The New Normal with Maydianne Andrade (Ep. 16): Alexandra Gillespie on binding myths

Did the printing press transform the world and lead to freedom of information – or is that a myth promoted by white, Western society?

In episode 16 of her podcast, The New Normal, Professor Maydianne Andrade explores the origin stories of societies and nations with Alexandra Gillespie, a professor of English and vice-president and principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“Societies and nations have origin stories. Their histories are used to build justification for present-day structures,” says Andrade, Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology. “But what if those stories are myths?”

Western Europe’s development of printing technology needs to be viewed alongside “belligerent, violent colonialism and the enslavement of African peoples in particular – and the way that those two things lead to an extraction of wealth from the whole globe to Western Europe,” Gillespie says.

“And what that means is that Western Europe gets to tell its story about printing. Not just tell its story about printing, but actually it gets to take its technology of printing and spread it around the whole world.”

The result is a “kind of myth of enlightenment, of progress, of Western triumph.”

But was it Western technology and inventions that gave its societies’ power – or, as Gillespie asks, “Was it the wealth that we were extracting from other parts of the world that actually gave us this power?”

The episode is the latest in a series of instalments that feature Andrade in conversation with university leaders. In episode 14, she interviewed Professor Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough. In episode 15, she spoke with U of T President Meric Gertler.

The New Normal is created in collaboration with a University of Toronto Communications team led by Lisa Lightbourn. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify or listen on SoundCloud. You can also find it on Apple or listen on Google.

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