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Harold Innis (1894 – 1952)


Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on media, communication theory and Canadian economic history.
Harold Innis
The Middle Ages burned its heretics and the modern age threatens them with atom bombs.
Innis quotes
We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.
Innis
To this day, in my opinion, the last chapter of Innis's The Fur Trade in Canada still represents the most concentrated and profound single piece of writing for anyone seeking to understand the nature of Canada.




Innis Harold quotes
The discovery of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century implied the beginning of a return to a type of civilization dominated by the eye rather than the ear.
Innis Harold
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.
Harold Innis quotes
Anybody who has looked up the reference material that Innis cites so frequently will be struck by the skill with which he has extracted exciting facts from dull expositions. He explored his source materials with a "Geiger counter," as it were. In turn, he presents his finds in a pattern of insights that are not packaged for the consumer palate. He expects the reader to make discovery after discovery that he himself had missed.
Harold Innis
The Canadian government has a closer relation to economic activities than most governments. The trade in staples, which characterizes an economically weak country, to the highly industrialized areas of Europe and latterly the United States, and especially the fur trade, has been responsible for various peculiar tendencies in Canadian development. The maintenance of connections with Europe, at first with France and later with Great Britain has been a result. The diversity of institutions which has attended this relationship has made for greater elasticity in organization and far greater tolerance among her peoples.
Innis Harold quotes
In his office or his study, with his long legs stretched out and his chair tilted back, he would exchange stories with unhurried delight; and the deep stream of his conversation rambled amiably through generous meanderings and over laughing shallows.
Innis
The effect of the discovery of printing was evident in the savage religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Application of power to communication industries hastened the consolidation of vernaculars, the rise of nationalism, revolution, and new outbreaks of savagery in the twentieth century.
Innis Harold
Innis's work, despite its maddeningly obscure, opaque and elliptical character, is the great achievement in communications on this continent. In The Bias of Communication, Empire and Communications, Changing Concepts of Time and in the essays on books on the staples that dominated the Canadian economy, Innis demonstrated a natural depth, excess, and complexity, a sense of paradox and reversal that provides permanent riddles rather than easy formulas. His texts continue to yield because they combine, along with studied obscurity, a gift for pungent aphorism, unexpected juxtaposition, and sudden illumination. Opening his books is like reengaging an extended conversation: they are not merely things to read but things to think with.
Harold Innis
The mixture of the oral and the written traditions in the writings of Plato enabled him to dominate the history of the West.




Harold Innis quotes
Following the invention of writing, the special form of heightened language, characteristic of the oral tradition and a collective society, gave way to private writing. Records and messages displaced the collective memory. Poetry was written and detached from the collective festival.
Harold Innis
I am pleased to think of my own book The Gutenberg Galaxy as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing then of printing.
Innis quotes
It is easy to criticize Innis's negativism and his encouragement of an apolitical stance for the intellectual in society. But to see only the negative side of his outlook --- his economic determinism, relativism, and apoliticism --- is to miss a positive central thread that runs through his work, from the investigation of the fur staple to his defence of scholarship, and later, his explorations in the biases of communications: to understand limits is to enhance the freedom of the nation and the individual.
Innis Harold
Innis made the study of technology and civilization (Canada as a big "staples commodity") an opportunity for the development of a distinctive Canadian way of thinking. In the Innisian world of technological realism, there emerges an epistemological toolkit for the exploration of dependency and emancipation as the two faces of technological society. Innis's thought is perfectly styled to the historical specificity of Canada's political economy and culture because it is a constant reflection on the great tension between centre/periphery in Canada's historical formation.
Innis Harold quotes
The diversity of institutions has made possible the combination of government ownership and private enterprise which has been a further characteristic of Canadian development. Canada has remained fundamentally a product of Europe.
Harold Innis
Writing with a simplified alphabet checked the power of custom of an oral tradition but implied a decline in the power of expression and the creation of grooves which determined the channels of thought of readers and later writers.
Harold Innis quotes
Modern civilization, characterized by an enormous increase in the output of mechanized knowledge with the newspaper, the book, the radio and the cinema, has produced a state of numbness, pleasure and self-complacency perhaps only equalled by laughing-gas. In the words of Oscar Wilde we have sold our birthright for a mess of facts. The demands of the machine are insatiable. The danger of shaking men out of the soporific results of mechanized knowledge is similar to that of attempting to arouse a drunken man or one who has taken an overdose of sleeping tablets. The necessary violent measures will be disliked. We have had university professors threatened with the loss of their positions for less than this.
Harold Innis
The history of Canada has been profoundly influenced by the habits of an animal which very fittingly occupies a prominent place on her coat of arms.
Innis Harold
The concepts of time and space reflect the significance of media to civilization. Media that emphasize time are those that are durable in character, such as parchment, clay, and stone. The heavy materials are suited to the development of architecture and sculpture. Media that emphasize space are apt to be less durable and light in character, such as papyrus and paper. The latter are suited to wide areas in administration and trade. The conquest of Egypt by Rome gave access to supplies of papyrus which became the basis of a large administration empire.


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