Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911–80) Canadian philosopher: biography and famous works

Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911–80) was a Canadian philosopher, communication, and media theorist. Born in Edmonton, McLuhan grew up in Winnipeg. He completed his BA and MA in English at the University of Manitoba, then he went to Cambridge to complete his PhD in English Literature. When he arrived in the UK he found that Cambridge did not recognize his Canadian degrees, so he was forced to start all over again. At Cambridge, he studied under I.A.Richards and F.R.Leavis. He returned to North America in 1937 to take a position at St Louis University and continue working towards his PhD, which he finally completed in 1943. Published in 1951 as The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man McLuhan’s thesis explores the changing nature of rhetoric in contemporary culture. In 1944 he returned to his native Canada, where he spent almost all of the remainder of his professional career.

In the early 1950s, McLuhan turned his attention increasingly towards communication and media, tracking the rise of what would later be known as the consumer society. McLuhan coined the expression “the medium is the message” and the term global village, and predicted the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it was invented. McLuhan’s career took off in the early 1960s with the publication of a number of books that includes: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) mainly focus on communication technology i.e., alphabetic writing, the printing press, and the electronic media; Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964); The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects (1967), War and Peace in the Global Village (1968), From Cliché to Archetype (1970), and City as Classroom (1977)

McLuhan’s work saw past the content to the form-he grasped before almost anybody else that new media technology did not just mean new ways of distributing old or familiar content; it meant a whole new way of thinking and being in the world. His concept of the ‘global village’ has been widely adopted as a description of the world as it is in consequence of the processes of globalization. His work was enormously influential too on Cultural Studies, particularly in its formative stages.

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