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Date published: March 20, 2020

Boogie Oogie Oogie, Viens danser—SSHRC is 40!

In 1978, the Bee Gees and Fiori Séguin were topping Canadian pop charts, the Montréal Canadiens were on a roll and the Apple II was quickly becoming a home office staple.

But, did you know that SSHRC also awarded its inaugural research grants that year? Among the funding the new agency gave out was a doctoral fellowship to Peter Jensen. His then-emerging field of sport psychology has since helped lead to more than 40 Canadian Olympic medals.

Created in 1977 by an act of parliament, SSHRC officially began operations on April 1, 1978. The tiny, new agency took over the programs previously administered by the Canada Council’s humanities and social sciences division.

A quick snapshot of 1978 Canada shows the baby boomer generation coming of age, and Canadians rethinking many of our domestic and international policies: Schools were still importing most of their curriculum content, businesses depended on knowledge developed elsewhere, and policy-makers often relied on research from other countries.

At the time, universities in Canada were just beginning to expand graduate program offerings, and few Canadian scholars had the resources to address critical social, economic, cultural or political issues.

The federal government started taking a more interventionist role to strengthen support for research in the humanities and social sciences, including for what would soon be thought of as “strategic” research. This was research that would inform policies to deal with challenges facing society. The new council’s goal became to increase support for research in an ever-changing world.

SSHRC’s first president, André Fortier, emphasized how the social sciences and humanities could help Canada surpass what researchers and decision-makers had already achieved by weighing current problems against the past and opening new vistas to the future.

SSHRC alumni have since gone on to work for the World Bank, the United Nations, the European Parliament and CNN, not to mention their enormous impacts throughout Canada, and their influence on knowledge affecting people around the world.

Donald Savoie, a professor at the Université de Moncton, conducted groundbreaking regional development studies in Atlantic Canada. That led to creating the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

McGill University art history professor Charmaine Nelson has been researching the information contained in Canadian fugitive slave advertisements dating back over 200 years and designed to track down runaway slaves. Her work is exposing forced migration patterns and is rehumanizing enslaved people. Her contributions to visual culture, Black Canadian history, and African Canadian art history have been groundbreaking. As the 2017-18 William Lyon Mackenzie King visiting professor for Canadian Studies at Harvard University, Nelson will share her unique perspective of underexamined topics with a broader international audience.

A member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nation, Anishinabek scholar John Borrows delved deep into legal research. His work led to establishing a harmonized common law and Indigenous law degree at the University of Victoria.

Constance Backhouse, University of Ottawa professor and holder of the university’s Research Chair on the Sexual Assault Legislation in Canada, has become internationally known for her feminist research on sex discrimination and the legal history of gender and race in Canada. She has served as an expert witness and consultant on sexual abuse and violence against women and children, and adjudicates compensation claims for former students of residential schools.

In 2018, SSHRC continues to support research that advances knowledge and builds understanding on issues that appear in today’s headlines, as well as those that may appear tomorrow. SSHRC funding also helps students become the culturally informed, politically knowledgeable, socially engaged individuals who play a major role in the global economy.

At 40, SSHRC is celebrating ideas, talent and diversity. The theme speaks to SSHRC’s unique strengths—the innovative ideas we foster through our work and the research we fund; the talent we develop, in terms of emerging researchers; and the incredible diversity of researchers and graduate students from coast to coast.