Neglected humanities sink into discontent

June 8, 2001

Canada's humanities community is afflicted with a "profound malaise", according to a report published last month.

The study, commissioned by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, was unveiled in Quebec City, where some 6,500 scholars attended the annual Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities.

It recommends various means of reinvigorating the discipline, which has been finding itself assigned a lower priority by the Canadian government and universities than more scientific and applied disciplines.

Despite significant investment in Canadian research, humanities scholars have felt sidelined by initiatives such as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Canada Research Chairs, which tend to favour private partnerships or rely heavily on science.

The SSHRC was happy to have received targeted funding on the new economy, but it might be hard to find a place in it for the medievalist.

More unconventional research, such as a study on ageing strippers, has led politicians to suggest that money is being squandered on the humanities.

In the past year, the SSHRC funded 36 per cent of applications. It had to turn down 32 per cent of projects that peer-review committees recommended because of lack of funding.

The SSHRC's natural sciences and engineering counterpart was able to hand out grants to 69 per cent of its new applicants.

The SSHRC is calling on the government for funding that will enable it to raise the number of deserving applications it accepts to 50 per cent.

The working group recommended that humanities scholars use more accessible language to describe their work.


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