Forensic History Project





        Many of us have the opportunity to stay involved with this activity – on a collegiate level – for only the four short years we are competitors.   However, in these precious few years, we find our way onto a team, get introduced to the forensics community through our coaches and our varsity, some expand on – or forget – the things they did or did not learn in high school competition.  We compete against some of the most talented students from across the country, receive critiques from judges who are national champions themselves, learn the tricks of the trade, improve on our abilities, and ultimately, hopefully, find some competitive success.  And have a little fun along the way!  That’s a have a lot to do in four short years!  And unfortunately, the short-term nature of our involvement in this activity combined with our desire to succeed, sometimes prevent us from gaining a full understanding and appreciation for the rich history and tradition that lies both behind us and in front of us.

        That is why I have created this project.  I'm hoping to create an easily accessible collection of the History of this activity.  This site will be loosely based off of the Wikipedia structure in that I want you, the Forensic community, to submit articles and information.  You will be able to submit stories, team histories, interviews, and other historical records.  The address is listed on this card, that will be available after my speech, and I’d appreciate everyone taking a moment to visit the site, browse through this living history project to find even more factoids I couldn’t fit in this ten minutes, and - if you can - please contribute in any way possible.  Ultimately, I just want to have a place that I can send my family, and my friends, and my new teammates to learn a little more about what it is that we do. 



Some Thoughts on the Importance of History

History is the best medicine for a sick mind, for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through to avoid.
- Livy

People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.
- Studs Terkel

Human beings of all societies in all periods of history believe that their ideas on the nature of the real world are the most secure, and that their ideas on religion, ethics and justice are the most enlightened. Like us, they think that final knowledge is at last within reach. Like us, they pity the people in earlier ages for not knowing the true facts. Unfailingly, human beings pity their ancestors for being so ignorant and forget that their descendants will pity them for the same reason.
- Edward Harrison
, "The Uncertainty of Knowledge", "New Scientist", September 24, 1987




This is by no means an all-inclusive timeline.  Instead, it highlights some of the major events that took place in the Activity and specifically for the American Forensic Association and the National Forensic Association.  Please feel free to contact me if you believe something is inaccurate or if something should be added.  I can be reached by email at

Approx. 500 B.C. - 1100 (Ancient Tradition) -- Sophists (including ancient philosophers and teachers) place great emphasis on training citizens to be involved with political discussion and debate.  Devise speaking exercises for students - memorizing/performing ancient writings and speeches, and eventually writing/performing their own.  Plato originally defines this concept as 'dialegesthai', Aristotle later specifically defines 'dialectic'.

Approx. 1100 - 1400 (Middle Ages/Renaissance Tradition) -- Forensic activities (logical debate/discussion and performance) maintained by privileged upper-class.

1400 - 1500 (European Tradition) -- Growing need for lawyers and politicians that could debate effectively renews emphasis in speaking arts.  Emphasis beings to focus specifically on factual, scientific reasoning.

1600 - 1850 (Early American Tradition) -- A.K.A. 'Golden Age of Forensics'  Universities continue to have need for trained politicians (especially with rise of new democratic government).  Schools hold regular public speaking events in which students debate and perform memorized speeches or poetry.  Not uncommon for auditoriums to be filled past capacity with townspeople wearing their best evening clothes.  However, as school's grow, it becomes impractical to hold school-wide demonstrations.  Speech/Debate begins to take a back seat to other educational subjects, but is still practiced through student-run speech and debate clubs.

1855 -- The American Debater (first American-authored argumentation textbook) published.  Communication departments begin offering advanced courses in argumentation.  Debate experiences a small revival as a means for practicing argumentation skills learned in classrooms.

1874 -- Adelphi Society at Knox College, Galesburg, IL, hosts first intercollegiate speaking contest.  Features only one event - original oratory.  Gave birth to the Interstate Oratorical Contest, which is now the oldest public speaking event in the country.  May be attended by only the top two Orators from each state.

1881, May 5 -- earliest known record of intercollegiate debate.  Phi Alpha Society of Illinois College hosts Adelphi Society of Knox College.  Debate gains momentum as teams and tournaments become commonplace.  Intense rivalries existed between teams - venues were once again filled past capacity by cheering crowds and celebratory traditions and ceremonies highlight the experience.  For example, torchlight processions were regularly held to welcome teams returning from the battlefield.

1906 -- Delta Sigma Rho (first honorary fraternity) founded.

1908 -- Tau Kappa Alpha founded (has since merged with Delta Sigma Rho).

1913 -- Pi Kappa Delta created for smaller colleges.

1914 -- National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking (now the National Communication Association) founded.

1924 -- National Forensic League created at the high school level.

