We classicists tend to study ancient oratory in isolation and, at most, branch out to other ancient oratorical cultures, comparing Roman with Greek and vice versa. But after some years of being asked about my opinion on Tony Blair’s and Barack Obama’s oratory and finding that as a Ciceronian scholar I had surprisingly little to say about modern oratory, I decided to do something about this knowledge gap. This was the beginning of the Network for Oratory and Politics.
In January 2015, the Network for Oratory and Politics was started, having its official launch lecture in February: Professor Murray Pittock speaking on the Independence Referendum 2014 debate (see a recording of his talk here).
The aim of the Network is to facilitate research into and discussion of political oratory across historical periods and regions in order to broaden up the study of political speech and reach out to non-academic communities. The network aims to connect academics with political practitioners of public speech such as politicians, speech writers and the general public in an exchange of knowledge and ideas. It is funded by a Research Network Grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
We do this through a range of events such as lectures, seminar series, workshops (including Postgraduate Workshops), conference panels, blogs and Twitter. You can see the range of events and activities on the Network’s website.
The Network is based at Glasgow but reaches out to further audiences through a travelling seminar series and by recordings of presentations and blogs about events.
We have recently hosted Gillian Clark (Bristol) on late antique sermons as political oratory, Lynn Fotheringham (Nottingham) on modern biographies of Cicero, and James Martin (Goldsmith’s, London) on emotional appeal in political oratory (blogs about these events can be found here).
Our most recent event was a highly successful postgraduate workshop on analysing political speeches from antiquity to modern day. Over the course of the day, the postgraduates were analysing three speeches by Cicero, Lord Belhaven and Helmut Kohl in sessions led by specialists Catherine Steel, Karin Bowie and Ernest Schonfield. You can read a blog about the event here.
In the coming months, we have a string of events coming up (full details on the Network website): a seminar series on audiences for political rhetoric featuring an academic specialist of 18th century British parliamentarian oratory, a Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament, and a former speech-writer to former First Minister (current MP) Alex Salmond and current academic specialist in political science; a major lecture on political oratory and the creative economy, and a panel at the forthcoming Classical Association Annual Conference in Edinburgh (April 2016).
Over the first year of the Network’s existence, I have
certainly found myself much better equipped to answer questions about current political oratory: you can see my blog about the last Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons before the general election 2015 here.
If you’d like to know more or become a member of the Network, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.