Royal Society of Canada honours Lynne Viola with Pierre Chauveau Medal
September 25, 2019
By Amy Ratelle
by U of T News
Three University of Toronto faculty members and a PhD student have been honoured with prestigious awards from the Royal Society of Canada, the nation’s academy of scholars, scientists and artists.
As part of its mandate to promote academic excellence, the Royal Society administers more than 20 awards – many named after great Canadian scholars – for outstanding achievement in the sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts.
Lynne Viola, a University Professor in U of T's department of history, has been awarded the Pierre Chauveau Medal, named after the first premier of Quebec and the second president of the Royal Society of Canada. The medal is awarded every two years for a distinguished contribution to knowledge in the humanities, in a subject other than Canadian literature and Canadian history.
“We are proud that the Royal Society of Canada is recognizing Anita Anand, Dwight Seferos and Lynne Viola, all leaders in their disciplines, and Fahima Dossa, an up-and-coming scholar,” says Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives.
“Their impressive work is a reflection of the University of Toronto’s excellence in research across a broad range of disciplines. We congratulate them for the prestigious honours bestowed upon them.”
Viola, a celebrated historian who is one of the world's leading scholars on the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, has published four books and edited 14 volumes of archival documents about the history of violence in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.
Viola’s works focus on the supporters of Stalin’s regime, state government resisters, Stalin’s victims and, in her most recent work – 2017’s Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial – the people who implemented Stalin’s Great Terror, a campaign of political repression from 1936 to 1938. Her book is the first English work to shed light on Soviet perpetrators of violence.
For her research, Viola was given access to Russian and Ukrainian archives that had long been kept secret, including the KGB's.
She says she undertook her work to correct the historical record and place formerly classified documents in the public domain forever.
“History is so important – the cliché is that we learn it so we don’t repeat the past. But we also learn it so we know what happened in times of extreme violence, of economic failures, of social upheaval,” says Viola, who won the Killam Prize earlier this year.
“I have no illusions. Most of my students, when I lecture on Russian history, won’t remember much about Russian history,” she adds. “But if I have managed to succeed in their being able to read newspapers critically, to me that’s a success. Particularly in this day and age of so-called fake news and lying presidents and so on.”
Viola says she is grateful for the Pierre Chauveau Medal, saying the work of researchers in the humanities isn't always recognized.
“It’s unsettling to me, really. I’m used to being ignored. This is what historians do – we sit in archives and libraries,” she says.