Portal:Canada/Selected biography/11

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Harold Innis in the 1920s

Harold Innis (November 5, 1894 – November 8, 1952) was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on media, communication theory and Canadian economic history. The affiliated "Innis College" at the University of Toronto is named for him. Despite his dense and difficult prose, many scholars consider Innis one of Canada's most original thinkers. He helped develop the staples thesis, which holds that Canada's culture, political history and economy have been decisively influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of "staples" such as fur, fish, wood, wheat, mined metals and fossil fuels.

Innis's writings on communication explore the role of media in shaping the culture and development of civilizations. He argued, for example, that a balance between oral and written forms of communication contributed to the flourishing of Greek civilization in the 5th century BC. He warned, however, that Western civilization is now imperiled by powerful, advertising-driven media obsessed by "present-mindedness" and the "continuous, systematic, ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity".

Innis laid the basis for scholarship that looked at the social sciences from a distinctly Canadian point of view. As the head of the University of Toronto's political economy department, he worked to build up a cadre of Canadian scholars so that universities would not continue to rely as heavily on British or American-trained professors unfamiliar with Canada's history and culture. He was successful in establishing sources of financing for Canadian scholarly research.