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Speeches, in general, have a bad reputation. More often than not, they're something that the public is forced to sit through in order to get on with whatever they've gathered for. (Think of the succession of politicians that precede even the most insignificant ribbon cuttings, or the sponsors who insist on the spotlight before trophies are awarded.) Occasionally, though, a speech can rise to the level of art, define a moment in history, or even transcend history itself, and has gathered a collection of some of history's greatest speeches into a one-stop survey of the art of oration.

The two year-old creation of Michael Eidenmuller (an assistant professor of communications at the University of Texas at Tyler), American Rhetoric isn't likely to win any awards for visual design or navigational elegance, but it does offer a staggering collection of speeches, sermons, debates, interviews, courtroom, and cinematic oratory. (Speeches are frequently available in more than one format, including text, RealAudio and even the occasional streaming video offering.)

While it would be safe to call the American Rhetoric collection immense, the actual number of unique examples is difficult to pin down, as the site offers both local and offsite material. (Though some reviews have referred to 5000 speeches, the site itself quotes 5000+ versions - the Gettysburg Address, for example, being offered in two RealAudio and one text version.)

With links to other "great speeches" databases, there's bound to be some overlap in material, while some specific examples (such as the broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster) can't really be called speeches, and other sites (including the Supreme Court's listings of speeches by sitting Justices) will continue to expand as time passes. Suffice it to say that if you're intrigued by the material, you'll need more than one visit to do it justice.

The main collection is available through the Online Speech Bank, which covers everything from Patrick Henry's, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," to the golden musings of DuPont and Verizon corporate executives, as well as (despite the site's moniker) speakers from Umberto Eco to Winston Churchill.


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