Faculty of Arts Dean says researchers have risen up to global challenges

(Edmonton) The role of arts researchers in tackling the global challenges surrounding water, energy and food took centre stage during the Faculty of Arts Annual Celebration of Research and Creative Work March 28.

“We do research that is incredibly relevant, even at its most esoteric,” said Lesley Cormack, dean of the Faculty of Arts, to the crowd of arts researchers gathered at the Faculty Club. “We don’t have to simply do practical applications to be seen to be doing research that matters to the world today. There’s exciting research going on in the faculty and I do think that the work we do can transform the society that we live in.”

The world’s emerging focus on water, energy and food was also the focus of a recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which was attended by U of A President Indira Samarasekera, who relayed her thoughts about the role the university could play in resolving these issues with Cormack and other deans.

“By challenging us to think about how we look at those three themes, the president showed us that the research we do is as important as those done in other areas, and is of particular interest to the world,” said Cormack.

Using an example of recent events where arts researchers were called upon to provide vital practical impact on the world, Cormack cited the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010. “The reason it was difficult to cure cholera in Haiti was not because we don’t know how to cure cholera; it’s because civil society had broken down. It was a problem for social scientists as much as it was for medical researchers.”

The celebration also provided an opportunity to learn about research across the faculty. John-Paul Himka, history professor and winner of the 2011 J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research, spoke on his current research, which he says helps dispel historical Ukrainian nationalist myths.

“One of the areas of contention is the interpretation of the great famine that racked Ukraine in 1932–33,” he said. “In the mythicized version, Stalin unleashed the famine deliberately in order to kill Ukrainians en masse and thus to prevent them from achieving their aspirations to establish a national state,” Himka said. “I, however, point out that the pre-condition for the famine was the reckless collectivization drive, which almost destroyed Soviet agriculture as a whole.”

Himka underscored that point that, although his work is historical, it has the potential to help reconcile many issues the Ukraine faces today.

“During the last Ukraine elections, in one region where this myth is very popular, the neo-fascist party received 30 per cent of the vote. Without addressing these issues, Ukraine’s chances of joining the European Union will be less if it is branded as a neo-fascist country that hasn’t come to terms with its past in the Second World War.”

André Plourde, associate dean (Research) in Faculty of Arts, says the event provides an opportunity to learn about research and creative activities across the faculty.

“This celebration gives an incredible representation of work done in the faculty and the breath and relevance of the research and creative activity in the faculty on these themes.”