By Andrew Kuntze
Constance Backhouse, a professor of Common Law, has been awarded a prestigious Molson Prize for Social Sciences by the Canada Council for the Arts for 2015. The Molson Prizes, worth $50,000 each, reward and encourage contributions to Canada’s cultural and intellectual heritage; historically, they have been awarded to a wide range of individuals, from poets, visual artists and musicians to philosophers, economists and historians.
Widely recognized as one of Canada’s foremost legal historians, Professor Backhouse has attained national and international stature as a leader in the interdisciplinary study of law, history, women’s studies, criminology, and sociology. As a Distinguished University Professor and holder of a University of Ottawa Research Chair, Professor Backhouse has illuminated moments in legal history that are crucially important to understanding the role of law in compounding – or transforming – the oppression of women and minority groups in Canada. University of Ottawa President Allan Rock calls Professor Backhouse “a trailblazer in areas of gender and race discrimination.”
“I was simply thrilled to learn that my research had been honoured with this wonderful prize,” said Professor Backhouse. “The prize represents our best hopes for interdisciplinary scholarship and vision, and I am deeply humbled to join the ranks of its prestigious recipients from past years.”
No stranger to distinctions of this nature, Professor Backhouse has received numerous awards and honours for her achievements and the remarkable impact of her scholarship, both inside and outside the academic sphere. Some of her recent honours include the Order of Canada (2008), the Killam Prize for Social Sciences (2008), the Order of Ontario (2010), the David W. Mundell Medal for her “distinguished contribution to law and literature” (2011), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Gold Medal (2011), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case (2013). She has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 2004, and in 2006, she became the first woman to receive the Canadian Bar Association’s Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for her outstanding contributions to law.
In addition to these formal honours, Professor Backhouse’s long track record of ground-breaking legal research has landed her several prestigious roles and appointments. For many years, she has served as a consultant and expert witness in the fields of sexual harassment, violence against women, and discrimination and the law. She is the first non-U.S. scholar ever elected President of the American Society for Legal History, and she currently serves as this organization’s official delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2014, she was elected President of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Women's Education and Research Foundation and a founding co-publisher and co-editor of the Feminist History Society, which aims to describe, document, and celebrate the history and evolution of the women’s movement in Canada over the past 50 years.
The Molson Prizes are awarded annually to two individuals: one in the arts and one in the social sciences and humanities. The prizes are funded by an endowment from the Molson Foundation, and are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts in collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). A complete list of past recipients is available here.