September 28, 2016
Photo credit: Luther Caverly
Answering the Call of the Royal Society
Carleton’s latest nominees to the Society are devoted scholars with a diversity of interests
Four Carleton professors in research fields as diverse as biology, literature, history and communications at last have something in common: they have all been called to the prestigious Royal Society of Canada.
Donald Beecher and Lenore Fahrig are newly minted Royal Society Fellows, recognized for career-long contributions to their respective fields. Jennifer Evans and Merlyna Lim were invited to join the Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, a relatively new branch that recognizes emerging, mid-career scholars.
Established in 1883, the Royal Society is a council of distinguished Canadians who foster intellectual leadership and dialogue in Canada. Here is a short introduction to Carleton’s latest additions to the Society’s impressive roster:
A Renaissance scholar in the Department of English Language and Literature, Donald Beecher has devoted much of his career to scholarly editing and translation. He is currently translating Boccaccio’s Decameron, and has previously translated many early English and continental playwrights. He was also a founder of the series “Publications of the Barnabe Rich Society”, which created modern scholarly editions of early English prose fiction with the goal of bringing these lesser known Shakespearean-age works into wider circulation.
Professor Beecher’s most recent critical work has focused on emotions and consciousness in literature, resulting in his latest publication, Adapted Brains and Imaginary Worlds: Cognitive Science and the Literature of the Renaissance, which explores works of art from the perspective of self and memory. His curious mind is in evidence when he discloses that he got into such topics by reading his daughter’s psychology textbooks. Admitting that his new ideas have prompted a flurry of conversation in his field, Beecher has been invited to Taiwan, Australia, Los Angeles and Chicago to discuss this latest work.
Beecher is also pleased about the invitation from the Royal Society. “I’m really gratified. The Royal Society is recognized as the ultimate organization for acknowledging scholarship in the country. To join the ranks is, of course, a great pleasure and great privilege.”
To familiarize newcomers with her field of landscape ecology, Lenore Fahrig invites them to imagine peering down from an airplane window and consider the pattern of the landscape below—how much forest? How many roads? How much agriculture? And how does this all affect the wildlife populations trying to survive down there?
A faculty member in the Department of Biology, as well as a director of Carleton’s Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Laboratory, Professor Fahrig is particularly interested in the impact of the spatial pattern of human activities like forestry, road building and agriculture on biodiversity. A recent project, for example, investigated the differences between agricultural landscapes with many smaller crop fields versus those with a few large square fields, revealing that croplands with a multitude of smaller fields have higher biodiversity.
Professor Fahrig credits Carleton with providing opportunities for her research interests from the start—she came to the university in 1981 as a master’s student to work with Gray Merriam, who pioneered the field of landscape ecology in Canada. Later when she returned to Carleton as a professor herself, she worked alongside him and then took over her mentor’s lab upon his retirement. “It was a great way to hand off what he had developed as a really important lab in landscape ecology,” she says. At a point where her career is established, she says she’s gratified by the Royal Society recognition and sees it as the latest step in a trajectory that started at this university many years ago.
As a scholar of sexuality and historical subjectivity, Department of History professor Jennifer Evans has always known her research field was transgressive. In fact, that’s what she likes about it. “I like the challenge of always trying to push the boundaries a little bit. Trying to see where we are right now and try to anticipate where we really need to be in terms of our research methods, in terms of the questions that we ask,” she says.
In her first book, Life Among the Ruins: Cityscape and Sexuality in Cold War Berlin, that drive led her to explore the ways in which subcultures re-emerged after the second World War. Now she’s writing a book along with her graduate and postdoctoral student that looks at social media like Twitter and Facebook as legitimate historical sources on Holocaust memory.
Professor Evans says the fact that her work is non-mainstream makes the Royal Society invitation all the more meaningful. “One of the reasons why I’m thrilled to receive the membership in the Royal Society is that the work that I do, even in my field, is still considered transgressive. To see the Royal Society embrace projects like mine is nothing but affirming. I really believe it paves the way for much more critical, much more interesting, much more important research to come,” she says.
As Carleton’s Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and Global Network Society, Merlyna Lim is always chasing the latest in digital technology. But far from being stymied by the ever-changing nature of her research world, Lim says that’s what she loves about the field. “I like the fact that it’s complex and keeps on changing—it’s very challenging to keep up,” explains Professor Lim. At the same time, she’s fascinated by what doesn’t change: the human need for connection.
Professor Lim’s research focuses on that connection in its most desperate times, as she studies the role of digital media and technology in political revolutions and social movements, including the Arab Spring and political organizing in Asia. A faculty member in Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communications, Professor Lim has previously held positions at Princeton University, Arizona State University, and University of Southern California. Her latest project at Carleton is to set up a new Alternative Global Network Media Lab to facilitate interdisciplinary work on digital media.
Professor Lim says she’s particularly appreciative of the Royal Society recognition because of the nature of her work. “I feel very honored and humbled by this recognition. It really invigorated my vision for this research. Not only for me, but also the recognition is very meaningful for a kind of interdisciplinary research that deals with complex problems and also engages with real world’s problems,” she says.
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