College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Newmark, Julianne. Technical Communication, Archives, and Colonialism. CCC, June 2020. Posted 07/31/2020.

Newmark, Julianne. “The Formal Conventions of Colonial Medicine: Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Agency Physicians’ Reports, 1880-1910.” College Composition and Communication 71.4 (2020): 620-42. Print.

Julianne Newmark presents an analysis of government documents related to health services for Native Americans from shortly before to well into the era of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. She addresses implications of a study like hers for both technical/professional communications practitioners and scholars and scholars doing archival research.

The Dawes Act, Newmark writes,

sought to allot, in individual allocations, 160-acre plots of formerly communally held land to individual Native heads of household. Provisions concerning farming, Christianization, and enrollment of children in school were elements of the act. (638n1)

The two government documents under study for the article are reports required of “agency physicians” in the employ of the Office of Indian Affairs (621). In these reports, the physicians fill out forms recording specifics of Native health and government-provided health care in a particular jurisdiction. The first, “Monthly Report of Sick and Wounded” (623) was completed in December 1882, by the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agency physician Fordyce Grinnell. Newmark notes that this report was filed five years before the Dawes Act was passed and eight years before the massacre at Wounded Knee (626). The second document, “Physician’s Semiannual Report,” was written by Charles N. Brooks of the Nett Lake agency in northern Minnesota in 1910 (632).

Although Native physicians did hold some of these positions, Newmark points out that “the vast majority” of the physicians serving Native populations were non-Native, as were Grinnell and Brooks (621).

Newmark argues that not only the purpose and content of the reporting process as illustrated in these documents but also the form and structure of the document templates themselves were “paradigmatic tools of colonialism” (621). She draws on the work of Steven B. Katz, particularly his arguments in a 1992 article, “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust” (622).

Newmark cites this work to argue that valuing efficiency and expediency dehumanizes communities and masks “how these stories might have been told differently” (626; emphasis original). Also turning to Bernadette Longo, among other scholars of the implicit contributions of technical-writing protocols to the ideologies at issue, Newmark discusses the theory that a “military model” (624) designed to promote “an ethos of expediency” above humanistic values forces a Western mindset based on bureaucratic control on cultures that may have quite different values and practices (625).

In her analysis of the Pine Ridge documents, Newmark points to the “tabular data conventions” (628) of the report templates, arguing that they result in “anonymized (or depersonalized) lists,” with categorizations of populations as “Indians,” “Half-Breeds,” and “Whites.” Such enumerations, Newmark argues, reflect the control exerted by the colonial power and the importance given to expediency over capturing the lived realities of the residents (627). Similarly, in Newmark’s view, the use of an “umbrella term,” in this case “Chronic Rheumatism,” that is then belied by extensive lists of specific ailments later in the document, serves to both “flatten out nuance” while demonstrating the existence of “pervasive health problems community-wide” (628).

A second section of the report allows the physician to append some of his own thoughts; for Newmark, Grinnell’s unusually extensive use of this space indicates that he takes his responsibilities seriously at the same time that he reveals the colonizing agenda behind the process by contrasting the services he offers from “civilized life” with the treatment Native communities could expect from “their medicine men with the clangor of tom-toms” (qtd. in Newmark 630). Thus, Newmark argues, Grinnell reports on a “cultural accommodation” to Western, Christianized values at odds with the traditions of the community (630). She posits that the tensions embedded in this contrast may have foretold the Wounded Knee tragedy that lay ahead.

For Newmark, the second document, produced in Minnesota a quarter-century later, reveals the “perpetuation” of the bureaucratic mindset that dehumanized Native populations by recording their experiences in formats designed to foreground efficiency and depersonalization (631). She notes a design consistency she finds telling in that the tabular data in both documents precedes the opportunity for more revealing comment (632).

