Lakehead’s SSHRC grant recipients examining lead exposure, climate change

December 22, 2014 – Thunder Bay and Orillia, ON

Lakehead University professors and students are receiving nearly $720,000 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to help answer some fascinating questions.

Some of these outstanding research programs will investigate lead exposure in members of the colonial-era British Navy, analyze the protest media landscape during recent anti-austerity protests, examine how people responded to climate change over a long period of time, and determine how European immigrants influenced the culture of death in Canada.

Dr. Tamara Varney, Associate Professor in Anthropology, and scientists from Memorial University, the University of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron are receiving an Insight Grant worth $202,543 over four years to investigate lead exposure patterns in British Naval populations from colonial-era West Indies.

They are examining skeletal remains from three cemeteries in Newfoundland and Antigua, West Indies using a synchrotron radiation X-ray fluorescence laboratory. This equipment will help Dr. Varney determine the extent of lead levels while those individuals were alive.

Dr. Varney is leading this interdisciplinary team of researchers utilizing the expertise and technology of the CLS synchrotron facility in Saskatoon.

The team’s objective is to address the proposed idea that lead poisoning negatively impacted the quality of life for the British military serving in the colonial West Indies. One of the historical cemeteries involved will allow regular naval personnel to be examined and the remains of enslaved labourers who provided skilled labour support to the Naval Dockyard in Antigua.

“Working at the Canadian Light Source has been an amazing opportunity. Without its advanced analytical capabilities this project would not be possible, and I have SSHRC to thank for making it all come together,” Dr. Varney said.

“I am extremely happy with the initial success of this project and amazed at the volume of information that is being collected using the synchrotron,” said Dr. Ian Coulthard, staff scientist at the CLS.

“Dr. Varney’s research is a great example of the diversity of research topics that fall under the synchrotron umbrella, and this is the first SSHRC grant awarded specifically with direct ties to the CLS. I hope this is a sign of future growth in the social science research fields at the CLS.” 

Lead was pervasive in the colonial environment – contained in everyday items such as utensils for cooking and eating, alcohol distillation equipment and medicinal compounds. Lead is readily absorbed by biological organisms including humans, and exposure to the toxic metal remains a health issue in the modern world.

Dr. Sandra Jeppesen, a professor in Interdisciplinary Studies in Orillia, is receiving an Insight Development Grant of $69,995 over two years to analyze the protest media landscape in Spain, Italy and Greece during recent anti-austerity protests.

Dr. Jeppesen will use social movement documents, interviews with activists and more to examine various forms of media that support, emerge from or represent protest movements.

“This SSHRC Insight Development Grant will help us better understand how emerging groups of politically active citizens – what the Occupy movement has deemed the 99% – are using new digital media forms to organize protest movements against austerity, and how these media practices carry over into other social justice campaigns in between protest mobilizations,” Dr. Jeppesen said.

Dr. Pallavi Das, an Associate Professor in History, is receiving an Insight Development Grant of $58,530 over two years to examine the social-economic impacts of climate change and how people respond to it. The focus of the study is a horticultural community in the Himalayas.

“I am very happy to have this assistance from SSHRC. It would have been difficult to do this research without the Insight Development Grant,” Dr. Das said.

 This research will examine the impacts of climate change on people from 1940 until 2013 in the Himalayas. It will stress the experience and perception of ordinary people while also considering experts, government officers and business owners.

Mountain ecosystems and communities such as those in the Himalayas are more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.

At least four students will assist with the research programs described above.

Kimberly Shirley, a Master’s History student at Lakehead, is receiving a SSHRC scholarship for $17,500 to spend a year determining how immigrants influenced the culture of death in Canada.

Kimberly will examine symbolism on the grave markers of Europeans who immigrated and settled in and around Thunder Bay. This research will assist Kimberly in writing her thesis.

“Death is often treated more like an afterthought than a main subject in research. I like thinking out of the box when deciding on a topic,” Kimberly said, adding that it would have been difficult to do this research without the SSHRC scholarship.

