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Harold Adams Innis (November 5, 1894 – November 8, 1952) was a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on Canadian economic history and on media and communication theory. Innis is considered by many to have been one of the finest and most original scholars Canada has ever produced. He helped develop the staples thesis which holds that Canada's culture and economy has been shaped by the exploitation and export of a series of staples such as fur, fish, wood, wheat, mined metals and fossil fuels. Innis's communications writings 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 BCE.
Innis laid the basis for scholarship that looked at the social sciences from a distinctly Canadian point of view. As the head of U of T's political economy department, he worked to build up a cadre of Canadian scholars so that universities would not continue to rely as heavily on British or American-trained professors unfamiliar with Canada's history and culture. He was successful in establishing sources of financing for Canadian scholarly research.
Innis also tried to defend universities from political and economic pressures. 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, thought that Innis's premature death constituted a disastrous loss for human understanding. McLuhan wrote: "I am pleased to think of my own book The Gutenberg Galaxy as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing then of printing."
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