Another two Humboldt Professorships for FAU

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FAU has succeeded in gaining the most prestigious international research prize in Germany for seven years in a row, and is looking forward to welcoming Prof. Dr. Michaela Mahlberg and Prof. Dr. Eva Pils. (images: Victoria Beddoes/ King's College London)

Most prestigious research prize for linguist Michaela Mahlberg and human rights researcher Eva Pils

Once again, FAU has successfully demonstrated its strength in innovation and research. In the current funding round, the University has succeeded in winning not one, but two more Humboldt professorships. Linguist and mathematician Prof. Dr. Michaela Mahlberg analyzes linguistic structures in language corpora and their significance for culture and society. Legal expert and sinologist Prof. Dr. Eva Pils conducts research into the global defense of human rights, focusing in particular on China. The prizes, worth up to five million euros each, will be awarded in 2024 after the appointment negotiations have been completed.

With these two new appointments, FAU has succeeded in gaining the most prestigious international research prize in Germany for seven years in a row. “When it comes to the number of Humboldt Professorships, FAU is now one of the leading lights – a clear signal that our University has developed over recent years into an internationally attractive research location that scores thanks to its diversity and strength in innovation, due in no small measure to the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria,” explains FAU President Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger. “With Michaela Mahlberg and Eva Pils, we have gained two top scientists for our University who will be a genuine asset for FAU in two of our key research priorities: digital humanities and research into human rights. This will allow us to enhance our academic profile even further.”

Bavaria’s minister of science Markus Blume passes on his congratulations: “A great success for FAU – congratulations! FAU has proven once again that it can do whatever it sets its mind to: Our flagship university from Middle Franconia is without any doubt among the best of the best. As Germany’s most innovative university, it is a pillar of the pioneering location for research that is Bavaria. We are proud that half of the Humboldt appointments in this round are going to universities in our Free State, it really is a feather in the cap for the whole of Bavaria. We are pleased to welcome Professors Michaela Mahlberg and Eva Pils and their unique expertise to the region. One thing is clear: Bavaria attracts the best minds. We welcome progress and offer the best conditions for research. That makes us attractive internationally!”

Researches the changes in and through language: Prof. Dr. Michaela Mahlberg

Michaela Mahlberg uses computer-assisted, quantitative linguistic methods to investigate language and its social function in huge text corpora. She made a name for herself with her linguistic analysis of the works of Charles Dickens and other authors from the 19th century. With her approach of combining corpus linguistics, stylistics and literary criticism, her work is located at the interface between linguistics and literary studies.

Her investigations into new text corpora, for example from online media, are aimed at allowing us to gain a better understanding of our digitalized world in the 21st century. “My research, for example, looks into how often and in respect to which topics certain words or phrases appear, for example the word “management,” explains Mahlberg. “The results give us an insight into culture and society and can be used for further analyses in the context of digital humanities.” Her research also focuses on how language itself changes as a result of digitalization.

Michaela Mahlberg
Michaela Mahlberg uses computer-assisted, quantitative linguistic methods to investigate huge text corpora. With her help as the leading expert in this area, FAU hopes to become established as an international center of excellence for digital humanities. (Image: Victoria Beddoes)

Using her computer-assisted methods of analysis, Michaela Mahlberg hopes not only to describe the situation in society, but also to make a change. One example is the transdisciplinary pilot project on the water crisis that she is conducting together with colleagues in Birmingham. “Intervening in the water cycle leads to multi-faceted consequences for the climate,” she explains. “But how can we raise awareness of this issue among broad sections of the population?” First of all, it is important to understand what importance we give water and in which contexts we speak about water. Mahlberg analyzes huge quantities of text from newspapers, UN reports, political recommendations and literary works. “This allows us to derive communication strategies for how we can communicate the importance of water more clearly for each individual.”

As a Humboldt Professor at FAU, Michael Mahlberg is to be appointed the Director of the Department of Digital Humanities and Social Studies (DHSS) established in 2021, where she is expected to pool and expand research activities in the area of digital humanities. The Center is aimed at making a contribution to understanding the datafication and algorithmization of culture and society in their social dimension.

Michaela Mahlberg studied English and Mathematics at the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Exeter in the UK. In 2004, she completed her doctoral degree in English linguistics at the University of Saarbrücken. She taught English linguistics at the Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, Italy, at Liverpool Hope University, at the University of Liverpool and at the University of Nottingham, UK. In 2015, she was appointed professor of corpus linguistics at the University of Birmingham, UK. Michaela Mahlberg is the vice president of the International Dickens Society and the editor of the International Journal of Corpus Linguistics. She was instrumental in creating the internet application CLiC (Corpus Linguistics in Context), which is now used for research and teaching purposes in over 100 countries across the globe.

Taking a critical view of China’s human rights record: Prof. Dr. Eva Pils

Eva Pils began investigating the defense of human rights in China more than 20 years ago, at a time when most people expected there to be a liberal transformation of the Chinese legal system . Pils concentrated, however, on the tension and contradictions within the one-party system. She was skeptical towards the Chinese reform process and the assumption that authoritarian institutions would become more open and accessible through collaboration and discussion.

With her legal expertise and profound knowledge of the Chinese culture and language, Pils has a research profile the likes of which are hard to find anywhere outside of China. “I think it is important to convey law as a global subject,” she says. “At the same time, I encourage my students to read legislation critically and to understand it in its political and historical context.”

Eva Pils is an internationally renowned expert in international human rights with a focus on China, who takes an interdisciplinary approach. At FAU, she is now to establish a globally visible Center of Excellence for research into international human rights.
Eva Pils is an internationally renowned expert in international human rights with a focus on China, who takes an interdisciplinary approach. At FAU, she is now to establish a globally visible Center of Excellence for research into international human rights. (Image: King’s College London)

Her research is not only of great academic relevance, she also contributes her expertise in a number of different ways, for example advising the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, acting as an expert for parliamentary human rights committees or helping to train diplomats. Thanks to her frequent appearances in the media, she also influences public and political discourse and makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about dealing with transnational violations of human rights.

FAU plans to expand its key research priority in human rights with Eva Pils as a Humboldt Professor. The aim is to establish the Centre for Human Rights Erlangen-Nürnberg (CHREN) and the School of Law as a top institution within Europe for research and teaching in the area of human rights.

Eva Pils studied law, Chinese Studies and philosophy in Heidelberg, Peking and London. As a doctoral candidate, she participated in a training program for European lawyers in Peking and studied Chinese law. In 2004, she obtained her doctoral degree in law at University College London. After that, she conducted research at New York University, USA and worked at the law faculty of the Chinese University Hongkong, where she was one of the founding members of the Centre for Rights and Justice. In 2024, she transferred to King’s College London as a reader in transnational law, and was appointed full professor there in 2018. For several years now, Eva Pils has been collaborating with colleagues at FAU as an associate member of CHREN.

About the Humboldt Professorship

With funding of up to five million euros, Alexander von Humboldt Professorships not only provide optimum financing but also maximum flexibility for carrying out top-level research in Germany. The aim of the most prestigious international research prize in Germany is to attract the prizewinners to institutions in the country for the long term. The prize will be awarded to the scientists in 2024 when they have successfully concluded the appointment negotiations with the German universities who nominated them.

All Humboldt Professorships at FAU

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