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Northwestern School of Communication

David Zarefsky

Professor Emeritus
David Zarefsky

David Zarefsky teaches courses in the history and criticism of U.S. public discourse, with a special focus on the pre-Civil War period and on the 1960s, and also teaches courses in argumentation and in Presidential rhetoric. Among his publications as well as six other books and over 70 scholarly articles concerned with American public discourse (both historical and contemporary), argumentation, rhetorical criticism, and public speaking are books on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and on the rhetoric of the war on poverty during the Johnson administration. He is president of the Rhetoric Society of America, 2006-2007, and is a past president of the National Communication Association and the Central States Communication Association. He currently is working on two book-length projects, one concerning President Johnson’s speech in which he announced his withdrawal from the 1968 Presidential race, and the other on the Texas annexation controversy of the 1840’s as it affected the slavery debate.


  • PhD Communication Studies, Northwestern University
  • MA Communication Studies, Northwestern University
  • BS Communication Studies, Northwestern University

Select Publications, Awards, or Grants

  • “Making the Case for War: Colin Powell at the United Nations,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 10 (Summer 2007), 275-302.
  • “Strategic Maneuvering through Persuasive Definitions: Implications for Dialectic and Rhetoric,” Argumentation, 20 (2006), 399-416.
  • “The U.S. and the World: Unexpressed Premises of American Exceptionalism,” Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation (Amsterdam: Sic Sat, 2007), 1567-1571.
  • Sizing Up Rhetoric, co-edited with Elizabeth Benacka (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008).
  • Public Speaking: Strategies for Success, 5th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2008).


  • COMM ST 220 Theories of Argumentation
  • COMM ST 325-1 Rhetorical History of the United States
  • COMM ST 322 Rhetoric of the American Presidency (Lincoln, Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson)
  • COMM ST 395 Rhetoric of the 1960’s
  • COMM ST 420 Seminar in Argumentation
  • COMM ST 425 Seminar in Rhetorical History