I moved to Texas in the summer of 1997–my first experience of living west of the Mississippi or south of the Mason-Dixon line. I was previously on the faculty at Penn State for 11 years, where I taught techical and business writing, argumentation, and courses on the processes of reading and writing and the rhetoric of science. I started out studying linguistics in college at Brandeis University and went on for a master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There I began teaching writing, an experience that inspired me to look at texts bigger than sentences, and at how people read and write them. So I moved to Pittsburgh and began studying rhetoric and composition at Carnegie Mellon University.
I became interested in technical and scientific writing after spending a summer at Apple Computer working on a manual for a spreadsheet program. I ended up doing research for my dissertation on how to design computer manuals that people can actually learn from. After that I did some research on job resumes and work order forms. The basic questions were always–what was it in the text that readers need or want to see? How do writers move readers to see things their way? To get at those questions, I ended up doing even more inter-disciplinary work, combining rhetoric and composition with linguistics and cognitive psychology. I also became interested in writing in the disciplines: how members of professional communities (like scientists) learn to persuade each other with their writing. This led to some consulting work with Southwestern University administrators who were trying to support faculty integrating more writing into their classes. I’m most proud that a large handful of former students have published work on the rhetoric of linguistics, English studies, and the sciences.
Since 2011, I have turned toward work in Jewish studies applying contemporary rhetorical theory to the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Psalms and Jewish liturgy. This work has appeared in biblical studies journals and in a 2015 book, Persuading God: Rhetorical Studies of First-Person Psalms published by Sheffield-Phoenix Press. I spent spring 2017 visiting the Bible Studies department at Tel Aviv University supported by a Fulbright Fellowship. My current project is tracing how psalms were transformed and deflected as Jewish liturgy evolved after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
All of this work finds its way back to the classroom–I enjoy helping students figure out how they can use writing to make the world a better place.
Ok, that sounds pretty cock-eyed and optimistic–but the other thing you need to know about me is that I’ve been a die-hard Cubs fan ever since I was old enough to say “Ernie Banks.”
Here I am in the Louvre visiting some dwm colleagues : Aristotle, Plato and Demosthenes: