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Empire and Communications

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  82 ratings  ·  11 reviews
It’s been said that without Harold A. Innis there could have been no Marshall McLuhan. Empire and Communications is one of Innis’s most important contributions to the debate about how media influence the development of consciousness and societies. In this seminal text, he traces humanity’s movement from the oral tradition of preliterate cultures to the electronic media of ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Dundurn (first published January 1st 1972)
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Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive look at history of communications from antiquity to the 50s, when the author died. This book was his swan song, and wasn't accepted well in the academic community. The book shifts many paradigms of communication and its role in legal systems, governance and economic development. Below is my longer review:

Harold Innis is effectively one of the first economic historians. His investigation into communications in empires that prospered and later collapsed, was aimed at finding answe
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one in particular I mean jeez if it sounds interesting give it a go
Shelves: history, media
Innis writes socio-economic historiography like Hemingway fiction. Sentences are spartan in the book's main sections while footnotes and appended scribblings vy for the position of shortest syntactically incomplete semantic units. Comes with a downright silly bibliography -- a roughly estimated average of four works cited per page. Sometimes obtuse (which has mostly to do with syntax, in some cases with terminology) and always dispassionate (an attitude McLuhan in the foreword calls "a lack of a ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Are you kidding me? This is a supposed classic in communication studies, so I wanted to like it. And being that it's held in such high regard, I naturally had high expectations going in (though, I admit, those expectations were tempered by my familiarity with scholarship in the field). The problem is that this work speaks volumes as to why theories in communication studies are so utterly lacking in anything approaching scientific rigor.

There might be something to the idea that the medium of comm
Thiago Silva
Sep 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: media-history
I came to Innis’ books following what McLuhan said about them, that his own works were a footnote to the observations of Innis.

Innis is a hard read. I’ve read a chunk of Bias of Communications and it seems no different than Empire in that regard. His style is simply this: storming out small sentences describing chronological events in history with no pause on sight. Halfway into the book he starts to timidly draw insights and only by the end, when the subject is the printing press, that he grant
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: media-theory
A highly condensed examination of the role of media in civilizations. Fusion of papyrus and stone resulted in an unstable Egypt Empire. Babylon was aslo struggling in the balance of monarch and priests' monopoly of knowledge, stone and clay. Greek nourished from an oral tradition. Byzantine survived with parchment while papyrus costed Roman its empire. Then came the paper and print press, then business industry and in the other continent newspaper found its dominance in a brand new country. ...more
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a really fascinating book. I really would like to read it again in a physical edition; it is quite a hassle to read the footnotes in the kindle.
Jun 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this book a much higher rating because there are a lot of good ideas there that I'll be mulling over for a long time. But the deficiencies are just too significant and pervasive to ignore. I'll start with the bright spots.

The overall premise, that communications technology and social practice defines the form that empire takes is striking and illuminating. Also the idea that, fundamentally, empires must address problems of space and problems of time in how communications are use
Jun 08, 2020 rated it liked it
There is something really interesting here, but I think it might take another time or two and some context for me to really grasp what it is. Innis's stated goal at the start of these lectures is to explore a culture's texts and modes of textual production as products shaping economic, governmental, and cultural forces. He does this through a method of intense historical excavation, such that this is kind of the names/dates/figures kind of text that often people are warned against writing. But h ...more
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Innis has no intention of "dumbing down" the message of this book. As such, while a fascinating historical overview of the uses of various communicative forms and their social, political, and economic impact, this book will require readers to pay close attention rather than take a cursory glance. ...more
Henrique Maia
Aug 12, 2016 rated it liked it
How much impact had writing in its different incarnations had on world history? How does changes in writing technologies influence the outcomes of empires? This (or something akin to this) is the thesis of Harold A. Innis in this short, but difficult to read (so they say), book.

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this different outlook proposed by Innis. Maybe, as myself, you’ll reach Innis by reading Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy. In any case, Innis’ proposal makes you think
Sep 25, 2008 is currently reading it
The second of 2 classic comm. theory books (the 1st is The Bias of Communication-1949) by Harold Innis, whose theories of 'time-binding' and 'space-binding' media were very influential on Marshall McLuhan, and all who followed in his wake. Heavy going, but worth it. ...more
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“The task of understanding a culture built on the oral tradition is impossible to students steeped in the written tradition. p.55” 3 likes
“Literature and other fields of scholarship have become feudalized in a modern manorial system. Monopolies of knowledge have been built up by publishing firms to some extent in co-operation with universities and exploited in textbooks.” 0 likes
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