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Awards for outstanding female researchers at HU

Award of the 2016 Caroline von Humboldt-Professur and the Caroline von Humboldt-Preis

Two outstanding women in academia were recognized on the 6th December. Iris Därmann, Professor for Cultural Theory and Cultural Studies of Aesthetics, was awarded the 2016 Caroline von Humboldt-Professur. The art historian Margarete Pratschke received the Caroline von Humboldt-Preis.

“Without the intellectually stimulating and challenging discussions with my undergraduates, peers, doctoral students, and dear colleagues at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), I would likely never have stumbled across the research topics and questions that inspire me”, said Därmann at the award ceremony.

Iris Därmann
Iris Därmann
Figure: private

Her research interests include the theory and practice of imagery, the economics of gift exchange, philosophy in colonial contexts, and the history of punitive and property markings in the transatlantic slave trade. She is currently investigating the ideology and cultural history of service within the Cluster of Excellence Topoi. “How could the ethos of serving exploited by the modern service society arise from the contempt for slavery held since ancient times?”

Research into the history of the Auschwitz number tattooing system

While hosting an interdisciplinary research seminar on “Visual Dictatorships” together with historian Michael Wildt in the last summer semester, Iris Därmann became interested in the question of whether Nazi people’s communities were the first example of a service community in the 20th century – with their requirement of final services, their glorification of manual labour, and their characterization of “destructive work”.

She will now continue her research into the poorly studied history of the practice of number tattooing at Auschwitz and the history of its transformation into a symbol of survival, remembrance, and freedom. “Together, we want to investigate the origin of the inscription ‘Arbeit macht frei’, which was placed on the gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp from Summer 1940 until January 1945, as well as the gatehouses at Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Gross-Rosen.” She plans to use the €80,000 prize money to fund a DFG application together with Wildt to write a collaborative book. “In our book, we will examine the visual culture and working and service aesthetics that gave value to the concept of service in the Nazi people’s community, a community centred around death and killing.”

Dissertation on the history of images in graphical computer interfaces

Margarete Pratschke, who is currently pursuing a post-doctoral project at ETH Zurich, is also actively conducting interdisciplinary research as she ventures into uncharted territory. Her research interests combine topics from the history of art with the history of technology and science, computers, hardware and software, as well as the history of scientific and technical imaging procedures. Since her highly acclaimed dissertation, she has become a familiar face at the Herrmann von Helmholtz-Zentrum of Humboldt-Universität. In this work, she explored the history of images in graphical computer interfaces such as those developed by Microsoft and Apple.

Margarete Pratschke
Margarete Pratschke
Abbildung: Alfred Steffen

“The engineers responsible for designing computer interfaces in the 1960s studied the theories of Gestalt psychologists such as Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Rudolf Arnheim to decipher the psychological aspects of visual perception.” Gestalt psychology was born in the 1920s at the Institute of Psychology of Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, which at the time was based in the Berlin Schloss. In her latest book, Margarete Pratschke unravelled the ways in which art, Gestalt psychology, and the peculiarities of this extraordinary location are intertwined. 

While conducting research around the Institute of Psychology, she stumbled upon another unique “treasure” in the inventory of its Historical Cabinet. “I found portraits, photos, and films of women in the collection of teaching images from the GDR, labelled ‘Credibility’.” This collection of more than 50 photos remains shrouded in mystery. Who took them? What image of women do they convey? What underlying psychological imagery, which since the 19th century has been dominated by the perception of women as allegories of hysteria, madness and disease, do these materials represent?

These questions and others will be studied by the winning author, who is the recipient of €15,000 prize, in her post-doctoral project on “Art History and Experimental Psychology” as a guest at the Department of Art and Visual History, studying Art and Modern Media with Charlotte Klonk.

Author: Ljiljana Nikolic

About the Caroline von Humboldt programme

The Caroline von Humboldt programme (CvH programme) was developed as a strategic approach to promoting equality at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is named after the ingenious epistler, salonnière, patron and wife of Wilhelm von Humboldt.


Jenny Stiebitz
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Phone: 030 2093-2315