Collaboration and experimentation across disciplines underscore two University of Guelph Canada Research Chairs (CRC)—one new, the other renewed—recently funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). 

A person stands behind a podium presenting to a crowd.
MP François-Philippe Champagne

The CRC funding is part of a more than $1-billion federal investment announced by François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry. The announcement also included SSHRC Insight Development grants; scholarships for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers; Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Biosciences Research Infrastructure and John R. Evans Leaders funds; and reinvestment in the Canadian Research Data Centre Network and the Research Support Fund

Eleven researchers in the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences (CSAHS), the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, and the Ontario Agricultural College will receive a total of $674,972 in Insight Development grants, which support the early development of new research projects. 

More than $275-million worth of funding will support tri-agency scholarships and fellowships across Canada, including more than $4 million for almost 100 U of G graduate students 

Renewed investment in the Canadian Research Data Centre Network, including the Guelph Branch Research Data Centre site, will benefit researchers across Canada with unique access to Statistics Canada census, survey and administrative data. 

The Research Support Fund helps post-secondary institutions, including the University of Guelph, to cover the administrative, maintenance and regulatory costs of research. 

Lloyd Longfield, MP for Guelph, added, “I am very pleased to be part of the ongoing investments at the University of Guelph, building on our local capacity to contribute to our understanding of democracy and global challenges. This is good for Guelph, Canada and the world as we enable discovery that leads to collaborative problem solving.” 

Canada Research Chairs 

Dr. Leah Levac, Department of Political Science in CSAHS, will hold a new Tier 2 chair in Critical Community Engagement and Public Policy. An existing Tier 1 chair in Collaborative Digital Scholarship was renewed for Dr. Susan Brown, School of English and Theatre Studies within the College of Arts

The CRC program attracts and retains outstanding researchers in various fields, assisting Canadian post-secondary institutions to foster excellence in research and training. 

Tier 1 chairs are international leaders in their fields and receive $200,000 a year for seven years. Tier 2 chairs award $120,000 annually to exceptional emerging researchers for five years. Most of this funding is allocated to support the chair and chairholder’s research. 

Brown will also receive $15,427 from CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund to update equipment for The Humanities Interdisciplinary Collaboration Lab (THINC Lab). 

“This vital investment from the federal government will enable University of Guelph researchers, including these two new and renewed Canada Research Chairs, to lead innovative interdisciplinary collaborations that engage with pressing social, political and ethical issues, while also mentoring the next generation of researchers,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).  

“Taken altogether, today’s generous funding will help the University build a community of forward-thinking and accomplished researchers whose research improves life for communities in Canada and beyond.” 

Dr. Leah Levac 

Dr. Leah Levac poses for a photo in front of green bushes.
Dr. Leah Levac

Levac aims to reimagine government and institutional policy-making processes in ways that ensure just and democratic decisions for all the people those decisions affect. 

“In many respects, our lives are governed by public policy,” she said. “Too often, policies and the ideas and ideals that shape them mark certain communities as undeserving or invisible, and so they perpetuate cycles of exclusion and inequity. This CRC is about imagining a more inclusive and equitable policy-making process.” 

The project considers how a critical community-engaged scholarship (CES) approach, in which researchers and community members collaborate in addressing community-identified concerns to advance social justice, might transform contemporary policy making.  

Levac and her team will adapt critical CES to further reflect the knowledge and experience of historically marginalized communities. They will then apply what they’ve learned to collaborations with government and community partners to evaluate and reimagine existing policy-making processes.  

The CRC will also support the creation of the Critical Community-Engaged Policy Institute, a resource and training hub that will bring together researchers and community practitioners to advance policy justice. 

“The funding the CRC provides will allow me to focus explicitly on some key barriers to political participation,” Levac said, “but it also gives a name, a presence, to this interdisciplinary work that invites researchers, students and community together into new and productive conversations.” 

Dr. Susan Brown 

Dr. Susan Brown leans against a grey pillar.
Dr. Susan Brown

Brown is a trailblazer in digital humanities, a field that brings together cultural research and new technologies. For more than 25 years, she has investigated and developed modes of online knowledge production to work with an ever-increasing volume of cultural data. That data is scattered in disparate locations online, where it is stored in varied and sometimes obsolete formats. 

“Most scholars interact with cultural data as consumers,” she said. “However, we can now enable scholars to contribute crucial context and understanding to data sets on cultural identities and heritage, use algorithmic processes to deepen our research with more of the knowledge that’s out there and—the holy grail—put that knowledge together to enable new and unexpected insights.” 

With her renewed CRC, Brown and her collaborators will continue to experiment with converting and interlinking cultural resources into data sets that can be understood by both humans and machines. The research will benefit universities and other cultural institutions such as public libraries, museums and galleries. 

They will also continue to question the values embedded in seemingly neutral technologies and cyberinfrastructures. For example, how might classification structures reflect, rather than erase, cultural complexity, diversity and difference?  

“This work matters because it is about helping people create digital knowledge in ways that are ethically responsible. It’s about trying to make the web better and smarter,” she said. 

Dr. Leah Levac  

Dr. Susan Brown