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Banner: Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhanIntroductionInnisMcLuhanConclusionsEssays: Archives as MediumForum


Welcome to Old Messengers, New Media. The main goal of this website is to introduce and discuss the ideas of two great Canadian thinkers in the field of communications -- Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan -- both of whom had an enormous influence on the foundation and direction of the study of modern communications. To this end, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has collaborated with two academics in the field -- Dr. Sandra Gabriele and JoAnne Stober, a doctoral candidate -- to give an overview of the works of Innis and McLuhan, and to comment on their legacies (see Innis, McLuhan, and Forum).

As with its other websites, LAC has endeavoured to illustrate the current theme with photographs, manuscripts, and audiovisual materials from its own collections, as well as from the University of Toronto, which holds a rich collection on Harold Innis, including his private papers. Given that both of the thinkers featured in Old Messengers, New Media were concerned with media's role in, and effects on, society and knowledge, it is interesting to consider what McLuhan and Innis would have thought about their ideas being presented through such a variety of media, including the World Wide Web.

The form of presentation on this site also raises an interesting question about the role of the archive itself as a communication medium: To what extent is historical knowledge not merely preserved, but shaped by the archive and its means of selecting, storing, and presenting information? LAC has invited several prominent academics in the field of communications to discuss this question (see Archives as Medium). The modern archive has, for some time, gone far beyond the popular stereotype of a repository for mainly paper documents. Archives now deal with an enormous range of media and media technologies, as well as the specific storage and retrieval problems that these technologies entail. In addition, archives have to address important questions about the transfer from one medium to another, in particular the transfer to digital media, which is often chosen as a means of optimizing storage space and increasing document longevity. There is also the problem of preserving technologies required to access obsolete media, a problem that increases with the pace of technological change. Is the archive an entirely neutral institution with regard to knowledge, or does it, in fact, mediate?

LAC hopes that the papers which address the question of the archives as a medium will elicit responses from the public. To this end, we have included an interactive component with this site (see Forum), where this question, and any issues that arise from this website, can be discussed. We hope that Old Messengers, New Media and its forum will be of use to students in the field of communications and to anyone with an interest in the ideas of two important Canadians, Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.

Photograph of Harold Innis, 1920s, by H. James

Harold Innis, 1920s, photograph by H. James

Photograph of Marshall McLuhan posing at table with books, January 21, 1967, by Yousuf Karsh

Marshall McLuhan, January 21, 1967, photograph by Yousuf Karsh

Photograph of exterior of Library and Archives Canada Gatineau Preservation Centre, by Denis Gagnon

Library and Archives Canada Gatineau Preservation Centre, photograph by Denis Gagnon
Visit the LAC Gatineau Preservation Centre website

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