Communications and History: Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization

Communications and History: Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization

Communications and History: Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization

Communications and History: Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization

Synopsis

This innovative volume selectively assesses three centuries of inquiry into the role of communications in the history of civilization. It challenges the conventional assumption that inquiry into the human consequences of living in a communications-dominated age began in the middle of the 20th century as a response to omnipresent technology.

Excerpt

The pages that follow selectively assess three centuries of inquiry into the role of communications in the history of civilization. Today this is an area of growing interest. Numerous researchers have made important contributions to various aspects of it, but until now no overall assessment of past discussions has been attempted. Perhaps the reader can better appreciate the present one if I begin by highlighting some of the relevant circumstances from which it emerged.

In 1951 an important event in interdisciplinary scholarship occurred: The Bias of Communication, written by Canadian scholar Harold Innis, was published. It constitutes a major exploration of what many still hold to be a new field, the social history of communications. However, the book was unheralded in its own time. For good or for ill, rediscovery of the Innis communication legacy was due in part to the phenomenon of Marshall McLuhan during the sixties. He championed these researches when few others did and argued that his own work was in the same tradition. Ultimately McLuhan inspired many people to give serious attention to the communications/history question, including this writer in 1967, although that inspiration was rarely accompanied by complete agreement with his perspective.

During the late seventies I began to pursue my teaching and research interests in the Department of Communication at Simon Fraser University, after initially being trained in geography, sociology, and anthropology. It was gratifying to see that some fundamental issues raised by Innis and McLuhan were being further elaborated, sometimes as a homage to their efforts, sometimes not, by a new generation of innovative, interdisciplinary writers (including Jack Goody, Walter Ong, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Eric Havelock, and Neil Postman, to name a few of the most . . .

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