Media Releases

Marshall McLuhan’s Pioneering Work Still Revealing Itself

October 5, 2016

What’s Next for the University of Toronto’s Centre for Culture and Technology?

Toronto, ON – Marshall McLuhan is the most influential thinker in Canada known globally for predicting social media, the Internet, crowd-sourced news, and reality television.

At the height of his fame in the mid-60s, he hobnobbed with John Lennon, Pierre Trudeau, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, and Barbara Walters. A Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar who worked at the intersection of culture and technology—he is credited with building the foundation for our obsession with digital media. His Centre of Culture and Technology, located within a small coach house on the U of T campus, acted as a clubhouse where he mulled over ideas and created questions probing how people communicated.

So why is Prof. McLuhan’s work relevant now, 36 years after this death? Because we are still producing intellectual giants at the University Toronto.

“Marshall McLuhan and his Toronto School colleagues helped accentuate U of T’s position as a global centre for creativity and leadership in the humanities,” said Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto. “He remains a key figure in communication and media studies, and the work of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology is vital in engaging local and international partners in exploring the implications of his theories for the 21st century.”

For a forty year period until the 1970s, McLuhan was part of a remarkable intellectual climate within and around the University of Toronto when scholars Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Glenn Gould, and Northrop Frye made up the so-called Toronto School of Communication. Their theories were instrumental in drawing worldwide attention to the idea that technological engagement plays a fundamental role in the structuring of human perception and culture.

The University is still building on the foundation of McLuhan’s work conducted in his modest “Coach House,” where he spent much of his 30-year career at U of T, now affiliated with the Faculty of Information.

“The Centre for Culture and Technology is an intellectual cabin in a forest of city skyscrapers where Herbert Marshall McLuhan engaged the public in probing the interrelationship of technology and culture and their effects on perception and social order,” says David Nostbakken, a McLuhan former student and teaching assistant of McLuhan’s, currently the McLuhan Centre strategist.

The Centre, first established on October 24, 1963, in the heart of St. Michaels’ campus, was where McLuhan conducted Monday Night Seminars, classes, and art exhibitions, bringing together scholars and researchers from all branches of science and humanities in discourse with the city and the global village.

The present day McLuhan Centre wants to recapture the global imagination of his communications theories. The resurgence started with the famous McLuhan “Monday Night Seminars” last year, where each week three special guests interact with a McLuhan Fellow moderator, and engage the assembled attendees from the university, the city, and from around the world .“City as Classroom” has been the broad theme, with the goal to engage academics, the city, business, industry, civil society, the arts, and public and private interest.

The Centre will further reconnect McLuhan to the City of Toronto, and build a larger global village, starting with the Heritage Board recognizing the Coach House’s place in history through a plaque unveiling on October 12.

For three days after, a global conference, Toronto School, Then Now, Next, will explore the value of leading Canadian thinkers and others, contemporaries that inspired the world.

“The goal is to explore how we inform innovative thinking and intellectual provocation in Toronto, and secure Canada’s place in forward-thinking and technological reconfigurations of culture,” says Prof. Seamus Ross, Interim Director of the McLuhan Centre.

“The conference will foster the making of an intellectual community that serves as a source of knowledgeable energy and encouragement for future research connections around the legacy of the Toronto School,” says Paolo Granata, McLuhan Centenary Fellow and Conference Chair.

Speakers include John Ralston Saul (Canada’s leading public intellectual), Mark Kingwell (Philosophy Professor), Joshua Meyrowitz (media theorist), Sara Diamond (President OCAD University), Arthur Kroker (public intellectual), Eric McLuhan (internationally known lecturer), and Gail Lord (Lord Cultural Resources).

EVENTS PLANNED (for a full event listing, please see http://thetorontoschool.ca)

  • Wednesday, October 12, 12:00-1:00 pm, Toronto Heritage Plaque Unveiling (McLuhan Centre) with Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councillor and Prof. Meric Gertler, President, University of Toronto, among other speakers
  • Thursday, October 13, 5:30-7 pm, Lectio Magistralis by Paul Elie on “Glenn Gould and Marshall McLuhan” and opening of a Multi-Media Exhibition “McLuhan on Campus: Local Inspirations, Global Visions” (St. Michael’s College)
  • Friday, October 14, 9-9:30 am, opening ceremony The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next International Conference (Victoria College Building).
  • Sunday, October 16, 5:30-6:30 pm, Town Hall Meeting “Rethinking the Global Village in an era of Cities and Soft Power” at the Then, Now, Next International Conference (Isabel Bader Theatre).

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Media Contact: Kathleen O’Brien, Faculty of Information, U of T, 416.978.7184 or kathleen.obrien@utoronto.ca