In Memoriam: Dr. Paul Heyer, Media Historian & Media Ecologist

29Aug18

I first met Paul Heyer in 2004 at the Media Ecology Association’s annual convention at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He suggested that I apply to teach some courses in communication at Wilfrid Laurier University, which I did a few years later. While there I enjoyed talking to him about our common interests in Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Orson Welles and the Titanic. I later reviewed his excellent study of the Titanic myth and its subsequent representation in many media forms for Explorations in Media Ecology,12 (1&2), pp. 137-143. He was a generous colleague, friend and excellent scholar and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace.

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Paul Heyer, who passed away about a week ago, was a polymath, earning degrees in geography (BA, Concordia), sociology (MA, New School) and an MPhil and PhD in anthropology from Rutgers University before going on to make significant contributions to communication studies. He taught at in Communication Departments at Simon Fraser University, McGill University, and Concordia University, spending the major part of his career at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada since January 2001.

His published research includes the most widely-adopted introductory media history textbook in North America (7 editions to date), significant studies of Harold Innis, the tragedy of the Titanic and how it has been mythologized in media, and Orson Welles’s radio dramatizations. In addition, Heyer has published work on digital cinema and opera, the legacy of Marshall McLuhan and taught courses on film comedy, non-verbal communication, the culture of the 1950s, and radio, among many, many others. Just this summer his magnum opus on desert island narratives, Islands in the Screen: From Robinson Crusoe to Lost, was submitted for publication and is expected to be published posthumously. His published books include:                                                                             

  • Crowley, David, Urquhart, Peter, and Paul Heyer. Communication in History: Stone Age Symbols to Social Media. Routledge, 2018.
  • Crowley, David and Paul Heyer. Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. Sixth edition. New York: Routledge, 2016. [6 editions]
  • Buxton Bill, Cheney Michael, and Paul Heyer, eds. Harold Innis Reflects: Memoir and WWI Writings/Correspondence. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
  • Buxton, Bill, Cheney Michael, and Paul Heyer, eds. Harold Innis’s History of Communications. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
  • Heyer, Paul. Titanic Century: Media, Myth, and the Making of a Cultural Icon. Second edition. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2012.
  • Heyer, Paul. The Medium and the Magician: Orson Welles, the Radio Years. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
  • Heyer, Paul. Harold Innis. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
  • Heyer, Paul. Communications and History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

In addition, Heyer published work on digital cinema and opera, the legacy of Marshall McLuhan and taught courses on film comedy, non-verbal communication, the culture of the 1950s, and radio, among many, many others. Just this summer his magnum opus on desert island narratives, Islands in the Screen: From Robinson Crusoe to Lost, was submitted for publication and is expected to be published posthumously.

As well as a highly accomplished scholar and popular undergraduate teacher, Heyer was a beloved and extraordinarily generous colleague and mentor. Perhaps his greatest contribution, though, was to graduate student teaching, supervising and mentorship. Over his career, Heyer supervised dozens of students to MA and PhD degrees and was instrumental in establishing the MA program in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier, where he was a fixture, teaching the required seminar, even after his retirement in 2016.

Heyer’s pursuits outside of academic life were as eclectic and passionate as those inside. He was an avid cyclist and archer, an extremely accomplished long-distance runner, completing several marathons, including Boston and New York, in the ridiculously fast time of under 2:40, an excellent trumpet and trombone player, had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history, was a published poet and was an enthusiastic follower of less high-profile sports such as Australian Rules Football and track-and-field.

Last summer, Heyer received the Media Ecology Association’s Walter J. Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship in San Francisco. His response to the award illustrates both his humility about his accomplishments and their extraordinarily broad range:

“This came as a complete surprise — I would never regard myself as having the kind of unified body of scholarship that would merit such an award,” said Heyer. “In generously acknowledging the breadth of my work, I thank the MEA for thinking otherwise.” (source https://goo.gl/4o6Psw)

Paul Heyer addressing convention delegates at the MEA Convention in 2017 in San Francisco


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