2020 Humanities Awards Honour Outstanding Staff and Faculty

Enrich, engage, provoke, inspire.

These four values are not only the pillars of our mission to open minds and transform the world. They also describe several ways in which this year’s Faculty award winners have uplifted the UVic community over the last year.

It is with great pleasure that we honour and celebrate Neilesh Bose (History), Chris Cookson (Desktop Support Services), Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins (Linguistics), Christopher Douglas (English), Christine O’Bonsawin (Indigenous Studies + History) and Kristin Semmens (History + Germanic and Slavic Studies) through these awards.

Read on to find our more about how these outstanding staff and faculty members have made the Faculty and, indeed, the University, a better place to be.


Internationalization Award: Neilesh Bose (History) * inaugural recipient! *

Neilesh BoseNew this year, the Internationalization Award is given to a member of the Humanities community who has most tangibly contributed to the advancement of the UVic International Plan by increasing student global mobility, enhancing international student experience, advancing international and intercultural curricula, or making a vital impact through the internationalization of their research.

In his five short years at UVic as a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Global and Comparative History, Neilesh Bose has already been credited with building an enduring infrastructure of global and international connections here at the University. Through initiatives such as the Global South Colloquium and the South Asia Global Forum, and individual events involving visitors from India, Bangladesh, Singapore, South Africa, Germany and the UK, Neilesh has broadened the perspectives of domestic students while preparing them for global exchanges, and has created tangible means for international students to contribute to and engage with locally-produced Humanities research. His own research is broad in scope, inclusive in approach, and international in both content and reach. On many fronts and in many ways, Neilesh Bose has been a vital part of realizing the University's plans for internationalization.  

“I feel humbled, honoured and delighted to win this award. I’d like to thank the department of History as a whole, as well as Victor Ramraj, Director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, for their ongoing support. Hopefully this award brings greater visibility to the study of globalization and encourages future scholars and students to instill global and comparative perspectives into their work” – Neilesh Bose


Staff Excellence: Chris Cookson (Desktop Support Services)

Chris CooksonThe Staff Excellence Award recognizes those who have demonstrated excellence in the performance of their administrative, support or service duties, displaying a commitment above and beyond the requirements of their position.

Busy though he may always be, Chris Cookson is always ready to help. He deploys our computers and keeps them secure and up to date. He manages our permissions and our network and makes sure everything is private and secure. He troubleshoots any problem that may come up, big or small, and does his best to keep things running smoothly for all of us. Most importantly, he does all of this with grace, good humour, expertise and efficiency. Serving all fourteen units of the Faculty, Cookson supports the teaching, research and administration of one of Canada's top-ranked post-secondary institutions. He is the go-to guy for literally hundreds of staff and faculty. Described variously as being "fast, cheerful and exact" and having an "infectiously good sense of humour," Cookson distinguished himself this year during the COVID-19 crisis, when all staff and faculty had to transition abruptly to remote working and teaching. He is credited with giving us all the confidence that, however uncertain the world might become, our computer problems would be resolved quickly and with nary a word of complaint.

“I love working in the Humanities and it’s great to be recognized and feel appreciated for the work I do. I’d like to thank the entire Faculty of Humanities for the last 6 years, it has been wonderful to get to know and work with all of you. I’ve felt at home since the beginning and am looking forward to a long career at UVic. I’d also like to thank and acknowledge my fellow Desktop Support Services members and everyone in the Systems Department, who do a lot of hidden work behind the scenes. Without them, I couldn’t support the Faculty as I do.” – Chris Cookson


Engaged Scholar Award: Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins (Linguistics)

Ewa Czaykowska-HigginsThe Engaged Scholar Award honours scholars who have best exemplified the Faculty of Humanities’ commitment to social engagement by using their knowledge, research and teaching to effect social change over the last three years.

An advisor to (and former co-convener of) the Institute on Collaborative Language Research, Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins consistently practices and advocates for community-centred and community-led research, reflecting critically upon ethical implications of scholarship. She trains undergraduate and graduate students in Linguistics and in Indigenous Language Revitalization and contributes through her intellectual labours to the projects and goals of the Indigenous communities with which she works. Her seminal 2009 article on the Community-Based Language Research Model, in which she argues that knowledge should be constructed for, with, and by community members, was grounded upon her long-standing partnerships and collaborative research projects with the Nxaʔamxčín-speaking community in Washington and local SENĆOŦEN-speaking communities. A digital dictionary for the Nxaʔamxčín language was created in response to community needs for an accessible, sustainable and lasting resource. Engaged scholarship, one might say, is what Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins does. Social change of the very best sort is what she effects.

“I am honoured and humbled to receive this award, but I am also not quite comfortable with it. My research was carried out in Indigenous spaces, with Indigenous colleagues, and informed by my colleagues’ wisdom and teaching. The work that is being celebrated today is therefore a collective achievement and I am privileged to do it collaboratively with others” - Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins


Research Excellence Award: Christopher Douglas (English)

Christopher DouglasThe Research Excellence Award acknowledges those who have made a substantial contribution to their field(s) of expertise over the last five years, making a profound and unmistakable impact through their research.

