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The Lost Massey Lectures Reviewed in the LRC

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The Lost Massey Lectures Reviewed in the LRC

The Literary Review of Canada’s latest “online original” is “Past as Prologue,” Mark Lovewell’s review of The Lost Massey Lectures: Recovered Classics from Five Great Thinkers (Anansi). In his review, Lovewell discusses the history of the Massey Lectures and points out trends that have made the series a success.

From the review:

The year 1961 marked the launch of the Massey lectures. “Each year,” ran the official announcement, “the CBC will invite a noted scholar to undertake study or original research in his field and present the results in a series of half-hour radio broadcasts.” Naming the series in Vincent Massey’s honour was not just an acknowledgement of his public career; it was also a recognition of his role as sympathetic eminence grise at key points in the CBC’s history. As far back as 1928, for example, when Mackenzie King’s Liberal government set up a commission to look at the country’s nascent radio industry, Massey used his political weight to recommend two of the three commissioners, each known to be sympathetic to the idea of a government-owned network. He even personally defrayed the travel costs of the commission’s most important witness—a Canadian-born director at the BBC—whose arguments that a public broadcaster should be free of political interference helped determine the CBC’s administrative independence. During the early 1930s, Massey sponsored his own self-named lectures, arranging for them to be broadcast on the country’s fledgling radio network. Subsequently, as chair of the famous royal commission on the nation’s cultural industries, he defended the CBC from a welter of private sector complaints. The commission’s final report included a line that neatly encapsulates what would later become the raison d’être of the Massey series: “The popular talk should be in quality and authority comparable to the scholarly,” it noted, betraying the cadences and listening tastes of the commission’s chair. “In this matter Britain shares the fine tradition of France where even philosophers are expected to make themselves comprehensible to l’homme moyen raisonnable.”

Go to the LRC website for the full review.

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