History of Communication


Harold Innis was a political economist and geographer.

He studied various aspects of Canadian commerce and industry (e g., fisheries, fur trade and railways).

During the last decade of his life his extensive analysis of forms of communication produced two major works "Empire and Communications" (1950) and "The Bias of Communication" (1951).


His focus was on power and how it is exercised through control of areas of space and period of time

He saw communications technology as the key to this political and economic process, for such technology determines the social co-ordinates of space and time.

He looked at the distribution of power among social groups along with the knowledge possessed by the people.

The 'bias' was inherent in the communication structure in terms of being space binding or time binding. That is how he came up with his theory.

Space Binding:

Easy to transport

Example: print and electronic communication

They are connected with expansion and control over territory

Favor the establishment of commercialism and empire




Time Binding:

Difficult to transport

E.g., oral tradition and stone

Favor the cultivation of memory

Relatively small communities

Traditional forms of Authority




Marshal McLuhan was his student.



During the oral tradition there was a lot of distortion. Imagine transmitting a message through the classroom. The information will become distorted.

EGYPTIAN CIVILIZATION influenced by the Nile and the oral tradition.

Then started to use hieroglyphics to write on the tombs of the ancient Pharaoh's and rulers of Egypt.


Stone was the first material used for drawing pictures and writing letters. Craftsmen used sharp chisels in Egypt to carve the hieroglyphics.


Although papyrus is not paper in the true sense, it was the first writing material to assume many of the properties we now know as paper.

It was made from the inner fiber of the papyrus plant and was a much more efficient medium than stone.

Before the Christian era, the papyrus plant grew profusely in Egypt.


The word alphabet comes from two words…alpha and beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.

The Greeks regularly wrote from left to right and spread their alphabet through the Mediterranean world.

Early systems of writing were of the pictographic variety. These included the cuneiform writing of the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians.

Egyptian hieroglyphics and the written symbols used by the Mayans and by the Chinese and Japanese. The alphabetic system was the use of a pictograph to represent an object or idea. The sound is usually the initial sound denoted in the original pictograph.

Thus, in early Semitic a HOUSE was known as the spoken word beth, which eventually came to symbolize the b in beth, and ultimately the b in the English alphabet.

The increase of papyrus and the use of the brush accompanied by a new form of writing caused the emergence of professional scribes.

With the expansion of writing and reading came the extension of administration and the beginning of decentralization.


A medium used by the Persians and Syrians. Also difficult to transport. But their mode of transportation helped. Used horses and camels and extended their empire and trade routes



The GREEKS based their empire and civilization on the oral tradition.

THE SPOKEN WORD. The traditional limitations of stone or clay were overcome and the problems of securing an adequate supply of papyrus was also overcome.

This helped the Greeks to become a decentralized nation. Their mode of communication was more flexible. This also increased constitutional and legal advances.

The Romans and their ability to transform the making of Roman Law into the oral tradition facilitated the rise of the roman empire until supplies of papyrus once again became available from Egypt.

Roman soldiers were known to write their wills on their metal buckles or on the scabbards of their swords.


The ancient Latins used the inner bark of certain trees known as liber. In time the word liber denoted a book itself, and from it our word library is dervived.

Parchment is made from the split skin of sheep. The flesh or lining side is converted into the best parchment. Vellum is made from calfskin or lambskin.

Parchment was an excellent medium for communication A well developed book trade along with the building of libraries made Rome a stronghold in terms of power and dominance.


868 BC The craft of making paper was closely guarded by the Chinese.

900 BC paper travelled to Egypt

1150 AD mill set up in France to produce paper

1494 AD Another mill set up in England

1575 AD The art of paper making spread to the New World where a mill was established in Mexico

1644 AD A German papermaker began making paper in Philadelphia.

BOOKS made it possible to transport large quantities of information over great spaces. BIBLE became suited to spread religion in Europe to different monasteries to safe places to help preserve the MONASTIC TRADITION.

MEANWHILE, RICE PAPER and CHINESE developing a new mode of communication and another empire.

INDIA was still orally based and could not keep up with the efficiency of writing and the dissemination of knowledge through the use of rice paper.

14th CENTURY As the art of paper making spread to FRANCE it helped to solidify the expansion of cities and the power of the monarchies in Europe.

This was also the beginning of news, and the TOWN CRIER

16th Century, the ALPHABET AND PAPER CREATED A STRONG SENSE OF NATIONALISM AND COMMERCE IN EUROPE. Began to erode the power of the monks and monasteries. Knowledge no longer confined to the spread of religion.


As a business man not very successful and died penniless. However, like most people living along the Rhine, he did press his own grapes to make wine.

Johannes Gutenberg caused the most significant change in all human history. The mass-produced written word. He invented moveable type.

We estimate the first page to be printed was around 1446. By 1500, presses all over Western Europe had published almost 40,000 books.

Today, Gutenberg is also known for the bibles he printed with moveable type.

There are forty-seven remaining Gutenberg Bibles today. One sold in 1978 for $2.4 million dollars.


The introduction of books in the 15th century marked a turning point in human history.

Before then books were usually hand-written by scribes or monks who copied existing books onto blank sheets of paper, letter by letter, one page at a time. These scribes could produce only a few hand-lettered books in a lifetime.

The duplicative power of moveable type put the written word into wide circulation and fueled quantum increases in literacy.

One hundred years after Guttenberg’s death, an elaborate postal system was in place, printed maps replaced hand-drawn maps and newspapers followed shortly after.

