Harold Adams Innis FRSC was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto. He helped develop the staples thesis, which holds that Canada’s culture, political history, and economy have been influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of staples. Innis laid the basis for scholarship that looked at the social sciences from a distinctly Canadian point of view.
About Harold Innis in brief
Harold Adams Innis FRSC was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto. He helped develop the staples thesis, which holds that Canada’s culture, political history, and economy have been influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of staples. Innis laid the basis for scholarship that looked at the social sciences from a distinctly Canadian point of view. He believed that independent universities, as centres of critical thought, were essential to the survival of Western civilization. His intellectual disciple and university colleague, Marshall McLuhan, lamented Innis’s premature death as a disastrous loss for human understanding. The staple thesis dominated economic history in Canada from the 1930s to 1960s, and continues to be a fundamental part of the Canadian political economic tradition. In October 1913, Innis started classes at McMaster University, where he was influenced by James Broke Broke, a liberal arts professor who encouraged critical thinking and debate. He was a natural choice for McMaster because it was a Baptist university and many students who attended attended Woodstock College, where Innis was also a teacher. He died of a heart attack at the age of 80. He is buried in Toronto. His writings on communication explore the role of media in shaping the culture and development of civilizations. He argued, for example, that a balance between oral and written forms of communication contributed to the flourishing of Greek civilization in the 5th century BC. He warned, however, that Western civilization is now imperiled by powerful, advertising-driven media obsessed by present-mindedness and the ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity.
Innis grew increasingly hostile to the United States as the Cold War grew hotter after 1947, He warned repeatedly that Canada was becoming a subservient colony to its much more powerful southern neighbor. His views influenced some younger scholars, including Donald Creighton. He never forgot his rural origins. As a boy he loved the rhythms and routines of farm life and he never forgetting his rural roots. He was born on November 5, 1894, on a small livestock and dairy farm near the community of Otterville in southwestern Ontario’s Oxford County. He travelled by train to Woodstock, Ontario, to complete his secondary education at a college-run college. He intended to become a public-school teacher and passed the entrance examinations for training to earn the money he would need to support himself at an Ontario teachers’ college. At age 18, he returned to teach for one term until the local school board could recruit a fully qualified teacher. At the time, the Baptist church was an important part of life in rural areas. It gave isolated families a sense of community and embodied the values of individualism and independence. Its far-flung congregations were not ruled by a centralized, bureaucratic authority. In October 1912 Innis decided to go off to college, but decided to take a year off to earn money for himself at the one-room schoolhouse.