Dr. Carol Siri Johnson, Department of Humanities, New Jersey Institute of Technology
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The Language of Work: Technical Communication at Lukens Steel, 1810 to 1925

Baywood's Technical Communications Series, 2009.

The Language of Work traces the evolution of written forms of communication at Lukens Steel from 1810 to 1925. As standards for iron and steel emerged and industrial processes became more complex, foremen, mechanics, and managers began to use drawing and writing to solve problems, transfer ideas, and develop new technology. This shift in communication methods—from "prediscursive" (oral) communication to "chirographic" (written) communication—occurred as technology became more complex and knowledge had to span space and time. For ordering information, see Baywood Publishing or Amazon.

Robert Erskine’s 1770 Letters about the British Iron and Steel Industry

Historical Metallurgy, (43:2), 2009, pp. 75-97.

In 1770, the engineer Robert Erskine toured England, Wales and Scotland to collect knowledge about the iron industry. During this tour, he wrote a series of letters detailing the materials, processes and products that he saw. He described blast furnaces, blowing engines, forges, foundries and casting, and steel works. Erskine brought these letters with him to America in 1771, where he had been employed to manage an ironworks begun by Peter Hasenclever in 1764. The introduction includes a brief biography of Erskine and a description of his tour and correspondence and is followed by a transcription of the letters. For reprints, email cjohnson@njit.edu.

The Evolution of Illustrated Texts and Their Effect on Science: Examples from the Early American State Geological Reports

Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, MIT Press, (41:2), 2008, pp. 120-127.

In the 19th century, printing methods made significant advances that allowed mass production of illustrated texts; prior to that time, illustrated texts were expensive and rare. Then the number of illustrated texts rose exponentially, increasing the rate of information transfer among scientists, engineers and the general public. The early American state geological reports, funded by the state legislatures, were among the pioneering volumes that used the new graphic capabilities in the improved printing processes for the advancement of science. They contain thousands of illustrations---woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and hand-painted maps---that may be of interest to historians of science, technology, art and culture. Ordering information: Project Muse. For more information on visual communication technology and history, see Visual Communication Videos.

The Steel Bible: A Case Study of 20th Century Technical Communication

Johnson, Carol Siri, "The Steel Bible: A Case Study of 20th Century Technical Communication," Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 37(3), 2007, pp. 281-303.

The “steel bible” emerged in 1919 and went through eleven editions in eighty years. In its evolution we can see the shift from individual to group authorship, an increasing use of visual elements, and a physical change from a small, hand-held volume to a weighty desktop reference. In a textual analysis, we can see that it was essentially static, changing only by additions and deletions, as the industry evolved. The eventual closing of hundreds of plants and the migration of the industry to other countries can be seen in change of publisher, the sudden absence of photography, and the international references. Originally, the steel bible came from the factory floor and the words of the plant managers but by the 1990s, it was a highly-abstracted representation of knowledge. In the steel bible, we can see the history of the industry and the maturing of technical communication in the 20th century. For reprints, email cjohnson@njit.edu.

Prediscursive Technical Communication in the Early American Iron Industry

Johnson, Carol Siri, “Prediscursive Technical Communication in the Early American Iron Industry,” Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(2), 2006, pp. 171–189.

This article examines the discourse community surrounding the charcoal iron industry between 1760 and 1860 in North America. It suggests that, prior to industrialization, technical communication took place in a prediscursive setting, an oral and physical world that we can just manage to glimpse even as we watch it recede. The letters of Robert Erskine written in 1770 illustrate the prediscursive methods of technical communication. By the 1860s, a flood of governmental, professional, and commercial publications appeared, each signifying the disappearance of this prediscursive world. This transition from prediscursive to discursive methods may mark one of the largest changes in the history of technical communication. For ordering information, see Informaworld.

For reprints, email cjohnson@njit.edu

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