Innis Across the Disciplines: New Insights, New Opportunities for the Digital Humanities Communications and History
John Michael Bonnett, H.V. Nelles, William Buxton, Geoffrey Rockwell
Time: May 27, 2014, 14:00-15:30
Harold Innis is one of the most compelling and important figures in 20th century Canadian intellectual history. A founder of the Toronto School of Communications, his writings have proven influential in fields ranging from history to the digital humanities, and in the writings of individuals as diverse as Marshall McLuhan, John Seely Brown and the British geographer Sir Peter Hall. Despite the widely acknowledged importance of his work, however, Innis’ writings have also frustrated and challenged scholars, in large measure because of the author’s dense, elliptical verbiage. Incoherence, the Economist magazine once noted in 1946, was Harold Innis’ besetting sin. Innis’ work may not be an easy read, but scholars continue to find his writings an interesting place to visit and re-visit, in large measure because his contributions continue to yield new insights when viewed in relation to other items in his corpus, and in relation to the intellectual discourse of his time.
The purpose of this panel is to examine the past, present and potential future contributions of Innis’ writings to the disciplines of history, communications and the digital humanities. It is occasioned by the publication of John Bonnett’s Emergence and Empire: Innis, Complexity and the Trajectory of History. It will feature the insights of three senior scholars, one from each discipline, who will draw on their own understandings of Innis, and insights from Emergence and Empire, to comment on how past, present and emerging understandings of Innis present opportunities to influence the expressive, analytical and pedagogical practices of the three disciplines. It will also feature a paper from the book’s author, John Bonnett. The three scholars are:
• William J. Buxton, Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University • H.V. Nelles, L.R. Wilson Professor of Canadian History, Department of History, McMaster University • Geoffrey Rockwell, Humanities Computing Program and Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta. The publication of Emergence and Empire is a propitious moment to consider Innis’ impact on the three disciplines, for two reasons.
The first is that Innis’s writings in both economic history and communications continue to generate interest amongst scholars in the social sciences and the humanities, particularly in Canada. As such, they can be used by Canadian digital humanists as a resource to inform, consolidate and legitimize their research and practices. This argument is prompted by two arguments in Emergence and Empire, the first being that Innis was an early social science proponent of information visualization; and that Innis proposed modes of analysis currently being pursued in historical GIS. By drawing on Innis, Canadian scholars in particular can argue that they are undertaking activities consistent with the finest traditions of scholarship in Canada. Innis’ writings will likely also prompt new scholarship. He pressed for GIS-like studies showing the relationship between Canada’s economic evolution and innovations in transportation infrastructure, studies to date that have not been extensively undertaken.
Emergence and Empire also presents historians and communication scholars an opportunity to reconsider Innis’ place in the intellectual context of his time. It also affords an opportunity to reconsider the relationships Innis drew between communication technologies, information flows, social cohesion, and the historical process. This claim is prompted generally by the book’s argument that Innis’ work should be viewed as a sustained meditation on the nature of historical change: Innis believed human history was governed by self-organizing systems governed by positive feedback as well as formal and final cause. More specifically, this claim is supported by two arguments of the book, that Innis independently and concurrently produced work that mirrors Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics; and that Innis was a neo-Kantian who promoted an Idealist philosophy of history.
The task of this panel, in short, will be to re-visit each discipline’s respective understanding of Innis, to reflect on how Innis’ writings can and should influence each discipline’s practice now, and how his writings suggest the three disciplines should collaborate in future.
This panel will be a joint session of the Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Communications Association and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities at Congress 2014 of the Humanities & Social Sciences (see http://tinyurl.com/kguqewq ).
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A ground-breaking look at the writings and philosophy of pioneering Canadian thinker Harold Adams Innis.
In Emergence and Empire, John Bonnett offers a fresh take on Innis’s work by demonstrating that his purpose was to understand the impact of self-organizing, emergent change on economies and societies. Innis’s interest in emergent change induced him to craft an original and bold philosophy of history informed by concepts as diverse as information, Kantian idealism, and business cycle theory. Bonnett provides a close reading of Innis’s oeuvre that connects works of communication and economic history to present a fuller understanding of Innis’s influences and influence.