Christopher Douglas is a prodigious scholar who specializes in modern and contemporary American fiction, literature and religion, US Evangelism and Fundamentalism, the Bible as Literature, and Multi-Ethnic American Literatures. Among his many accolades and accomplishments over the last five years in particular, two stand out.  First, the journals, presses, and conferences in which Douglas’ work can be found are among the top in his field. Recently he guest-edited a special issue of Christianity and Literature on literature by and about the Christian Right. His publication in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the premiere journal for Religious Studies similarly illustrates the remarkable expansion of his research's importance. The second stand-out aspect of Douglas’ scholarly output lies in its resonance with non-academic audiences. Dozens of articles and talks aimed at the general public have earned him a steady, dedicated following. A 2017 article on the "Religious Origins of Fake News" earned him an invitation from the Cambridge Institute for Religion and International Studies (CIRIS) to write a report on fake news and religion in US and European elections, which he presented to a network of Western diplomats gathered at the French Foreign Affairs ministry in Paris. In a time when questions about the relevance of Humanities research have become all too commonplace, Douglas shows the value of Humanities research and its relevance today.

“Winning this award is really swell. Our Faculty has such a strong research record that it’s a real honour to be singled out. I’d like to thank my family – Lynnette, Kaela and Nathalie – and members of the English department who I’ve been chatting about literature and religion with for the last decade or so.” - Christopher Douglas


Həuistəŋ Award : Christine O’Bonsawin (Indigenous Studies + History) * inaugural recipient! *

Christine O'BonsawinPronounced “who-ee-stun,” Həuistəŋ is a Lekwungen word meaning “to honour or bring forward.” New this year, the Həuistəŋ Award honours members of the Faculty of Humanities who have made the most significant contribution to further the UVic Indigenous Plan by increasing educational opportunities and success for Indigenous students or advancing education, research, outreach or engagement initiatives with an Indigenous focus.

Christine O'Bonsawin did not start the Indigenous Studies program here at UVic, but she is widely recognized as the driving force behind its growth, stability, and current success. When she took the helm as program director in 2007, fresh out of her PhD, Indigenous Studies was a minor program that had been housed in the Department of Anthropology since 1999. O'Bonsawin quickly recognized the need for a more permanent home, moving the program to the First Peoples House when it became administratively housed in the Office of Interdisciplinary Academic Programs in 2012, before leading it to the Faculty of Humanities in 2018 where it currently resides. She was tireless in her efforts and steady in her vision, taking on many administrative challenges and working dedicatedly to overcome structural impediments to the program's growth. Her successful advocacy led to the approval of a major in January 2018, which launched in September 2018 after years of close consultation with local Indigenous and UVic communities. Thanks to her leadership, the program now flourishes under a new director (Lisa Kahaleole Hall) with a renowned Indigenous scholar (Jeff Corntassel) on its roster. While she continues to work and teach in the program, one of Christine O'Bonsawin's legacies will surely be the remarkable and substantive increase of opportunities for Indigenous students and Indigenous studies at the University of Victoria.

“I feel incredibly honoured to receive the inaugural həuistəŋ award, mainly because the practice of honouring or bringing individuals forward is grounded in the traditions of these lands and Lekwungen practice. I see this award as innately attached to our relational and collective ways as Indigenous people. It is less about me and more about the relationships we have built and small collectives we have established, which I see as responsible for carrying this important work forward.” – Christine O’Bonsawin


Teaching Excellence Award: Kristin Semmens (History + Germanic and Slavic Studies)

Kristin SemmensThe Teaching Excellence Award recognizes faculty members who have gone over and above their required duties to motivate and support students on their quest for knowledge and growth.

Over the last seven years, Kristin Semmens has received the 'Most Valuable Professor' award from The History Undergraduate Society (THUGS) five times. Course experience surveys for Semmens are consistently exemplary. From the two courses that she taught last fall for History and the one for Germanic and Slavic Studies, an astonishing 100% of students rated her course and her effectiveness as an instructor as "excellent." Recognition of Semmens’ work also comes from outside of the classroom: this year the Canadian Historical Association bestowed upon her the inaugural Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources Award, which is the highest honour available for university history teaching in Canada. In 2013, she received UVic’s Gillian Sherwin Award for teaching excellence. Close readers may have already noticed a theme here. Semmens' teaching is not confined to the university grounds. Her Public History graduate class, developed with the Point Ellice House Historical Museum and Gardens, gives students opportunity to work on projects identified as urgent by the museum’s director: creating exhibits, social media campaigns and pedagogical materials, for example. Nor is Semmens’ teaching confined to a university audience. Semmens regularly gives talks on the Holocaust to local religious groups, speaks at Kristallnacht commemoration and other Holocaust education events, and presents in middle- and high-school classrooms around the region. She also co-founded and continues to serve on the board of Uni 101, which offers free, non-credit academic courses – as well as bus tickets, meals and childcare – to the marginalized members of our community. In the quest for knowledge and intellectual growth, Semmens has proven herself an unparalleled leader.

“I am thrilled and honoured to win this award because there are so many incredibly gifted teachers in the Faculty of Humanities. I’d like to thank the departments of History and Germanic and Slavic Studies for the joint nomination, and all my thousands of students over the last sixteen years at UVic. This pushes me to live up to the expectations for excellence in the future!” – Kristin Semmens


For more information about the Humanities Staff and Faculty awards, please visit www.uvic.ca/humanities/about/faculty-awards/index.php


Article by Philip Cox