*** NOTE ***
By Karen Herland
Chad Gaffield thinks the key to securing funding for humanities research from the current government is to tell the stories about what that funding has achieved so far. Towards that end, he is travelling across the country, collecting those stories.
He came to Concordia on Oct. 4, just over a year into his mandate as president and CEO of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. SSHRC, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, annually allocates over $300 million in grant money. About 70 per cent of that money goes toward training students, mostly at the graduate level.
Gaffield said that the humanities culture has shifted considerably from the days when he was beginning his academic career as a historian.
“In those days, only about 20 per cent of researchers in my cohort found research funding essential. There was a sense that funding tainted research.” That was not a feeling shared by researchers in biomedical fields, the pure sciences or engineering, all of which relied heavily on granting agencies.
Gaffield said that the burst of hiring across universities since about 2000 has brought a different group of researchers into the humanities. Of those new researchers, 100 per cent have research funding in mind.
Gaffield spent the first half of his visit in the newly established Digital Oral History lab on the 10th floor of the library building. (See Journal, May 3, 2007). There he saw demonstrations of the software being developed with SSHRC funding and met with Steven High, Elena Razlogova and the Public History research team.
Later, addressing a mixed group of researchers in the DeSève Cinema, he stressed the importance of getting information about those kinds of projects out to decision-makers. “Canadian society is paying for this. They should get to know about us.”
Gaffield took over the SSHRC presidency after it had been left vacant for 14 months. In an increasingly competitive, results-oriented environment, some thought that humanities funding had had its day, and the program might be on the wane. Instead, the government injected another $11 million into the program last year, and earmarked it for management, business and finance-related research. Gaffield encouraged his audience to interpret those categories broadly.
Asked how to measure the impact of funding in the humanities, Gaffield said, “Just talking about the three articles you had published is not enough. Reducing the impact to that does a disservice.” He encouraged researchers to present the broader implications of their work.
“Most of our money goes to pay people, which is the development of talent. No matter what field you’re in; you are advancing knowledge, building understanding and enriching the curriculum.”
He pointed out that many researchers looking at the history of religious groups, geopolitical movements and intercultural relations were relatively obscure on Sept. 10, 2001, and found themselves in front of TV cameras the next day.
Gaffield said he has also been addressing governance within SSHRC. He is working to open participation on SSHRC’s 22-seat council.
“Having only academics on our board does not give us the leaders and champions who can move our agenda forward.” Eventually, he would like half of those seats occupied by non-academics.