Innis of Canada and Empire and Communications

January 20, 2010

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, international social science scholars called him simply:

Innis of Canada.

If you mattered, you knew him. And vice versa.

The real deal: perhaps Canada’s brightest guy in any classroom….ever.

“Harold Adams Innis was a man of vast learning whose mind ranged freely over wide areas of knowledge. He combined an unsurpassed gift for the striking phrase and the brilliant generalizations with a dedication to conscientious and original research.

Here he develops his theory that the history of empires is determined to a large extent by their means of communication. He examines the civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, and Europe (before and after the printing press) supporting his thesis with a rich array of historical, sociological, psychological, and anthropological data. Innis was one of the first to recognize the powerful influence technology exerted over culture, and he pioneered investigations into the effects of the communications media on society.

Empire and Communications, first published in 1950, was reissued in 1972 for a new generation of students, scholars, and all those interested in our society and its history. It incorporates the notes Innis made in his copy of the first edition – new ideas, quotations, and references – and it includes a foreword by Marshall McLuhan which assesses Innis’ contribution to our understanding of history.

HAROLD ADAMS INNIS was born in Ontario in 1894. He was educated at McMaster University and the University of Chicago, and joined the staff of the University of Toronto in 1920. At the time of his death in 1952 he was professor and head of the Department of Political Economy and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. He had an international reputation equalled by no other Canadian scholar. Among his other books are The Bias of Communications, The Cod Fisheries, Essays in Canadian Economic History, The Fur Trade in Canada and A History of the Canadian Pacific Railway.”

University of Toronto Press

- back cover

The overwhelming pressure of mechanization evident in the newspaper and the magazine, has led to the creation of vast monopolies of communication. Their entrenched positions involve a continuous, systematic, ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity.

Changing Concepts of Time (1952)


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