies (in 2009, when his article was published), in the article From
Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology. Baron seeks to remind
readers that writing was once a cutting-edge technology that was only
reluctantly accepted by mainstream culturejust as computers and new
media writing are facing resistance today (Pencils). This history lesson
provides a good foundation for understanding the similarities between the

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different literacy technologies that have been used over time.

Many scholars, from both sides of the argument, are reluctant to
acknowledge the overlap of the fields of rhetoric in compositionalmost as
reluctant as many composition instructors are to teach multimodal and/or
new media writing. While there is some good in this hesitation, as it allows
for definitive boundaries between the fields which further leads to definitive
scholarship, it is also limiting in many ways. Rice claims, the consequences
of that restriction are ideological as much as they are practical (19).
Branching out allows for more than just innovation. Backwards innovation, as
Baron suggests: as innovative uses for the literacy technology are tried out,
practitioners may also adapt it to older, more familiar forms in order to gain
acceptance from a wider group, is just as integral to new media studies
(Pencils). Learning how to compose videos, for example, may lead
practitioners to better understand the transitions in speeches. Another
example offered by Palmeri comes from Burnett and Thomasons cassette
slideshow assignment. This project enables students to develop
conventional writing skills and to enable students to gain experience with the
multimedia technologies of composing while still allowing the instructors to
fulfill the current-traditional goal of teaching students to compose errorfree products (98-99). When these two educators were able to move beyond
the traditional assignments used in current-traditional pedagogy, they were

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able to apply visual rhetoric as well as composition theories and practices to
a new media text. As a result, students produced texts that fit in the new
digital field without leaving the fields of rhetoric and composition.
Nonetheless, there are other complications in the acceptance of this new
One issue compositionists have with digital media is the question of
what is lost when a print text becomes digital; scholars cling to their print
texts in order to cling to the perspectives and interpretations offered
exclusively through alphabetic writing. In Graphic Design in the Digital Era:
The Rhetoric of Hypertext, Alejandro Tapia discusses the changes that take
place when analog is translated into digital.
This new technological device has changed the scene because, when
analogical data is transformed into digital data, similar variations of
different magnitudes are substituted by numerical equivalents
allowing, on the one hand, the transmission of many more signals on
the same wavelength and, on the other, the possibility of transmitting
on the same channel signals which are not in themselves homogenous,
but which can be made similar and reciprocally compatible by
reduction into numerical entities. (6)
Tapia tells us we can use alphabetic, print text to write something a certain
way and we can use digital, new media text to write the same thing a
different way. Therefore, while a certain perspective or two may be left
behind, several others are achieved. Ball hints at this in her article, by

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insisting both alphabetic and new media composition is beneficial for
students to learn, because multimodal elements and new media strategies
such as the enactment of the text through a timeline can help readers
interpret meanings made through modes that move beyond linear, print
traditions (421). Furthermore, in an example of linear writing, Tapia insists
the nonlinear allows for one kind of experience . . . but this does not take
the place of linear writing or cancel it out (9). It is possible to have many
experiences with one text existing in different forms. Consider the concept of
chora, a strategy named by Gregory Ulmer, a hyper-rhetoric practice that
updates the topoi for new media but also functions as a means of
composition, allowing for multiple layers of meaning in one word, phrase, or
even an entire text (Rice 33-34). For example, Eyman acknowledges the
evolution of the function of his book: I originally conceived of this project as
a traditional (print) text, but . . . it has evolved into a dual-natured work,
available in both print and digital formats and says in the future he plans
to implement a remix-engine in order to allow readers to use the text in
new ways by editing, remixing, adding to, taking away from, and sharing the
text (9-10). His book can exist as a print text, a digital text, and as a
multilinear, new media text that is constantly shifting and responding to a
new authors mind. There is not one correct way to read Eymans book, and
it may not even remain Eymans book for much longer. This leads,
however, to another fault reluctant scholars find with digital composition: a
lack of a way to authenticate sources or determine authorship.

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Baron hints that we still are skeptical of authors and texts on the
internet today: we have learned to trust writing that leaves a paper trail
(Pencils). Brooke blames this desire for closure, or trust, on our
institutions; scholars are forced to question the validity and prove the
credibility of references (78). This is not a new problem in composition,
though: Written documents did not respond to questions [as individuals
speaking could]. . . So the writers and users of documents had to develop
their own means of authentication (Baron). Although Baron states this in
order to explain the ways individuals proved they were the authors of a text
(by attaching personal belongings) in the 11th century, the way it is phrased
allows it to be interpreted relevant to the context of 2015 and digital
composition (Pencils). Electronic signatures and watermarks are two ways
we prove authorship and ownership in digital media. If we cannot speak our
argument directly to our audience, we must present some sort of personal
belonging, such as a logo or signature, to our new media text. This is also
done by way of copyright or usage license. However, new media texts such
as podcasts give us a direct tie to the oral tradition; in a podcast, generally
ones voice is enough of a verification of identity.
New media texts, because of their visual and auditory components,
have a stronger connection to the oral tradition than print texts do. The
transition from speech to writing, in which punctuation is used to emulate
the flow of oral discourse, mirrors the transition from alphabetic writing to
digital composition, in which visual shifts and icons embody the flow of oral

