Harold Innis's History of Communications

Paper and PrintingAntiquity to Early Modernity

Foreword by John Durham Peters Edited by William J. Buxton, Michael R. Cheney, Paul Heyer

Hardback - £70.00

Publication date:

18 December 2014

Length of book:

200 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442243385

For decades, media historians have heard of Harold Innis’s unpublished manuscript exploring the history of communications—but very few have had an opportunity to see it. In this volume, editors and Innis scholars William J. Buxton, Michael R. Cheney, and Paul Heyer make widely accessible, for the first time, three core chapters from the legendary Innis manuscript.

Here, Innis (1894-1952) examines the development of paper and printing from antiquity in Asia through to 16
th century Europe. He demonstrates how the paper/printing nexus intersected with a broad range of other phenomena, including administrative structures, geopolitics, militarism, public opinion, aesthetics, cultural diffusion, religion, education, reception, production processes, technology, labor relations, and commerce, as well as the lives of visionary figures.

Buxton, Cheney, and Heyer knit the chapters into a cohesive narrative and help readers navigate Innis’s observations by summarizing the heavily detailed factual material that peppered the unpublished manuscript. They provide further context for Innis’s arguments by adding annotations, references, and pertinent citations to his other writings. The end result is both a testament to Innis’s status as a canonical figure in the study of communication and a surprisingly relevant contribution to how we might think about the current sea change in all aspects of social, cultural, political, and economic life stemming from the global shift to digital communication.
This is a very lightly edited version of three chapters of Harold Innis's vast, unpublished, fact-packed manuscript on the history of communications. Innis (1894–1952) was a major 20th-century economic historian, known for his 'staple theory' of Canadian economic development. Fewer people know that in the last decade of his life, he pursued a study of the history of the pulp-and-paper industry that involved researching the history of humankind's communication activities back to ancient times. Materials (paper), technologies (printing), and the effects of communication (advertising) on society are what interested him. Presented here are the 'Coming of Paper' and chapters on 15th- and 16th-century printing—work the editors thought would interest today's scholars of book history. The content represents material that is not well reflected in Innis's Empire and Communications (1950), The Bias of Communication (1951), and Changing Concepts of Time (1952). The editors are professors of communication studies and economics in the US and Canada. Their added notes cover some of the work done since 1952 on the history of printed communications that is not reflected here. . . .Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty.