TRB Podcast: John Bonnett on “Harold Innis, Information Management and the Topographical Revolution in Communication”

On January 24, the Toronto Centre for the Book invited Dr. John Bonnett to deliver his lecture, entitled “Harold Innis, Information Management and the Topographical Revolution in Communication.” The third speaker in the 2012-2013 TCB Lecture Series, Dr. John Bonnett’s lecture addresses

Innis’ preoccupation with the concept of information. Like his contemporaries Norbert Wiener and Claude Shannon, Innis was keenly aware that information had a significance that extended its semantics. It also had a quantitative significance. It flowed through cultural systems, and was governed by specific dynamics that regulated the behaviour of the systems of which it was a part. Sometimes, when the quantity of circulating information became too high, it caused the systems it governed to become dysfunctional, and eventually collapse. Innis introduced his ideas on information in the neglected anthology “Political Economy in the Modern State”. In fact, in the cultural essays he offered an interpretation of western history built on the premise that circulating information was a help and hindrance to cultural evolution and adaptation. Innis believed that the emergence of the steam printing press in many ways had proven to be a disaster for the West. In my talk, I will explore why he thought that was so, and what he believed scholars should do in response. His solutions, in retrospect, are very interesting because they anticipate a trend emerging in multiple domains of research and practice today: the use of topographic form to support expression, instruction and thought. [TCB Press Release]

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John Bonnett is an intellectual historian and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities. He has published contributions in journals ranging from War in History to History and Computing and Literary and Linguistic Computing. He was the principal developer of the 3D Virtual Buildings Project, an initiative that had two purposes. The first was to teach students to generate models of historic settlements using 3D modelling software. The second more fundamental purpose was to develop the critical thinking skills of students by helping them to realize a fundamental point, that historical models need to be distinguished from the objects to which they refer. He is currently developing a lab devoted to the emerging medium of Augmented Reality (AR). AR, like Virtual Reality (VR), presents users with computer-generated 3D objects. It differs, however, in where it places those objects.

About the author

Sydney Hyatt
By Sydney Hyatt