1924 -- Pi Kappa Delta hosts first-ever end-of-season National Tournament for its own members at the Bradley Polytechnic Institute, Peoria, IL.  Tournament features men's/women's extempore and oratory.

1928 -- Phi Rho Pi created for two-year colleges.

1948 -- National Association of Directors of Speech Activities established in an attempt to connect Speech Administrators.

1949 -- American Forensic Association signed into being by 86 individuals and organizations (the official list of 'founders' is available here) at the Speech Communication Association (now NCA) convention in Chicago, IL, despite concerns over a national governing organization limiting forensic competition.

1950 -- AFA mobilizes forensic community to block an attempt by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, an Accrediting Association, to abolish all high school interscholastic contests except athletics.

1952 -- AFA starts publishing The AFA Register, which would later become the Journal of the American Forensic Association, then Argumentation and Advocacy (1988).

1954 -- AFA offers, for the national debate resolution: "Resolved: That the United States should extend diplomatic recognition to the Communist government of China."  Resolution met with resistance.  The following is a collection of headlines from the 1952 New York Times sheds light on the controversy this resolution created, prompting involvement of even the President of the United States:

Nov. 16 - West Point and Annapolis ban participation of cadets and midshipmen in debates on recognition of Communist China.

Nov. 17 - Secretary of Defense Wilson denies role in ban.

Nov. 18 - Secretary of State Dulles denies role in ban.

Nov. 19 - Many college presidents indicate their students will debate the national proposition.

Nov. 22 - Speech Association president Karl Wallace says China issue as topic for debate will be studied but hints it will not be dropped.

Nov. 24 - President Eisenhower says academy debaters should be allowed to argue any controversial issue including U.S. recognition of communist China.

Nov. 24 - Naval Academy Superintendent says he will lift ban if so ordered.

Nov. 24 - Military Academy Superintendent says no change in policy.

Nov. 24 - Congressman warns students against taking the affirmative on China issue.

Nov. 24 - Edward R. Murrow devotes special "See It Now" program to college debate issue

Nov. 30 - FBI Director Hoover denies files are kept on college students debating the affirmative.

Dec. 29 - Speech Association meeting in Chicago approves college debates on the China issue.

1962 -- AFA sponsors 16-week debate tournament, Championship Debates, which is televised on 160 stations through the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

1960's (late) -- Dr. Raymond C. Beaty of Ohio University and Dr. Jack H. Howe of California State University - Long Beach make tentative inquiries as to the feasibility of a national Individual Events tournament.  Beaty reports that his requests were met with laughter from the debate community.

1971 -- Dr. Seth Hawkins, concluding that the needs of the forensics community warrants a National I.E. Tournament, as he explains, decided to "unilaterally invent a national championship in individual events, declare it official by fiat, and send invitations."  The tournament featured Prose, Poetry, Extemporaneous, Impromptu, ADS, and Oratory.  The following 23 schools were in attendance: American (DC), Ball State (IN), Defiance (OH), Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Evangel (MO), Georgetown (KY), Heidelberg (OH), Kentucky, Lehigh (PA), U. Maine-Gorham, Maryland, Miami (OH)), Niagara (NY), Ohio U., Ohio Northern, Purdue (IN), Shepherd (WV), Southern Connecticut, St. John's (NY), St. Rose (NY), West Chester (PA), and Wright State (OH).

1972 -- Dramatic Pairs (what is now Duo) is added as an event at the NFA tournament.

1973 -- A draft constitution for the National Forensic Association is written at a 'secret' meeting in January and presented to Hawkins (who had, until then, resisted pressure to create a national governing body for the I.E. tournament). 
The constitution is accepted at the tournament in April at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI.

1974 -- Over 100 teams attend the NFA national tournament. 
London University competes (the NFA's only international entry ever).
Students compete in Expository (what is now Informative) Speaking for the first time.
Rhetorical Criticism is added as an event, following a proposal by the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire's Grace Walsh.
Debate sparks over whether or not to remove Dramatic Pairs because it is not an individual event, but a tie-breaking vote in-favor of the event from NFA-Founder Seth Hawkins keeps it in the tournament.

1978 -- The AFA holds its first National Individual Events Tournament (NIET) in April at Illinois State University, Bloomington-Normal, IL.
The tournament offers Prose, Poetry, Drama, Dramatic Duo, Extemporaneous Speaking, After-Dinner, Informative Speaking, Communication Analysis, and Oratory.
168 Students from 59 schools competed

1979 -- AFA offers Impromptu Speaking as an experimental event.

1980 -- AFA includes Impromptu as an official event.

1987 - 1988 -- AFA offers Sales Speaking as an experimental event.

