Jan. 17, 2024

Generous gift establishes annual lecture at Calgary Institute for the Humanities 

Inaugural Egmont Lee Founders’ Lecture founded in honour of second CIH director
A black and white headshot of a man in a suit with glasses
Egmont Lee

An annual lecture within the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH) has been established in memory of a distinguished scholar who became the driving force instrumental to the institute’s foundation 47 years ago. Dr. Egmont Lee, PhD, professor emeritus, history, arrived in Calgary in 1968 when the fledgling university was actively recruiting faculty. He spent more than 30 years teaching and researching in the history department and was the institute’s second director.

Egmont passed in 2016, and in his honour, the Lee family has gifted $100,000 to establish the endowed Egmont Lee Founders’ Lecture — an annual lecture presented by a CIH Fellow. This gift provides a meaningful way for the Lee family to continue the legacy and passion Egmont had for the CIH to benefit and enrich future generations of students and the community.

“This institute is a pearl in the university’s crown; more of a pearl than a diamond because of the opalescence and as something that grew,” says Egmont’s widow, Dr. Valeria Lee, PhD, Italian studies. “Egmont had the idea that the humanities needed a harbour where they could congregate with similar-thinking people and make connections. The idea of the institute is something that opens the future for humanists.”

Shaped by his early childhood migrant experiences in Estonia and Germany during the Second World War, and later emigrating to the U.S. and Canada, Egmont was interested in immigration research. A big initiative of his in the late '90s was a UCalgary summer student project that investigated immigration to Calgary and local immigrant groups, so — as his family relates — “students could become cognizant of who sat on the next bench.”

Notable as the oldest humanities institute in Canada, the CIH contributes to the public good by supporting research excellence to improve lives and communities. The establishment of the Egmont Lee Founders’ Lecture will embellish the existing lecture series and Fellowships of an institution that in its formative years owed much to Egmont’s passion and dedication for the advancement of the humanities.   

“Egmont saw the importance of the humanities in the contemporary university and also in culture in general,” says Dr. Jim Ellis, CIH director. “His interest in immigration both in terms of his own scholarship, but also out in the world, demonstrates the value of humanities work in understanding other cultures, other peoples with their languages and other literatures. The Lee family’s gift continues supporting humanist scholars and affirming the value of it both inside the university and inside the city.”

As Egmont explained in an interview from 1980, “Research in the humanities is more than merely valuable for its own sake. It is an integral part of society’s capacity for reflection and self-analysis, enabling us to compare and evaluate disparate developments within the academic community, and within society, in order to situate them more objectively within an overall context of rapid change.”

The inaugural Egmont Lee Founders’ Lecture, Cinema Against State Terror: French Documentary and the Algerian War, takes place Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Taylor Institute with a talk by Dr. Matt Croombs PhD, assistant professor, Department of Communication, Media, and Film, examining how French documentary film in the 1950s and 1960s confronted the Algerian War of Independence, focusing on René Vautier.

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