About the Project

The rhetorical tradition offers a series of machines for generating and interpreting arguments. Making Machines is an attempt to create new machines for the digital rhetorician.

In the opening line of Principles of Literary Criticism, I.A. Richards suggests that a book can be a machine: "A book is a machine to think with, but it need not, therefore, usurp the functions either of the bellows or the locomotive." The Making Machines project delves into the realm of the bellows and the locomotive by building two different kinds of machines: essays that construct rhetorical concepts (theoretical machines) and digital objects that put those concepts to use (digital machines). Rhetorical theory's procedures are machines for persuading and analyzing, and Making Machines offers a framework for building concepts and compositions for rhetorical production and analysis in digital environments.

Each chapter is a "mashup" of two works from Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg's anthology The Rhetorical Tradition, and the two works are chosen randomly by a Twitter bot named @makingmachines. The mashups take the form of 3,000-word essays that combine the two texts to create a concept. In addition, each chapter is accompanied by a digital object that makes use of that concept.

Like the chapters themselves, this choice to collaborate with a computational machine is a way of meditating on how rules shape, constrain, and enable rhetorical production. No rhetorician worth her salt would advocate for blindly following a set of rules; however, much of the rhetorical tradition has put forth rules or principles for orators and writers to follow. Making Machines follows in this tradition by building new rules and procedures. These new procedures are machines to think with.

Currently, Jim is authoring all of the chapters in Making Machines (with some help from collaborators on certain digital compositions), but a second phase of the project will involve inviting other authors to contribute their own mashups.


This project gains collaborators by the day and is inspired by the work of many.

Stephanie Larson is currently serving as my research assistant, and her work on both this site and on various other portions of the project has been invaluable.

Eddie Lee, a Research Associate in the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, wrote the code for the Sound Arguments tool and also helped me consider how to best use R to analyze and represent sonic eloquence.

Mark Sample provided both portions of code and inspiration for the Making Machines Twitter bot, and his work exploring the expressive possibility of randomness continues to help me consider how computational mechanisms intersect with the rhetorical tradition.

Darius Kazemi also provided inspiration for this project with projects such as RapBot and Metaphor-a-minute.

Christa Olson and Kate Vieira both read drafts of the project proposal, and their suggestion that the text pairings be computationally determined were instrumental in shaping the project.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School provided funding to support this project.

Jillian Sayre, as always, has helped me explore and expand the possibilities for this project and has tolerated my tendency to think out loud.