Reading Log–Article 14

  1. Ramey, “The Coffee Planner of Saint Domingo”

The article, taken from Technical Communication Quarterly, examines a 1798 slave-owners manual for building a coffee plantation. Advice on buying, managing, disciplining, and designing a home for them is all present within the instruction set. The manual notably fails to humanize those forced into servitude, instead speaking of them as if they were livestock; a means to an end. Ramey argues that this is essentially to us as scholars of technical communication. While we look for pattern in previous editions of technical writing, what we write will ultimately inform future rhetoricians. Looking at the implications in these documents, most notably human beings as economic entities, we can better understand the attitude and expectations with the field of technical communication at that point in history. Ramey offers a great deal of historical context on Laborie, the writer of the 1798 article, his life, and the racist times in which he lived.

Ramey’s piece was fascinating to read as someone with a passion for history. His points on rhetoric’s role in our study of history is tremendously important, and as writers and technical communicators we do have a responsibility to our audience to give an accurate representation of our present so that we can inform our future. That goes back to the issue of ethics discussed in the previous two articles, and complimented those pieces well. It is also tied in well to the theme of dehumanization; both plantation owners and Nazis were able to justify the way they treated others by saying that it was for the greater good, that the people they were persecuting were not fully human. Laborie’s use of rhetoric is a clear display of that attitude, categorizing them under the umbrella term of “negroes” rather than looking at them as individuals. Like others before it, the manual is immaculate from a technical and clinical standpoint, but entirely problematic when looking at the subject of their writing. This manual is a helpful tool for us to learn from, so that we can take what is positive to apply to our writing, and learn from the wrongdoings of others not to use rhetoric to harm.

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