Marshall McLuhan


Marshall McLuhan : biography

July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980

While in St. Louis, he also met his future wife. On August 4, 1939, McLuhan married teacher and aspiring actress Corinne Lewis (1912–2008) of Fort Worth, Texas, and they spent 1939–40 in Cambridge, where he completed his master’s degree (awarded in January 1940) and began to work on his doctoral dissertation on Thomas Nashe and the verbal arts. War had broken out in Europe while the McLuhans were in England, and he obtained permission to complete and submit his dissertation from the United States, without having to return to Cambridge for an oral defence. In 1940 the McLuhans returned to Saint Louis University, where he continued teaching and they started a family. He was awarded a Ph.D. in December 1943.Gordon, p. 115. Returning to Canada, from 1944 to 1946 McLuhan taught at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario. Moving to Toronto in 1946, McLuhan joined the faculty of St. Michael’s College, a Catholic college of the University of Toronto. Hugh Kenner was one of his students and Canadian economist and communications scholar Harold Innis was a university colleague who had a strong influence on McLuhan’s work. McLuhan wrote in 1964: "I am pleased to think of my own book The Gutenberg Galaxy as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing then of printing."McLuhan, Marshall. (2005) Marshall McLuhan Unbound. Corte Madera, CA : Gingko Press v. 8, p. 8. This is a reprint of McLuhan’s introduction to the 1964 edition of Innis’s book The Bias of Communication first published in 1951.

In the early 1950s, McLuhan began the Communication and Culture seminars, funded by the Ford Foundation, at the University of Toronto. As his reputation grew, he received a growing number of offers from other universities and, to keep him, the university created the Centre for Culture and Technology in 1963. He published his first major work during this period: The Mechanical Bride (1951) was an examination of the effect of advertising on society and culture. He also produced an important journal, Explorations, with Edmund Carpenter, throughout the 1950s.Prins and Bishop 2002 Together with Harold Innis, Eric A. Havelock, and Northrop Frye, McLuhan and Carpenter have been characterized as the Toronto School of communication theory. McLuhan remained at the University of Toronto through 1979, spending much of this time as head of his Centre for Culture and Technology.

McLuhan was named to the Albert Schweitzer Chair in Humanities at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, for one year (1967–68).During the time at Fordham University, his son Eric McLuhan conducted what came to be known as the Fordham Experiment, about the different effects of "light-on" versus "light-through" media. While at Fordham, McLuhan was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor; it was treated successfully. He returned to Toronto, where, for the rest of his life, he taught at the University of Toronto and lived in Wychwood Park, a bucolic enclave on a hill overlooking the downtown where Anatol Rapoport was his neighbour. In 1970, McLuhan was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1975 the University of Dallas hosted him from April to May, appointing him to the McDermott Chair.

Marshall and Corinne McLuhan had six children: Eric, twins Mary and Teresa, Stephanie, Elizabeth and Michael. The associated costs of a large family eventually drove McLuhan to advertising work and accepting frequent consulting and speaking engagements for large corporations, IBM and AT&T among them. In September 1979 he suffered a stroke, which affected his ability to speak. The University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies tried to close his research centre shortly thereafter, but was deterred by substantial protests, most notably by Woody Allen. Allen’s Oscar-winning motion picture Annie Hall (1977) had McLuhan in a cameo as himself: a pompous academic arguing with Allen in a cinema queue is silenced by McLuhan suddenly appearing and saying, "You know nothing of my work." This was one of McLuhan’s most frequently expressed statements to and about those who would disagree with him.University of Toronto Bulletin, 1979; Martin Friedland, The University of Toronto: A History, University of Toronto Press, 2002