Emergence and Empire presents a portrait of an original and prescient thinker who anticipated the importance of developments such as information visualization and whose understanding of change is remarkably similar to that which is promoted by the science of complexity today.
1 Constructs of Change 15
2 The Fur Trade 50
3 The Cod Fisheries 78
4 Political Economy in the Modern State 127
5 Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communication 184
6 The Enduring Significance of Harold Adams Innis 251
Author: John Bonnett is a Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities and associate professor of history at Brock University.
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Contents – Foreword
Hipstamatic Blues by Julian Stallabrass
Smartphones + War in Afghanistan – Marshall McLuhan b. 1911 in Alberta Canada – The embed – Semiotics – Figure + Ground – Reading McLuhan – Musa Qala – The social media – River City – iPhone + the Hipstamatic app – The thingness of things – The iProbes – Prophylactive therapy
The Extensions of Man
Camera obscura – Electric light – Typewriter – Telephone – Phonograph – Smartphone
McLuhan + Fiore + The Printed Book
iProbe 01_The iphone Camera + the Hipstamatic app ; iProbe 02_Phone Texting ; iProbe 03_Body Armour ; iProbe 04_Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) ; iProbe 05_Figure / Ground ; iProbe 06_Improved Explosive Devices (IEDs) Made of Wood ; iProbe 07_Fuel Dispensers ; iProbe 08_Loudspeakers and Sermons from the Mosque ; iProbe 09_Mobile Telephony: “Can You Hear Me Now?” ; iProbe 10_The Written Word: “Proceed At Your Own Risk” ; iProbe 11_Unmaned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs); iProbe 12_Sandbags and HESCO Concertina Barriers ; The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:00–11:10)
The Tetrads: Laws of Media
Notes – Bibliography – Colophon – Acknowledgements – About the author
YouTube trailer about the book:
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From Paul Levinson’s Infinite Regress blog (by permission): http://paullevinson.blogspot.ca/2014/04/tetrad-on-selfie.html
I [Paul Levinson] just had an exchange with Ian Bogost over on Twitter, after I posted the above photograph of me, Marshall McLuhan, and Eric McLuhan, taken at the “Tetrad Conference” I organized at Fairleigh Dickinson University in March 1978.
Ian aptly said that I needed a “4th” (the “tetrad” has four components).
I replied that the 4th person pertaining to the photograph was the photographer*, which has flipped into the selfie.
Here, then, is a full tetrad on the photograph, and it’s flipping into the selfie:
The photograph enhances capture of literal images.
The photograph obsolesces portrait painting.
The photograph retrieves memory, looking at images in pools of water, etc.
And the photograph flips into the selfie.
And it’s a physical flip of the camera in the phone, as well as a philosophic flip.
*photographer was my student, Mary Lou Bale
For more on the tetrad …
See also http://tinyurl.com/3xkfgh from which this is extracted:
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- Presents surprising juxtapositions between early 20th-century modernist literature and early 21st-century digital texts
- Covers canonical work by Joyce and Pound alongside lesser known works of electronic literature by William Poundstone and Judd Morrissey
- Establishes electronic literature as an important area for modernist studies
Digital Modernism examines how and why some of the most innovative works of online electronic literature adapt and allude to literary modernism. Digital literature has been celebrated as a postmodern form that grows out of contemporary technologies, subjectivities, and aesthetics, but this book provides an alternative genealogy. Exemplary cases show electronic literature looking back to modernism for inspiration and source material (in content, form, and ideology) through which to critique contemporary culture. In so doing, this literature renews and reframes, rather than rejects, a literary tradition that it also reconfigures to center around media. To support her argument, Pressman pairs modernist works by Pound, Joyce, and Bob Brown, with major digital works like William Poundstone’s “Project for the Tachistoscope: [Bottomless Pit]” (2005), Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’s Dakota, and Judd Morrissey’s The Jew’s Daughter. With each pairing, she demonstrates how the modernist movement of the 1920s and 1930s laid the groundwork for the innovations of electronic literature. In sum, the study situates contemporary digital literature in a literary genealogy in ways that rewrite literary history and reflect back on literature’s past, modernism in particular, to illuminate the crucial role that media played in shaping the ambitions and practices of that period. (Source http://tinyurl.com/pgl7g9u )
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The Materiality of Rumor April 29, 2014 • 7:00PM – Fisher Rare Book Library • 120 St. George Street
In this talk I will discuss rumors as a type of small media and as ‘secondhand accounts’ rather than ‘false tales.’ Over the years, I have encountered a number of rumors while doing ethnographic fieldwork in Ghana including one about Bill Gates – the illiterate dropout, rumors about young Ghanaians who got rich off the Internet, and a rumor about an impending earthquake (spread, in part, by mobile phone) that led people to flee into the streets one night in 2010. The study of rumor has served as a useful lens for thinking about how digital technologies are received by new populations of users. Among youth in Ghanaian Internet cafes, the accounting work done in rumors resolved issues of morality and efficacy related to Internet use. Rumors compel retelling and have a bodily existence through the people who spread them. The consequences of rumor are often overwhelmingly and undeniably material. The durability of rumor offers a way to rethink an overdrawn dichotomy between material and symbolic that often subtly (or not so subtly) informs the social study of digital technologies.
