University of Minnesota, Twin Cities – Dr. Emily Winderman

COMM 3635W is a writing-intensive course at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. While the title of the course, Famous Speeches, might make it seem more appropriate to assign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s more familiar “I Have a Dream” speech, we have instead chosen to dig deeper into “A Creative Protest” in order to examine the relationship between text, context, and the embodiment of sound. When we examine “A Creative Protest,” students come prepared for class that day having read and annotated the speech text for rhetorical elements including purpose, tone, persona, audience, structure, and strategies. Upon their arrival to class, students view the audio-visual materials available on the vMLK website, including background on the project and “Counter Histories.” Next, students form small groups to discuss the textual features that they identified in their preparatory homework. One the students have discussed the interaction of the above-mentioned rhetorical elements, they then listen to the vMLK audio materials and reflect together upon what differences sound makes to the experience of public address. As they are listening to the speech, they are invited to highlight moments that were particularly resonant to examine how the sonic experience aligned with their textual readings. We conclude class with a critical meditation upon why “A Creative Protest” isn’t quite as “famous” as “I have a Dream.”
Students were invited to answer the following discussion questions:

  • Did the experience of listening to the audio give you a different interpretation of the speech content? Why or why not?
  • What elements of the sonic experience resonated with you?
  • Who is MLK’s intended audience? How does listening to the “audience perspective” influence your understanding of the audience implied by the content of the text itself?
  • Knowing that the speech was re-animated by a voice actor, were there moments that “felt” more like Dr. King and others that did not? Did Mr. Blanks’ tone make a difference to your experience of the speech? What difference does it make when you consider King’s persona?