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College of Central Florida Forensics (Speech and Debate)
History of Academic Debate

Debate has been around for thousands of years. Austin Freeley and David Steinberg note in their book Argumentation and Debate that “we know people were debating at least 4,000 years ago. For example, Egyptian princes debated agricultural policy at the pharaoh’s court (2080 B.C.). Chinese scholars conducted important philosophical debates during the Chou Dynasty (1122-255 B.C.).

Classroom debateWhile once the domain of princes and scholars, debate evolved into an academic discipline. Freeley and Steinberg wrote, “Academic debate began at least 2,400 years ago when the scholar Protagoras of Abdera (481-411 B.C.), known as the father of debate, conducted debates among his students in Athens.

Debate became a popular activity in universities throughout Europe, as Freeley and Steinberg describe, “Debate flourished…in the medieval universities, where rhetoric was installed as one of the seven liberal arts. What may have been the first intercollegiate debate in the English-speaking world took place in the early 1400s at Cambridge University between students from Oxford and Cambridge.”

Debate made its way to America early in our colonial period and most of our founding fathers were skilled orators and debaters. Most received their training in college. Freeley and Steinberg explain that “Almost all the leaders of the American Revolution and the early national period were able debaters who had studied argumentation in the colonial colleges.”

Debating StudentIntercollegiate speech and debate became popular in the late 1800s and interscholastic debating soon followed. Tournament debate has been around since the 1920s and became very popular in the 1940s.

Once the pastime of princes and ancient scholars, debate and speech are now popular activities in which hundreds of colleges, universities, and community colleges actively participate. Thousands of students from all around the United States are involved in this activity and the College of Central Florida is no exception.

Historically, the College of Central Florida has been one of the top community college programs in the state of Florida and holds its own against many of the state’s four year colleges, including FSU, UF, and the University of Miami. You too can be a part of this rich academic tradition by joining CF’s Speech and Debate Team.

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