Alexander von Humboldt Professorship – The Award Winners 2015

Elisabeth Décultot


How did scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries read other scholars? What did they record of this in their notes and extract notebooks? And what found its way into their works? The French literary scholar Elisabeth Décultot follows tracks like these in order to understand the transfer of knowledge in the art theory and aesthetics of the Enlightenment. With success: Décultot is one of the world’s most distinguished researchers on the history of aesthetics in the 18th century. With her help, the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg wants to become the leading address for Enlightenment research in Germany. Elisabeth Décultot is to extend the focus at Halle-Wittenberg to include the European and global context.

Nominating university: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

  • Elisabeth Décultot
    Photo: private

    Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Décultot
    Born in 1968; research professor with the title Directrice de Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris (CNRS/EHESS-Centre Georg Simmel) since 2005. Following studies of the German language and literature, Elisabeth Décultot obtained her doctorate at the École normale supérieure de Paris (ENS) in 1995 and her post-doctoral degree (habilitation) in 2004. Elisabeth Décultot has already conducted research in Germany, including as a Humboldt Fellow in Cologne and Berlin. In her work, such as on Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a pioneer in scientific archaeology and art history, she goes far beyond the bounds of her discipline: In 2010 she curated an exhibition in the Louvre Museum, where she has been a member of the scientific advisory board since 2011.

Harald Andrés Helfgott

Pure Mathematics

Every odd number from seven upwards is the sum of three prime numbers according to Goldbach’s ternary conjecture, which has kept mathematicians busy since the 18th century. They have been searching for evidence to prove or refute the conjecture for over two hundred years - but, in spite of remarkable advances in the early 20th century and steady progress since then, a proof was not forthcoming. In 2013, Peruvian mathematician, Harald Andrés Helfgott, gave a complete proof of the ternary Goldbach conjecture with some computer assistance. And it was not his first breakthrough in mathematics. He has solved fundamental problems on growth in groups and has contributed to the application of diophantine geometry in number theory. He is now set to become an Alexander von Humboldt Professor at the University of Göttingen, reinforcing the research focus on algebraic geometry and number theory and helping Göttingen to advance from an internationally recognised centre of excellence to become a global leader in the field.

Nominating university: University of Göttingen

  • Harald Andrés Helfgott
    Photo: Kate Juschenko

    Prof. Dr. Harald Andrés Helfgott
    Born in Peru in 1977, Harald Andrés Helfgott has been a senior researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Paris since 2010, becoming a research professor in October 2014. He studied in the United States, first at Brandeis University and then at Princeton University, where he took his doctorate in 2003. He continued his career as a postdoc at Yale University, USA, and as a lecturer at the Université de Montréal, Canada. After a sojourn at the University of Bristol, UK, Helfgott joined CNRS in France in 2010. He is a member of the American Mathematical Society and the Société Mathématique de France. In his home country of Peru he holds an honorary professorship at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.

Sharon Jeanette Macdonald

Cultural Anthropology / Museology

How do you choose which of a culture’s or society’s objects and artefacts should be exhibited in museums? And, in this context, how do countries deal with their own, perhaps difficult, cultural heritage? These are the kinds of question that interest the eminent cultural anthropologist and museologist, Sharon Macdonald, and the ones she always links to socially relevant themes. She investigated the treatment of the Nazi past in Germany, for instance, by focussing on the historical heritage of Nuremberg. Amongst other things, she is currently examining how Islam is presented and conveyed in museums. The British scholar also specialises in museum theory and has produced many seminal works on the subject. Under Macdonald’s leadership, Humboldt-Universität, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin want to establish a new, world-leading Centre for Cultural Heritage and Museum Research. In her capacity as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor, Sharon Jeanette Macdonald will also be involved in the continuing development of concrete museum projects as the future Humboldt Forum and Berlin’s Museum Island.

Nominating University: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in conjunction with the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

  • Sharon Jeanette Macdonald
    Photo: Mike Beaney

    Prof. Dr. Sharon Jeanette Macdonald
    Born in 1961, Sharon Jeanette Macdonald is a professor at the University of York, United Kingdom. She completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford in 1987 and subsequently spent time at Brunel University in London and Keele University near Newcastle-under-Lyme, UK. In 1996, Macdonald became a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, where she was appointed to a professorship in cultural anthropology in 2002. From there, she moved to the University of Manchester in 2006 and, finally, in 2012, to the University of York. In the context of a Humboldt Research Fellowship, Macdonald conducted research in Germany on a number of occasions between 2000 and 2007, at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2011, she was a visiting professor at Peking University. Macdonald is a member of diverse specialist associations, including the Royal Anthropological Institute, and a member of the editorial boards of journals such as the International Journal of Heritage Studies.

Karen Radner

Classical and Ancient Studies

Ancient Near Eastern history specialist, Karen Radner, sets her research sights on the big picture. She is one of the world’s leading experts on the history of Mesopotamia at the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (9th to 7th century BC), which is considered the first major empire in human history. Trained as a cuneiform philologist, she studies the written evidence from the period in order to reconstruct its cultural and social history. Radner, an Austrian, has produced numerous first editions of previously unknown cuneiform texts, delving in particular into hitherto neglected sources such as evidence of everyday life. She also chooses unusual publication paths: she is a supporter of the Digital Humanities and provides open access to part of her work and editions online. Her mission as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor at LMU Munich will be to shift the focus of classical and ancient studies more towards a universal history of antiquity.

Nominating University: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

  • Karen Radner
    Photo: University College

    Prof. Dr. Karen Radner
    Born in Austria in 1972, Karen Radner is currently a professor at University College London (UCL), UK. She studied in Austria, at the University of Vienna, and in Germany, at Freie Universität Berlin, taking her doctorate in Vienna in 1997. She then moved to the University of Helsinki, Finland, and, after various positions in Germany and Austria, transferred to UCL in 2005, initially as a lecturer and, as of 2010, as a professor. Radner has also taken part in many excavations and research projects in Greece, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. She is a member of the editorial boards of numerous journals, including the Journal of Near Eastern History.

Marja Timmermans

Molecular genetics

How do the patterns in leaves develop? Where do the differences between the top and the underside of a leaf come from? Leaf development is the special field of the plant geneticist Marja Timmermans who has made several internationally acclaimed discoveries and whose methods are used in laboratories around the world. In the course of her work, Marja Timmermans succeeded in finding an explanation for the mechanism behind leaf development and the role of mobile RNA molecules in this connection. For Tübingen University, a Humboldt Professorship for Marja Timmermans at the Center for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP) would target bridging the interface between basic and applied research. Tübingen also wants to extend the profile of model organisms such as moss to crop plants such as maize, which Marja Timmermans is researching.

Nominating university: Tübingen University

  • Marja Timmermans
    Poto: privat

    Prof. Dr. Marja Timmermans
    Born in 1964, since 2009 full professor at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, USA. Marja Timmermans began working there in 1998 and was soon promoted to assistant professor in 2001. Since completing her studies in the Netherlands, she has conducted research in the USA, including at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and Yale University, New Haven. Marja Timmermans also sits on the editorial boards of various professional journals and on selection committees of organisations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSPO).


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