The 2009 announcements by SSHRC and the AMS meant that graduate students and post-doctoral fellows experienced a sharp drop in funding for research in the history of health. The graduating cohort doctoral programs from about 2010-2012 with an interest in historical health research might consider themselves particularly unlucky. This group of students had already entered their degree programs when graduate funding was withdrawn by SSHRC and the AMS, reducing their funding opportunities mid-stream. The round of post-doctoral fellowships funded by the AMS and hosted by the NSHRF announced in 2015 are also available only to those who obtained their degree within the past three years (or who will obtain a Ph.D. before September 1, 2015). Due to SSHRC’s restriction of eligibility for post-doctoral fellowships to two years following graduation, this group is also shut out of the (admittedly small) signs of a recovery of SSHRC funding for health research seen in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 funding cycles.
Career historians of medicine also experienced a reduction in funding due to SSHRC’s 2009 decision in light of the federal government’s decreased spending on research. However, career researchers seem to have been more successful than graduate or post-doctoral fellows in obtaining CIHR funding for projects that research health from the perspective of the humanities and social sciences.
Today’s climate of funding presents a number of challenges for historians of health, and, perhaps, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in particular, who have attempted to obtain research support from agencies of the federal government. Despite these financial challenges, the history of health and medicine is a vibrant field and the reports of its death are an exaggeration. Although historians of health generally avoid presentism, they continue to produce evocative, engaging, and well-researched works that resonate deeply with debates relevant to modern health. The recent series of blog posts on activehistory.ca edited by Ian Mosby, Erika Dyck, and Jim Clifford that focus on infectious diseases and vaccinations in light of the outbreaks of epidemic diseases facing global health policy makers today are only one example of the active engagement of historians of health.
One method of moving forward would be for historians of health in Canada to lobby for greater transparency in the funding process for social sciences and humanities research with a focus on health. Based on this analysis, SSHRC has redirected scholars with a focus on health policy to CIHR while leaving the door open a crack for historians of health and medicine. However, at the graduate and post-doctoral level, SSHRC’s decision has had the effect of limiting the number of applications from scholars in the history of health, as these students do not represent a significant percentage of applications or award holders in the CIHR funding competitions.
In addition, graduate and post-doctoral students and their supporters interested in the history of health might be advised to push SSHRC for change in the language to its clause allowing for scholars to apply to their agency for funding. While the language states that, “Proposals may be eligible if there is no intent to directly or indirectly impact health, or if health is a subsidiary element in a study intended to increase our understanding of individuals, groups and/or societies”, this could hamper the ability of applicants to demonstrate the usefulness and relevant nature of their research.