||Exploding Steamboats, Senate Debates, and Technical Reports: The Convergence of Technology, Politics, and Rhetoric in the Steamboat Bill of 1838
R. John Brockmann
Baywood's Technical Communications Series, Series Editor: Charles H. Sides
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IN PRAISE OF
"Exploding Steamboats is especially valuable for its rich
contextualization of technical reports and their influence on policy.
Brockmann's book adds to the history of technical communication, and his
thorough research sets a standard for anyone else trying to capture the
complexities of a situation in which written discourse plays a part. All in all,
the book substantially enriches the body of research that helps identify the
role of the technical communication in public issues."
—Carolyn Rude, Texas Tech University
"Here is an engaging book that will
appeal to multiple interests: the history of material culture, early American
history of transportation, the role of popular culture, the history of
transportation, the role of popular culture, the history of technical writing,
and the nature of cultural change. In fact, anyone intrigued by the process of
change will be interested in the complex play among such factors as the
personal, the popular, the political, and the random."
—Gaby Beditti, Eastern Kentucky University, Issues in Writing, Volume
13, Number 1
"R. John Brockmann is one of the leaders in the field of technical writing. He has
written eight books: six on technical writing (including several on computer
documentation) and two, including this one, on the history of technical writing.
He is distinguished professor at the University of Delaware, where he teaches
business and technical writing. He also teaches Biblical and Classical literature
and is an ordained Episcopal priest. With such a background, Dr. Brockmann is
particularly well-suited to writing a multidisciplinary book of this type."
—J. Podolsky Hewlett Packard Company, IEEE Transactions on Professional
Communication, 46(3), pp. 244-245, 2003
"This book will be most valuable to scholars of the history and rhetoric of technology; it will also be interesting to scholars of legislative rhetoric, American political rhetoric, and the history of transportation. …The book is significant as an example of historically situated rhetorical case study, one that demonstrates well how deeply a rhetorical analysis can be grounded in source documents. The book will also be instructive for students in graduate rhetoric or technical communication courses that focus on historical documents."
—Brent R. Henze, East Carolina University, Technical Communication Quarterly
"Brockman is most effective at exploring the public's reaction to steamboat accidents and how they helped to create new genres of accident reports and, for the general public, sensationalist disaster literature. Historians interested in the evolution of technical writing and accident reporting will find a wealth of information here, and technical writers like Brockman will find these books informative and enjoyable. Historians interested in changing conceptions of technological risk and safety and the evolution of corporate liability will want to consult these books as well."
From a paired review of Exploding Steamboats, Senate Debates, and Technical Reports and Twisted Rails, Sunken Ships
— Robert S. Cox and Rachel K. Onuf, Journal of the Early Republic, 26 (Winter 2006)
ABOUT THE BOOK
By 1838, over two thousand Americans had been killed and many hundreds
injured by exploding steam engines on steamboats. After calls for a solution in two State of the Union addresses, a Senate Select Committee met to
consider an investigative report from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, the first federally funded investigation into a technical
catastrophe. Although the investigation report was well written by the top scientists of the day, and the authors included an effective bill to correct
the technical problems of steam engines and stop the fatalities and injuries, the bill was drawn up with a key segment X-ed out. As a result,
the wrong piece of legislation was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Van Buren as the United States’ first piece of
interstate commerce legislation. The explosions and deaths aboard steamboats continued for another fourteen years before corrective legislation was
passed. Exploding Steamboats investigates the rhetoric, politics, and technology of
antebellum America, offering timeless insights into the nature of writing, reading, and public control of technology.
Intended Audience: Technical communication writers; teachers and students of
technical communications; historians of technology.
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