Legacy of Harold Innis

The Legacy of Harold Innis


1994 was the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Harold Innis, a pioneering Canadian scholar who was the source of several of the main currents of Canadian thought.  His studies of the fur trade and the cod fishery produced a persuasive account of how the production of staple commodities shaped the pattern of Canadian economic and political development.  His work on the ways in which communications media influence influence basic perceptions of time and space gave birth to the "Toronto school" of media ecology and had a decisive influence on thinkers like Marshall McLuhan who followed.  And, finally, he set an inspiring example for Canadian scholarship, struggling all his life against the biases - his word -  which he felt beset intellectual life and leaving behind, at his death in 1952, a clairvoyant critique of the standardization and industrialization of the university that, in his view, was then already well underway. 

The anniversary year was an occasion for conferences all across Canada.  I attended several and then assembled a few of the interpreters who impressed me most in this series of documentaries, first broadcast in December of that year.