In the Minnesota document, the physician is specifically instructed to use his space for remarks to comment on the state of the buildings under his jurisdiction: “The physician is asked not about patients, but about facilities” (634; emphasis original). In his remarks, Dr. Brooks, expressed the need for “an infirmary for the very old people” who often “live in solitude, and are ill prepared to look after themselves” (qtd. in Newmark 634-35). Newmark maintains that the specific instructions Brooks followed made it less likely that he would address the cultural issues that characterized Grinnell’s report and less likely that he would feel free to speak to real human needs (635).

The author contrasts the work of the non-Native physicians whose reports she studied with the tenure of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, who served in North Dakota contemporaneously with Grinnell and later at the Carlisle Indian School (635). Montezuma, Newmark writes, grew frustrated with his inability to provide the needed support through government agencies and became an independent activist through his own medical practice and a newsletter, Wassaja (636).

Newmark notes that a Native physician, Charles Alexander Eastman, was appointed agency physician at Pine Ridge in October, 1980, three months before the Wounded Knee massacre (631). In the text and in an extensive note (639n3), Newmark presents the implications of the fact that Eastman’s reports on his role during the massacre are missing from the Kansas City National Archives even though the archives contain formal documents from other physicians of the time. Queries to archives have not produced the missing materials.

From her studies of what the archives do contain as well as what is less accessible or missing, Newmark sees the need for scholars of technical and professional communication interested in the relationship between bureaucracy and colonialism to search for records of the work of Native physicians, exploring how they may have responded to and perhaps resisted the rhetorical demands of their roles (637). She urges scholars to consider how research conventions in their own work may be complicit in what Linda Tuhiwai Smith deems a process of “classification and representation” implicated in power issues (637). Worth study, in Newmark’s view, is the nature of archives themselves, which must be assumed to be incomplete (640n7).

The Western tradition answers the question “What is real?” by placing what is deemed to be real—reports, authorized histories—in official archives. The genre of the report is a genre of the presumptive authoritative real. (637; emphasis original)

Newmark includes figures showing the documents she discusses and her notes link to zoomable copies of the materials.


3 Comments

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. English Textbooks in Cameroon. RTE, May 2016. Posted 07/01/2016.

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. “Textbooks, Literacy, and Citizenship: The Case of Anglophone Cameroon.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 378-99. Print.

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw reports on a study of English-language teaching materials in Cameroon. She addresses textbooks from four periods of recent Cameroonian history: the colonial era of the 1950s and 1960s, the postindependence period of the 1980s, the postcolonial years reaching into the early 2000s, and the “era of globalization,” which the country is now experiencing (381).

To investigate the colonial context, Yenika-Agbaw reviewed the Oxford English Readers for Africa (OERA), which, published in the 1930s, was a “staple in the curriculum” (379). Beginning in the postcolonial period, educators moved to “alternative textbooks,” including the Evans Cameroon Primary English series (ECPE), the Primary English for Cameroon series (PEC), and the Basic English for Cameroon series (BEC) (379). Yenika-Agbaw notes that the PEC and BEC are “current” (379).

Yenika-Agbaw chose these texts for analysis from lists of the most commonly used textbook series in Cameroon. The head librarian of the Penn State Education and Behavioral Sciences Library helped her obtain these lists as well as a copy of the OERA. She owned the EPCE and visited Cameroon to purchase the series topping the lists, PEC and BEC (384-85). She read all the materials, selecting “nonfiction” sections that addressed citizenship and national identity (385-86).

Yenika-Agbaw’s questions involve how educational materials in the Anglophone Cameroonian language-arts curriculum constructed students’ identities as members of Cameroonian culture and as citizens. Her theoretical focus derives from postcolonial theory as developed by scholars like Henry Giroux, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha, and others (382). This scholarship analyzes texts to posit that colonialism and its outgrowths over time “produce a culture of hybridity” in which historical and evolving forces influence each other (382).

