Examining the discourse surrounding the charcoal iron industry between 1760 and 1860 in North America, this article suggests that, prior to the industrialization of work, 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.
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