Reading this as a required text for a graduate course, I assumed that I’d probably have to force myself through it–at least at some level. To my pleasant surprise, Johnson’s study of the coevolution of a steel mill and its technical communication at the turn of the 20th century is not only a compelling scholarly analysis, but a very well-written one at that.
At the same time that she traces out a timeline from prediscursive record-keeping and personal verbal communications to an eventually chirographic technical communication involving reports, drawing, graphs, and writing of all kinds, Johnson relays a very engaging narrative of a small, family-run post-revolutionary war Pennsylvania ironworks that would eventually become one of the leading twentieth-century specialty steelmakers in the world. Most of all, Johnson unwinds the complexity of relationships between manufacturing technology, industry, management, workers, drawing and writing, writing technologies and the technical communicators that created them (from owners and foremen to stenographers, secretaries, and consultants).
This book is a good one–whether you’re interested in engineering and the steel industry or interested in a historical view of technical communication. A very good study.