Yenika-Agbaw also cites work by M. V. Tlostanova and W. D. Mignolo that sees “the problem of the twenty-first century” as one of “dwelling in the borders” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 382; emphasis original). Such “border dwellers,” this scholarship proposes, have the opportunity to address the inequality underlying colonialism.

Yenika-Agbaw argues that Cameroon’s trajectory through multiple colonial relationships and its deep multiculturalism, evinced in part by the existence of more than 200 languages, make it a rich source for study of the effects of colonialism. She notes tensions between resistance to what B. T. Kishani calls “languages of dependency” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 380) and the social capital inherent in the use of these languages (380). She draws on the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o to position her research in the study of how language conveys values and identities (380).

Yenika-Agbaw uses content analysis to draw inferences about the development of Cameroon’s educational practices from a reading of the textbook series in light of their contexts (382). She notes only two other scholars who have addressed textbook use in Africa (383). Her work, she states, differs from that of these researchers in that she is interested in the cultural messages in the four texts rather than “the linguistic expectations of well-intentioned professionals” about such topics as grammar and usage (383).

Her analysis of the country’s transitions reveals a trend of moving from outright adulation of British and European culture to a more nuanced awareness of Cameroon as a unique, independent country. The OERA, used during the colonial period, encourages students to admire European products and points to Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan as models of exemplary accomplishment (387). Citing Bhabha, she argues that during this colonial period, “[l]earning how to speak/read/write in English is thus synonymous with learning how to be British and earning one’s place in the British empire,” as well as in Europe with its material goods (387).

The ECPE, used during the postindependence phase, introduces village and family life as essential components of a Cameroonian citizenry. Cultural sites such as a “Handicraft Centre” are also presented (388). However, Yenika-Agbaw finds that British and European “famous people/inventors” continue to dominate lessons. Europe is presented as a place students should hope to visit (389). Thus this textbook series bridges colonial commitment to European supremacy and an emerging awareness of the distinctive nature of Cameroonian citizenship.

Yenika-Agbaw locates PEC, still in use, in the postcolonial era. This series addresses the global environment through a unit on the United Nations and its multinational peacekeeping efforts. The text explicitly presents Cameroon’s “National Day” as a marker of the country’s independent status. However, it also invites continued affirmation of the nation’s British heritage with a section on Cameroon’s involvement in the Commonwealth games (389-90). Students are encouraged to admire a wealthy South African male and two famous Western females, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Serena Williams (391). Yenika-Agbaw sees this mixed focus as “a struggle to assert Cameroon’s independence from colonialism while working with the tools inherited from this sociopolitical legacy” (391).

According to Yenika-Agbaw, BEC, also still current, expands the global context by asking students to consider their personal impact on “nature” and by introducing the complexities of refugees affected by the Rwandan crisis (392). These discussions are juxtaposed with sections on Cameroon’s official “Youth Day” and with presentations on Cameroonian Christmas celebrations. Yenika-Agbaw proposes that this text offers the possibility of “multiple citizenship,” in which students can identify with a global community while still identifying as members of their own country (392).

Yenika-Agbaw traces two persistent themes through the four series. A notion of “white male supremacy” dominates the early texts; the later texts work to transcend this focus, but can only do so by featuring women who are not from Black Africa, wealthy individuals with little to teach young Cameroonians about their own place in modern culture, and a Western version of Christmas not “typical” of Cameroonian practice (394).

Drawing again on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Yenika-Agbaw posits that the authors of the textbooks, even when they are Cameroonian, may be influenced by their roles as “the first generation of Educated Africans,” entrenched in the legacies of their “Eurocentric education[s]” (395). A continuing view of Europe as an appropriate cultural model, she contends, may be “the price former British colonies pay” in seeking the perquisites offered by fluency in English (395).

She urges educators to remember the power of educational materials to affect students’ sense of their own place in world cultures and warns against a definition of citizenship that “innocently disenfranchises children within their continents and countries of origin and this leaves them culturally and literarily uprooted” instead of providing them with the tools to navigate a diverse world (396).