Preface to Eric Havelock and the Toronto School

Harold Innis and Eric Havelock taught at the University of Toronto together for almost twenty years. Innis came to Toronto in 1920 and remained until his death in 1952.  Havelock joined the faculty in 1929 and left for Harvard in 1947.

Marshall McLuhan taught at Toronto from 1946 until 1979.  Innis and he were colleagues for six years, bound together by Tom Easterbrook who was a longtime crony of McLuhan from Winnipeg (they toured England with one another as university students in 1932) and who was a close associate, almost an assistant, to Innis in the UT Political Economy department.

Innis and Havelock knew each other personally from 1930 at the latest and influenced each other profoundly over the following decades. McLuhan met Innis through Easterbrook in 1948 (if not already in 1947).  It is unclear when he first met Havelock, but presumably sometime in the 1950s. McLuhan, in turn, was profoundly influenced by both Innis and Havelock. The three together are rightly considered as forming a ‘Toronto school of communications’.

The chapters which follow are posts from the blog: McLuhan’s New Sciences (  Each considers some aspect or aspects of the relations between Innis, Havelock and McLuhan.  Often the instigation is taken from research claims which have all too often ignored the plain facts of the matter. In particular, researchers have unaccountably failed to look into Havelock’s early writings1 from Toronto and have therefore not seen when and how he contributed, mightily, to the ‘Toronto school’.

The research of all three turned on deep questions of epistemology and ontology. Now that all three are coming back into fashion as communication theorists, particularly Innis and McLuhan, perhaps to be joined soon by the early Havelock, it is time to consider just how they related to each other and what their objects were in doing so.  

Eric Havelock and the Toronto School is the first volume to be published by NorthWest Passage Press. The press will concentrate on Canadian intellectual history and will include volumes of original texts, some now out of print, some never published at all.  Its motivation, taken from Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, is that the margin generates insights which the centre does not — but which, for its own stability, it needs to acknowledge. By according with such marginal insights and reorienting itself through them, the centre is able to regain its balance and prevent an uncontrollable destabilization that is otherwise inevitable.


Santa Ana, April 6, 2017

  1. Most of Havelock’s early writings from his time in Canada are now difficult to access or even to find at all. NorthWest Passage Press will issue a volume of them later in 2017.