Harold Innis (1894-1952) in the Great War

18Sep14

 Harold Innis in uniform

Harold Innis goes to war

By MEL WATKINS   –   September 16, 2014

The great Canadian scholar Harold Innis fought and was wounded in the trenches in the First World War. The experience changed his life forever. So argues A. John Watson in his brilliant biography, Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis, on which this blog draws.

The title and the sub-title tell it all. Fighting under British command, Innis, coming from the margin — albeit privileged — of the British Empire, was compelled to encounter Canada’s colonial status. The experience was the genesis of Innis’s resolve to create Indigenous scholarship from his hinterland status. These are the roots of today’s Canadian Political Economy and Canadian Studies, and later of the Toronto School of Communications and the study of media. The war was also to make Innis suspicious of authority and give his scholarship a sharpness that was rare at the time.

Fighting in the trenches also subverted Innis’s Christian faith. When he went to war he had been seriously considering entering the Baptist ministry. In Europe, however, he saw the barbarism, and how each antagonist claimed God’s backing, and how the Germans looked no different from him close up. Rather than the clergy, he returned to do graduate work in economics at the University of Chicago and then to teaching at the University of Toronto, and the rest is history.

It has become a key part of the official narrative of the war that from it emerged Canadian nationalism — though not in Quebec — and the demand, not for independence (that would be so unCanadian) but for increased autonomy within the Empire. Read the rest at http://tinyurl.com/klan6rf .

See also Harold Innis: An Intellectual at the Edge of Empire by Mel Watkins: http://canadiandimension.com/articles/1842 .

Harold Innis

6834943    The Bias of Communication By Harold A. Innis University of Toronto Press ISBN 978-0-8020-9606-7 (paper) 226 pages

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