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discourse (Tapia 18). Brooke attempts to restore the dialectical character of
the rhetorical canon by telling us to stop thinking of the canon used in the
oral tradition as an ultimate vocabulary and start thinking of them as
practices that might . . . be used to understand the proliferation of
interfaces that surround us (xii-xiii). Throughout his book, then, Brooke
reinvents the canons to fit new media composition in ways that align with
the traditional, original use of the canons as dialectical, or as initiators of
conversation, ideas, logic, and action. Additionally, Porter enters this
discussion with the first part of his digital delivery framework, body and
identity, in which he compares the Romans giving a public speech, using
the body itself as a text to online authors constructing an identity through
not only gender, race, sexual preference, social class, age, etc. but also
through emoticons (212). By sending information regarding physical
appearance as well as gestures and facial expressions, a digital author
enables his or her audience to imagine the author more clearly, as if they
were all gathered together in a public space. Traditionally, print, alphabetic
text does not encourage the use of emoticons, so authors are unable to
reach this same level of presence or awareness.
Regardless of the foot-dragging among the scholars in these fields, it is
clear that rhetoric and composition go hand-in-hand when it comes to new
media. These fields have already merged in the digital realm; it just hasnt
been acknowledged. More importantly, though, the fields can learn from
each other, like Porter and Eyman suggest. Even the arguments against new

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media texts, while not unfounded or illogical, find answers in both
composition studies and rhetoric studies. Together, the fields can
authenticate and validate the digital realm as a credible means of
communication and composition.
Composition and rhetoric merge together under the umbrella of new media
scholarship and through the digital canon presented by authors such as
Brooke and Porter. In fact, Porter directly addresses both fields: my
audiences for this article are (1) rhetoric/composition scholars . . . (208). By
connecting the two fields with a backslash, Porter intimates their inherent,
parasitic relationship. Porter goes on to connect digital (technology) to
rhetoric through the term techne: defining both as the art of creating
discourse, whether speech or writing, to achieve a desired end (210). Again,
composition is tied in implicitly here; Porter does not feel the need to spell
out the bond between the fields. Brooke, too, acknowledges the relationship:
any rhetoric of new media should begin with understanding that our unit of
analysis must shift from textual objects to medial interfaces and this does
not require us to abandon the knowledge we have already achieved in the
study of writing, but it should compel us to revisit even our most cherished
assumptions about discourse and its production and reception (xvi, xix).
Brooke centers his book on this thought digital texts stem from both
composition and rhetorical traditions. New media scholars should not merely
remember this, but should apply it to their new media practices as a tool in

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Perhaps Baron summarizes the argument best when he says
computer communications are not going to go away. How the computer will
eventually alter literacy practices remains to be seen (Pencils). If
compositionists are concerned with how individuals, particularly students,
are using new media, they should get their hand in the field in order to voice
their ways of thinking about and using digital media theories, methods,
practices, and texts. The same goes for rhetoricians. The digital trend is well
underway; it is time to set aside centuries-long disagreements and realize
that both fields canbut more importantly, already docontribute to this
new field of digital media.

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Works Cited
A Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition. The Bedford Bibliography for
Teachers of
Writing. 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martins, n.d. Web. 26 Oct 2015.
Ball, Cheryl. Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship.
Computers and
Composition 21 (2004): 403-425. Web. 26 Oct 2015.
Baron, Dennis. From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology. A
Better Pencil:
Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution. Oxford University Press,
2009. n. pag. Web. 15 Oct 2015.
Brooke, Colin G. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill:
Hampton Press,
Inc., 2009. Print.
"canon, n.1." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 20
October 2015.
Eyman, Douglas. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan
Press, 2015. Print.
North, Stephen M. Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper Montclair:
Boynton/Cook Publishers,
Inc., 1987. Print.
Palmeri, Jason. Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing

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Pedagogy. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.
Porter, James E. Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric. Computers and
Composition 26
(2009): 207-224. Web. 26 Oct 2015.
Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media.
Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 2007. Print.
Tapia, Alejandro. Graphic Design in the Digital Era: The Rhetoric of
Hypertext. Design Issues
19.1 (2003): 5-24. Web. 26 Oct 2015.