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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.