1989 - 1990 -- AFA offers Program Oral Interpretation as an experimental event.

1992 -- AFA includes POI as an official event.


Reid, Ronald.  Foreword: A Long and Proud Tradition.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 1-11

Klumpp, James F.  Organizing a Community and Responding to its Needs: The First Fifty Years of the American Forensic Association.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  Pgs. 12-27.

Freely, Austin.  The Early Years: Recollections.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 28-33.

Yates, Guy and Schnoor, Larry.  AFA-NIET History.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 42-47.

Norton, L.E.  The History of Pi Kappa Delta.  1987.

Fryar, Linda.  A Brief History of I.E. Nationals.  1984.  National Forensic Journal.  Vol. 2, No. 2.  pgs. 73-83.

AFA.  Official American Forensic Association Website

NFA.  Official National Forensic Association Website

PKD.  Official Pi Kappa Delta Website.

PRP.  Official Phi Rho Pi Website

DSR/TKA.  Official Delta Sigma Rho/Tau Kappa Alpha Website.



Articles and Publications

This is a collection of recommended readings and valuable articles.  If you have others, please let me know by emailing me!

Individual Articles

-- Reid, Ronald.  Foreword: A Long and Proud Tradition.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 1-11

-- Klumpp, James F.  Organizing a Community and Responding to its Needs: The First Fifty Years of the American Forensic Association.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 12-27.

-- Freely, Austin.  The Early Years: Recollections.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 28-33.

-- Yates, Guy and Schnoor, Larry.  AFA-NIET History.  2000.  Argumentation and Advocacy.  Vol. 37, No. 1.  pgs. 42-47.

-- Fryar, Linda.  A Brief History of I.E. Nationals.  1984.  National Forensic Journal.  Vol. 2, No. 2.  pgs. 73-83.

-- Aden, Roger C.  Reconsidering the Laboratory Metaphor: Forensics as a Liberal Art.  1991.  National Forensic Journal.  Vol. 9.  pgs. 97-108.

-- Reynolds, Christina L.  'Winning' Orations? A Study of Select Interstate Oratorical Speeches.  National Forensic Journal.  Vol. 1, no. 2.  pgs. 119-135.

-- Thomas, David A.  Why Have Competitive Forensic Programs?  The Forensic of Pi Kappa Delta.  Series 61, no. 3.  pgs. 6-8.


-- The National Forensic Journal

-- The Register of the American Forensic Association

-- The Journal of the American Forensic Association

-- Argumentation and Advocacy

-- The Forensic of Pi Kappa Delta

Other Publications

-- Intercollegiate Speech Tournament Results, Published 1961 - 1992.

-- Winning Orations of the Interstate Oratorical Association

-- Norton, L.E.  The History of Pi Kappa Delta.  1987.

-- Cooper.  The Rhetoric of Aristotle.  1932.  ** Any Translation/Reprint of Aristotle's Rhetoric is great!

-- The Forensic of Pi Kappa Delta - Women In Forensics Issue.  Series 63, no. 1, October, 1977.

Web Sites



-- The Online Index of Forensic Research:




I have not yet started to collect interviews for the website, but I hope to find some soon!

Have you conducted an Interview?  Send it in!  Email me at

Would you like to conduct an interview?  Check out these Guidelines for Interviewing.



Important Links

American Forensics Association -

National Forensics Association -

Pi Kappa Delta -

Phi Rho Pi -

Delta Sigma Rho/Tau Kappa Alpha -

The Online Index of Forensic Research -

National Communication Association -



Existing Teams

The University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Minnesota State University - Mankato

University of Wisconsin - Stout

Bradley University

University of Northern Iowa

Indiana University

Hastings College

Illinois State University

Arizona State University

University of Texas - Austin

Kent State University

George Mason University

Kansas State University

Ohio State University

Concordia College

Bethel University

South Dakota State University

Wartburg College

Western Kentucky University

North Central College

UW - Madison

University of Nebraska - Lincoln




As I mentioned, this is a Wiki-History (loosely based off of Wikipedia), and I need your help!  Please contribute anything you've got - stories, team history, websites that you have created that explore the history of this activity -- anything!  You can email me at for more information.

What you should send in

- The address for your team's website!

- Any webpages or documents that discuss Forensic History

- Interviews you've conducted that focus on Forensic History

- Do you have photos?  Email me to discuss how we can use them!

- Are you a part of Forensic History?  Interested in Contributing?  Email me, and we'll work something out!

- I'd like to create an interactive map of Forensic Teams - keep checking in for how you can help!

Again, this is an on-going project that YOU can be a part of.  Email me at for more information!



Designed, populated, and maintained by: Christine Zani,
Last Updated: January 8, 2007