Bio: Jenna Burrell is an Associate Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Her first book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (The MIT Press) came out in May 2012. She completed her PhD in 2007 in the department of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Before pursuing her PhD she was an Application Concept Developer in the People and Practices Research Group at Intel Corporation. Her interests span many research topics including theories of materiality, user agency, transnationalism, post-colonial relations, digital representation, and especially the appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by individuals and groups on the African continent. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/mwrg6rq )
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Kevin McMahon (Director). Michael McMahon and Kristina McLaughlin (Primitive Producers).
Gerry Flahive (NFB Producer). David Sobelman (Writer & Co-producer).
Montreal, PQ: Primitive Entertainment in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada in association with TVONTARIO, 2003.
As he lay dying on the last day of 1980, Marshall McLuhan had every reason to believe he would soon be forgotten. His ideas about technology and its role in society had been dismissed by many Western intellectuals and his beloved study centre at the University of Toronto had been closed. His books were not selling and the mass media, having built him up as the oracle of our times, had lost interest. Worst of all, a massive stroke, suffered earlier in the year, had rendered him mute.
It was a tragically perfect end for a misunderstood prophet: rich in pathos and irony. For CNN was born the year McLuhan died and the world would soon come to viscerally understand two of his most famous and puzzling aphorisms: “the Global Village” and “the medium is the message”.
*** SHARING FOR INSTRUCTIONAL PURPOSES ONLY ***
All rights belong to Primitive Entertainment. Please buy a copy of the DVD from their web site and share with friends, family, and classmates. See http://www.primitive.net/mcluhan.html
Interviews: Somebody kindly published a collection of recorded interviews that were made for McLuhan’s Wake, with a number of people who were close to Marshall McLuhan, both family members and professional colleagues: Eric McLuhan, his eldest son; Philip Marchand, his first biographer; Corinne McLuhan, his wife; Edmund Carpenter, colleague and collaborator at University of Toronto; Frank Zingrone, university professor and colleague; Gerald O’Grady, professor and colleague; Lewis Lapham, magazine publisher, wrote an Introduction to the MIT edition of Understanding Media; Neil Postman, NYU professor and colleague; Patricia Bruckman, friend. Click on each title to listen to the audio or to download the audio file. (Note, 04/06/14 : the files on this site are presently inaccessible; hopefully they will be accessible again on this peculiar site.)
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MIT has launched an interesting Internet application that measures and ranks world cultural influencers by country and occupation. The New York Times explains it thus:
There are many varieties of fame. Jesus Christ was the first person to achieve it globally, Clive James wrote, “without conquering the world by violence.” The best kind for a poet to earn, W. H. Auden said, is like some valley cheese — “local, but prized elsewhere.” Yet if all fame, like all politics, is to some degree local, how thoroughly it has been transmitted across the planet and through the centuries has been difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.