Caused large-scale printing. NEWSPAPERS began to flourish as did sailing and navigation.

The suppression of newspaper to the colonists along with the enormous stamp tax of 1765 precipitated the revolution against England and the formation of a BILL OF RIGHTS guarantying FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.

LARGE-SCALE PRODUCTION OF NEWSPAPERS was very effective in widening markets and commercial trade.


Portability: Newspapers are a portable medium.

Variety: Cover a variety of events and features, more than other media.

Indexed content: Quick source of information.

Depth coverage: Room for lengthy, in-depth treatment, unlike radio or TV.

RAILROADS helped to develop metropolitan centers. Small cities became dwarfed by larger cities and small communities began to fade.

Innis claims that the monopoly of communication based on the eye and reading hastened the development of a new competitive type of communication based on the ear.




The Recording Industry, as with all mass media, has been built on technological advances and breakthroughs, beginning with Thomas Edison's mechanical phonograph. Today, the technology is all electrical and digital.


Vibration-Sensitive Recording

1877 Thomas Edison applied for a patent for a talking machine, using the trade name, Phonograph, which was taken from the Greek Words meaning "to write to sound".

Electromagnetic Recording

Magnetic Tape was developed in Germany and used to broadcast propaganda in WW11.

In 1945 American troops brought the t4echnology home and Ampex began building recording and payback machines.

Vinyl Recordings and Microgrooves

Peter Goldmark, chief engineer at Columbia Records, was listening to a 78-rpm recording of Brahms's Second Piano Concerto. The concerto was divided into 6 discs, 12 sides. Fed up with flipping discs, Goldmark calculated a slower spin with narrower grooves.

1948 the long-playing record was introduced which contained up to 25 minutes of music.


In 1873 a young Italian named Marconi , made radio a practical application of theories developed by a group of physicists.

On December 12, 1901, Marconi stood on Signal Hill in Newfoundland and received the Morse code signal fir the letter "S" from Cornwall, England.

On Christmas Eve, 1906, he broadcast music and voices to ships at sa.

Marconi patented his invention at sea, not knowing the full potential and force of the innovation he had invented.


Solved the problems of rapid production and distribution

Eclipsed space and transformed time, obliterating memory, and reducing the message to the hour and to the minute.

The spoken language promoted nationalism. Literacy no longer a serious barrier. To such an extent, radio is still used to over throw existing governments by amassing the working proletarian classes. Second World War intensified the medium of radio. Radio covered vast areas, overcame the division of classes.


The technical heritage of motion pictures is photography.

1727 discovery that light caused silver nitrate to darken was basic to the development of motion picture technology combined with the human phenomena called persistence of vision.

(The human eye retains an image for a fraction of a second).

1877 wager on whether horses ever had all of their legs off the ground when galloping. (They do take all four legs off the ground at the same time).

24 cameras were set up by Edward Muybridge of California to show the Governor 24 sequential shots.

More significantly was the illusion of movement by flipping through the sequential photos.

1888 William Dickson of Thomas Edison laboratory developed the first workable motion picture camera.

He perfected his camera with George Eastman who had just introduced his Kodak camera.

The Lumiere brothers from France brought projection to moving pictures

1896, Edison recognized the commercial advantage of projection and patented the Vitascope projector which he put on the market.

During WW11film was a great tool for propaganda.



In 1920 Vladimir Zworykin, a Westinghouse Physicist devised a vacuum tube that could pick up moving images and then display them electronically on a screen.

The picture quality was not sharp. Electrons were being shot on only 30 horizontal lines compared to 525 lines today.

The British introduced another type of system 3 years earlier.

Soon 10 commercial television stations were licensed, until energies were diverted into the WW11 war effort.


Solved the problems of rapid production and distribution.

Eclipsed space and transformed time, obliterating memory, and reducing the message to the hour, to the minute and to the second.

Modern media has widened the area of distribution but narrowed the range of response.






The world-wide web has emerged as the 8th major mass medium.

The Internet is the wired infrastructure on which Web messages move.

One way to understand the Web is to look at how major component function.

The Internet’s growing reach makes it increasingly attractive for advertising.

Transistors, or silicon chips, and fiber optic cable are two technical innovations that allowed for the Web’s invention.

Nonlinear communication is the heart of the Web as mass medium.

Major news media are using hypertext to revolutionize how news is told.

Many mass media are converging into digital forms.

The Web is inherently hard to regulate – as the CRTC is learning

Once again, we have eclipsed space and transformed time, obliterating memory, and reducing the message to the hour, and to the minute. Second, and nanosecond

ROCK - to the Bible - POST IT NOTE - DISK -CD.

But what about time? What will happen to the printed word in our libraries?

Our obsession with SPACE have led to various attempts to restore concepts of community as inherent in the middle ages.

Always a price to pay for technological advancement. Need to re-cultivate a sense of community, and the oral tradition.

Electronic bulletin boards, the Internet and INTERACIVITY



Innis believed the tragedy of modern culture was its intrinsic tendency for the printing press and electronic media to reduce both time and space into commercialism and expansionism.

Innis's remedy was to reduce the control of modern technology.

Reestablish the oral tradition, create avenues for fuller democratic discussion and participation.

Reawaken memory, cultivate an interest in time and history and restore a liberal and humanistic outlook of the world.


Creighton, Donald. (1957). "Harold Adams Innis: Portrait of a Scholar". Toronto

Innis, Harold. (1951). "The Bias of Communication".

Innis, Harold. (1950). "Empire and Civilizations".

Encarta 1998