The scholarship will allow her to purchase equipment to undertake her research and visit the national archive in Ottawa.

Dr. Andrew Dean, Vice-President, Research, Economic Development & Innovation, is proud of the research happening at Lakehead University.

“Due to the hard work of our researchers, we are gaining even more of a reputation for engaging research that is proving beneficial for people in Canada and around the world,” Dr. Dean said.



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In 2015, Lakehead University will celebrate 50 years of exceptional education.  Guided by a new Strategic Plan (2013-2018), our University is known for providing an education focused on independent thinking, unconventional scholarship, and a close sense of community.  About 9,700 students and 2,000 faculty and staff learn and work in ten faculties at two campuses, in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s first new Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and Faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health and Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, Science and Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education and Graduate Studies. Lakehead is among Canada’s Top 10 undergraduate universities (2014 Maclean’s University Rankings), as well as 1st in Ontario and 2nd in Canada for its innovative research (Re$earch Infosource).  Visit




SSHRC Grants awarded in 2013-2014

Total value of awards:  $719,459

Faculty Member Grants

Insight Grant (four-year grant)

Dr. Tamara Varney, Department of Anthropology, Investigating lead exposure patterns in Royal Naval populations from the colonial era, $202,543.


  • Dr. David M.L. Copper, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Ian B. Courtland, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Treena M. Swanston, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Vaughan Grimes, Memorial University of Newfoundland


  • Dr. Arthur R. Murphy, National Parks Antigua

Insight Development Grants (two-year grants)

  • Dr. Pallavi Das, Department of History, A people’s history of climate change:  A study of the western Himalayan region in India, $58,530.
  • Dr. Sandra Jeppesen, Interdisciplinary Studies, Protest media ecologies:  communicative affordances for social change in the digital era, $69,995. Collaborator: Dr. Alice Mattoni, European University Institute, Florence, Italy.
  • Dr. Antony Puddephatt, Department of Sociology, Open access publishing: costs, benefits, and contentious academic politics, $73,396. Collaborator: Dr. Neil McLaughlin, McMaster University



Aid to Small Universities (three-year grant)

Dr. Pallavi Das, Department of History, Research network on social and economic development, $90,000. The funding related to this grant will establish the Resources, Economy, and Society Research Group (RESRG).


  • Dr. Ron Harpelle, Department of History
  • Dr. Michel Beaulieu, Department of History
  • Dr. Steve Jobbitt, Department of History
  • Dr. Chander Shahi, Faculty of Natural Resources Management
  • Dr. Chris Southcott, Department of Sociology
  • Dr. Jennifer Jarman, Department of Sociology


Connections Grant (one-year grant)

Dr. Sandra Jeppesen, Interdisciplinary Studies, Media activism summer institute, $49,995.


Graduate Student Awards

Canada Graduate Scholarships - Master’s Program (one-year grants worth $17,500 each)

  • Alexandra Bissell, Education, Arts-based expression of identity as a tool for resilient education: Building understanding between non-Indigenous teachers and Indigenous students.
  • Meagann Blundon, English, The reclamation of First Nations women's voice in the Idle No More Movement.
  • Samantha Chong, Psychology, Cortical response to a body image exposure.
  • Maximillian Coghlan, English, Interpretative networks in Jeanette Winterson's 
  • Adam Davis, Psychology, Are systems thinkers motivated to seek congruent beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours? The proposed inverse relationship between systems thinking and cognitive consistency.
  • Shy-Anne Hovorka, Education, Aboriginal music in education.
  • Alicia Humphrey, Education, Inquiry­based learning for Aboriginal students.
  • Chad Keefe, Psychology, Psychological contingencies in a chocolate dose-cardioresponse paradigm.
  • Richard Mastrangelo, History, Life in Northwestern mining communities.
  • Kimberly Shirley, History, How immigrants influenced the culture of death in