Harold Innis’s History of Communications Project: From the Margins of Civilization to ›Monopoly and Civilization‹
Infrastructure Lecture Series #1
Mittwoch, 06. Juli 2016
Cranachstraße 47, Weimar
Villa Dürckheim (IKKM), Salon
Harold Innis’s pioneering works in communication (namely Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communications) have received a good deal of attention. However, his longest and most detailed examination of the media - History of Communications (totaling around 1400 pages) - has been ignored, largely because it has not been easily accessible. This paper will examine the nature, meaning, and significance of this text, drawing on research conducted for helping to prepare an edited and annotated version of the three core chapters of the text for publication (William J. Buxton,, Michael Cheney and Paul Heyer, eds. 2015. Harold Innis’s History of Communications: Paper and Printing from Antiquity to Early Modernity. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield). In particular, the paper will examine Innis’s claims about how various forms of paper media intersected with a broad range of other institutions and practices in civilizations from antiquity to early modernity. To this end, it will highlight the extent to which this approach was continuous with some of Innis’s (mostly overlooked) previous works addressing issues of infrastructure, mobility, and mediation. These include History of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1923), Select Documents in Canadian Economic History (1933), Settlement and the Mining Frontier (1936), »Penetrative Powers of the Price System,« (1938) and »The Crisis of Public Opinion« (1943). It will conclude with a brief discussion of a presentation Innis made at the Collège de France in 1951 (»Monopoly and Civilization«). It argues that this talk can be viewed as a culmination of Innis’s longstanding engagement with other histories of civilization (inter alia Spengler, Toynbee, and Kroeber, the Annales School), as well as a fitting coda to his History of Communications project.
William J. Buxton is Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. He holds an Honours BA from the University of Alberta (psychology) an MA from Oxford University (politics and philosophy) an MSc (Econ.) from London University (political sociology), a Dr. rer.pol. from Die Freie Universität Berlin (political economy), and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. He has been the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship, two DAAD (German Exchange) Fellowships, a Shastri (Canada-India) Fellowship, and has served as scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Archive Center. He is author of Talcott Parsons and the Capitalist Nation-State: Political Sociology as a Strategic Vocation (1985), co-editor of Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions (1999), Harold Innis’s History of Communications: Paper and Printing from Antiquity to Early Modernity (2015), Harold Innis Reflects (forthcoming, October 2016), editor of Patronizing the Public: American Philanthropy's Transformation of Culture, Communication, and the Humanities (2009), and Harold Innis and the North: Appraisals and Contentions (2013), he has also written articles, book chapters, and reviews in the area of intellectual, media, and cultural history. He is currently preparing an annotated bibliography of Innis-related material for Oxford Bibliographies as well as the introduction to a new edition of Innis’s Empire and Communications to be published by the University of Toronto Press.