Pantheon, a new project from the Macro Connections group in M.I.T.’s Media Lab, is giving that a stab. It has collected and analyzed data on cultural production from 4,000 B.C. to 2010. With a few clicks on its website, which just went live, you can swing through time and geography, making plain the output of, say, Brazil (largely soccer players) or Belarus (politicians). It also ranks professions from chemists to jurists to porn stars (No. 1 is Jenna Jameson; No. 2 is the Czech Republic’s Silvia Saint).
For now, you are legitimately famous, the M.I.T. team has decided, if a Wikipedia page under your name exists in more than 25 languages. [It is also premised on how many times living and historical personages are looked up on Wikipedia in the various languages.] See http://tinyurl.com/mkbfpcj .
Here’s where Marshall McLuhan of Canada ranks in MIT’s schema:
Marshall McLuhan (Philosopher) was born in Edmonton, Canada in 1911.
He is featured in 37 different language editions of Wikipedia and has received 4,397,402 combined Page views since 2008.
- L (language editions): 37
- PV (page views): 4,397,402
- PVe (english pageviews): 2,131,153
- PVne (non-english pageviews): 2,266,249
- CV (coeff. of variation): 0.02703
- L* (effective L): 6.64
This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane
are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to
Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our
species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage
we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand
the process of global cultural development.
Dive in, visualize, and enjoy. ( http://pantheon.media.mit.edu/vision )
Methods - Read about how these datasets are arrived at and their biases,
limitations and validation here http://pantheon.media.mit.edu/methods
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My thanks to Adam Swick on his blog for making this information available. See http://tinyurl.com/opt28x4 .
The November, 1967 issue of artscanada was a special issue on Canadian-born Wyndham Lewis, edited by Sheila Watson, Canadian novelist and University of Alberta English professor, whose doctoral dissertation,Wyndham Lewis and Expressionism was completed in 1965 under Marshall McLuhan’s supervision at the University of Toronto. It included a 7″ Flexidisc with recordings of Lewis reading his poem One-Way Song and McLuhan talking about Lewis.
On Side 1 Sheila Watson introduces McLuhan, who talks about Lewis’s visit with him in St. Louis (in 1944), his very English accent, fondness for opera, and disappointment at his writings not being taken seriously by high level decision-makers. Adam Swick has provided a transcription of McLuhan’s comments below the audio recording.
Now, here is Marshall McLuhan recalling his experience in recording Lewis reading.
In St. Louis—Lewis came down to visit and to do some paintings. And I managed to persuade him to read something from One-Way Song for our little home recorder. And it was most interesting to observe Lewis upon hearing his own voice. He just simply roared with laughter! In all the years preceding it had never occurred to him that he had essentially an English voice. Anyone who reads Lewis doesn’t tend to get a very strong English effect or English enunciation from his prose. And Lewis himself apparently had nourished the idea that he spoke with a rugged American accent. And so he just went into fits of laughter when he heard this very English voice coming forth. And upon hearing the Harvard recording myself just now I too was surprised at just how English he sounded because after years of talking with Lewis I had forgotten altogether that he had an English voice. He didn’t bear down on his English character at all.
He was very fond of opera. And he would occasionally produce a trill or two in that direction. But I wasn’t—after all I wasn’t in his presence all day and night, as it were. But I can certainly recall his breaking out into song occasionally. But often to illustrate a point. He would use some operatic aria just to “theme in” some discussion.
I think Lewis thought of his work as having immediate relevance to decision-making at the highest levels of human affairs, and naturally felt somewhat frustrated that his kinds of perceptions could not be made available in decision-making at very high levels.
On side 2, more interestingly McLuhan explains Lewis’s considerable influence on him: of the idea that the man-made environment is a programmed teaching machine and of Lewis’s preference for the visual sense over the other senses, going on himself to compare the visual with the other senses.
We asked Marshall McLuhan what influence Wyndham Lewis had on him.
Good Heavens—that’s where I got it! [Laughter] It was Lewis who put me on to all this study of the environment as an educational—as a teaching machine. To use our more recent terminology, Lewis was the person who showed me that the manmade environment was a teaching machine—a programmed teaching machine. Earlier, you see, the Symbolists had discovered that the work of art is a programmed teaching machine. It’s a mechanism for shaping sensibility. Well, Lewis simply extended this private art activity into the corporate activity of the whole society in making environments that basically were artifacts or works of art and that acted as teaching machines upon the whole population.
