The Beginnings of Gutenberg Galaxy 4

In letters written in the context of the NAEB1 project to research new media, McLuhan reported news of what was then titled The Gutenberg Era:2

December 1, 1958 to Harry Skornia3:

Do you think I should put in for a second year?4 For two years right off? I could then put out The Gutenberg Era as preliminary volume to the [project] Handbook.  I have even toyed with the thought of writing down that material (on which I have spent ten years and more) in the first three months anyway.  I work very fast once I start to roll.

April 12, 1959 to Harry Skornia:

I have been given a full time private secretary for the next 3 months, so hope to finish up that book: The Gutenberg Era, which is indispensable as a general public introduction to the [Understanding New Media] project.

May 29, 1959 to Harry Skornia:

Shall spend much of the summer getting things lined up for your committee so that they can give us maximum aid.  Shall send many memos and suggestions of possible procedures. Also, the Gutenberg Era can be circulated in mimeo to all of them.  (…) I don’t think any better approach to Understanding Media could be developed than the Gutenberg Era mss.

June 5, 19595 to Harry Skornia:

Gutenberg Era going fast now. Let’s hope it will bulldoze aside most of the 19th century movie lot set mentalities that surround us. I can guarantee that it will contain more new ideas, more new perceptions of old situations and present problems than any book I’ve had the luck to encounter in my life. I shall take pains to make it acceptable in mode to the literary and conventional mind.

June 23, 1959 to Samuel Becker6:

I think my Gutenberg book will offer a sufficient quantity and continuity of testimony on the effects of the forms of writing and printing to make this completely convincing, because one has only to consult the changes in the arts of poetry, and prose, and painting under the impact of various developments in print technology, to trace the exact lines of force which that technology exerts. This raises a very basic question about media research. I mean the factor of translation from one language into another as revealing7 the properties of both.

  1. National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
  2. All of the letters cited below from McLuhan’s correspondence with Harry Skornia and Sanuel Becker in the context of their NAEB project are to be found in the Unlocking the Airwaves project. For reference see Unlocking the Airwaves.
  3. Skornia was a professor at the University of Illinois and the president of the NAEB
  4. That is, as part of the NAEB project grant application.
  5. McLuhan’s letter is undated, but it was received at the NAEB on June 5. Presumably it was written a few days before.
  6. Samuel Becker was a professor at the University of Iowa and a member of the NAEB research committee overseeing McLuhan’s project.
  7. McLuhan: “as a revealer of the properties of both.”