Cape Breton University Faculty Researcher Named Tier 2 Canada Research Chair

Cape Breton University (CBU) is pleased to announce that Dr. Heather Sparling, an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, has been named a prestigious Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions, valued at $500,000 over 5 years. This award will allow Dr. Sparling to further research her area of expertise which focuses on how traditional music is sustained by communities, and how it, in turn, sustains communities. The Chair begins July 1.

“Being named a Canada Research Chair is significant because it indicates that not only does CBU have faith in my research abilities and potential, but so do my peers within ethnomusicology. The award will open additional research doors, making it easier to network and collaborate with others. At the same time, it means that I have greater accountability for conducting research and disseminating the results as widely as possible. I have the responsibility of contributing to my discipline, to the research capacity and reputation of CBU, and to the communities whose music I study” says Dr. Sparling.

While the scope of recent disaster songs research has been national, Dr. Sparling’s research project focuses specifically on songs of Atlantic Canada and Gaelic songs in Nova Scotia.  Her work assesses how music sustains communities, whether at a moment of sudden crisis such as a mining disaster or shipwreck, or over a long-term challenge, such as the decline of Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia.  The nature of this research creates a shift from consideration of how communities sustain music – through, for example, such conscious efforts as collecting recordings, staging a festival, or spear-heading a revival – to a consideration of how music sustains communities, and the reciprocal relationship between the two.

Many important outcomes may result from Dr. Sparling’s research. In particular, Dr. Sparling is interested in the act of songwriting as a means of building and sustaining community. Her study of whether and how language learners can be taught to write Gaelic songs will benefit local Gaelic language and cultural revival efforts. It will also have implications for threatened languages globally, potentially offering alternative and complementary ways of learning and supporting minority language instruction. Her analysis of disaster songs will result in a better understanding of the role disaster songs play not just in helping a grieving local community to cope, but their contribution to regional and even national identity and community.

“Research excellence happens throughout Cape Breton University, but this recognition is a great milestone in both Dr. Sparling’s career and for CBU’s research strategy, where Heritage & Culture is one of our identified areas of strength. I am certain that Dr. Sparling’s contributions to culture studies will be significant within her discipline and resonate locally and around the world,” says Dr. Robert Bailey, Vice-President, Academic & Provost.

The Canada Research Chairs program is at the centre of research in Canada, with a purpose of helping universities attract leading experts in the fields of engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology), made the announcement today while speaking at Western University in London, Ont. “Our government is committed to attracting and retaining the world’s best and brightest researchers, supporting innovation, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy,” said Minister of State Gary Goodyear. “By investing in programs such as the Canada Research Chairs, we are fostering cutting-edge research and the generation of new innovations for the marketplace, for the benefit of Canadians.”