Why was this book of poems called One-Way Song?
In many of his writings he asserts the primacy of the visual. In his perception and his general feeling of preference of the visual over the other senses his feeling was that the passion for musical form in the later nineteenth century and in his own time betrayed this—betrayed our traditional visual values. Now, the clue then to One-Way Song may be in the fact that the visual sense is the only sense we have that is continuous and connected. All the other senses are discontinuous—whether touch, every moment of which is different form every other moment, or hearing, which is discontinuous—the interval is necessary for the very act of hearing. In sight alone, or in the visual alone, is there [sic?] a continuum—a connected universe that we associate with rationality and detachment. But One-Way Song seems to draw attention to these qualities of rationality and detachment and continuity and connectedness in thought and perception.
Now, back to Wyndham Lewis in 1940.
Finally, here is a YouTube video of Wyndham Lewis, the Canadian-born English painter/writer/polemicist and founder of the Vorticists , appearing in a newsreel clip from 1938, standing outside the Royal Academy after the rejection by the Academy of his portrait of his longtime friend T.S. Eliot. His very English accent is plainly evident.
The artscanada recording of Lewis reading his poem One-Way Song is available on The Enemy Speaks .
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This will be of interest to McLuhanists and students of Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and modernist art and literature …
The publication of the London-based modernist magazine BLAST in June 1914 was the most important artistic event in Britain that year and a transformative moment in the wider milieu of European modernist art and literature. The launch of the Vorticist movement was the culmination of a series of noisy dissociations from other modernist trends in art (most notably the Bloomsbury Group and the Futurists) and marked the creation of England’s first real avant-garde art movement. Published a mere seven weeks before the Britain’s entrance into the First World War, BLAST also gives a fascinating insight into the combative cultural temper in London immediately prior to the outbreak of war.
The guns of the Western Front effectively silenced the rhetorical aggression of the Vorticist manifesto; yet despite this, the two issues of BLAST that were published provided a platform for some the most significant figures in the development of British High Modernism, including the artwork of Wyndham Lewis, Edward Wadsworth, Jacob Epstein, Spencer Gore, Gaudier Brzeska, Helen Sanders, Jessica Dismorr, Christopher Nevinson and William Roberts, and the writings of Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and T. S. Eliot (whose first poems to be published in the UK appeared in the pages of BLAST 2: The War Number).
The bellicose rhetoric of BLAST was of its time, but the Vorticist manifestos also envisioned a new social function for art. As Wyndham Lewis explained, “It was more than just picture-making: one was manufacturing fresh eyes for people, and fresh souls to go with the eyes.”
BATH SPA UNIVERSITY – 24/25 JULY 2014
CALL FOR PAPERS
We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on any aspect of BLAST and Vorticism, and positively encourage research emanating from a diverse range of disciplines, particularly:
o Literary criticism, Cultural criticism, Art, Art history, History, Sociology
Please send a 250-word abstract, with title, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15th April 2014.
Themes of the conference include:
- Can there be a 2014 equivalent to the Vorticist moment of 1914?
- The lives and works of individual Vorticists.
- Visual and Literary Vorticism.
- BLAST and other modernist magazines.
- Origins and legacies of *BLAST *and Vorticism.
- BLAST and World War One.
- The effect of World War One on the Avant-Garde
- Vorticism: Nationalist or Internationalist?
- BLAST and women.
- *Enemy of the Stars* and Expressionist drama.
- The philosophical origins of Vorticism, and their transformation in Wyndham Lewis’s later works.
- We also invite artists who have been influenced by (or who feel their work interacts with) Vorticism, and we welcome suggestions for round-table discussions.
The deadline for proposals is 15th April 2014. All submissions will be reviewed in April and May and delegates will contacted by early June 2014. Please include institutional affiliations, society membership and contact details.
See also On Vorticism & Wyndham Lewis, Influencers of McLuhan on this blog at http://tinyurl.com/pddn4ew .
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