Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: With a cryptic, maddeningly epigrammatic style, McLuhan provided the twentieth century with its most provocative critique of the way technology, specifically electronic media, has shaped the modern view of what it means to be human.
Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born in western Canada on July 21, 1911, to religious, Scotch-Irish parents; his father earned his livelihood by selling real estate and insurance, while his mother worked in theater as an actress and monologuist. His family moved to Winnipeg during his youth, and in his adolescence, McLuhan began his lifelong infatuation with electronic media, building his own crystal radio set at the age of ten. He later enrolled at the University of Manitoba, intending to become an engineer but, in his own words, eventually “reading his way out of engineering into English literature”; he was graduated from the university in 1933 with a B.A. in literature. The following year he earned an M.A. in the same field and took a vacation to Europe, acquainting himself with Continental scholarship.
Soon after this trip, McLuhan decided to study further in England, enrolling at Cambridge University and attending the lectures of such famous British scholars as I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis. Eventually McLuhan took a second B.A. and M.A. at Cambridge and remained long enough to complete a brilliant graduate career with a Ph.D. in medieval and...
(The entire section is 1990 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Herbert Marshall McLuhan (muh-KLEW-uhn) was one of the most original and controversial of twentieth century social theorists and critics, and his concepts on the impact of communications media on human society and culture have profoundly influenced later writers. The essence of his views was presented in his famous aphorism “The medium is the message,” by which he meant that it is the form of a communication, rather than its content, which has the greatest impact.
McLuhan was born and reared in western Canada and originally intended to become an engineer. After entering the University of Manitoba, however, he switched to literature and an academic career, earning a B.A. in 1933 and an M.A. in 1934. During this time, he developed a lasting admiration for modernist writers such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and, especially, James Joyce. These authors were much quoted in McLuhan’s later works. He pursued further studies with a stay at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, earning a Ph.D. in 1942.
During the 1930’s McLuhan converted to Roman Catholicism, a shift which deeply affected his intellectual view of literature, the media, and culture. Unlike many other academic writers, who prefer to remain detached, neutral observers, McLuhan always insisted upon the need for moral dimensions to his work. In 1946 he accepted a post at the University of Toronto. He remained there until his death on New Year’s Eve, 1980. At Toronto he was soon connected with...
(The entire section is 963 words.)
Biography (The Sixties in America)
The young Herbert Marshall McLuhan was fascinated by technology, but at the University of Manitoba, he discovered literary studies and did graduate work at Cambridge, receiving a doctorate in 1943. In 1946, McLuhan joined the faculty at the University of Toronto and, by 1959, had founded the interdisciplinary journal Explorations and published The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951), a study of print advertising.
McLuhan’s emergence as an authority on media and culture occurred through several channels simultaneously. The University of Toronto established and funded the Centre for Culture and Technology, a research institute run by McLuhan to explore and promote his ideas and topics. The National Association of Educational Broadcasters and the National Council of Teachers of English provided him with access to the education establishment, and such business-oriented think tanks as General Electric’s Management Center helped him become a popular presenter at corporate meetings and executive seminars.
The intellectual center of McLuhan’s work was contained in four books he published in the 1960’s: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), which provides the historical foundation for his theories; Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), in which he analyzed the specific properties of such media as...
(The entire section is 823 words.)