This year's Wittgenstein Award went to Professor Claudia Rapp of the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Vienna. At the 2015 START/Wittgenstein Gala, which marked the 20-year anniversary of these two research excellence programmes at the FWF, the award was presented by Austrian Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister of Science Reinhold Mitterlehner and FWF President Pascale Ehrenfreund.
In addition, the eight outstanding young researchers inducted into the START Programme were announced by Austrian State Secretary Harald Mahrer and FWF Vice Presidents Christine Mannhalter (Biology and Medicine), Hermann Hellwagner (Natural and Technical Sciences) and Alan Scott (Humanities and Social Sciences). In the next five to six years, the START grantees will have a total of approximately €11 million at their disposal for their research efforts.
"These prizes are not just a prestigious and high-profile form of recognition for outstanding scholars; they also form the basis for generating new and valuable insights in basic research. The generous grant amounts provide the researchers with a maximum of freedom to develop their ideas. This year's Wittgenstein Award winner provides yet another indicator of the strength of humanities and cultural studies research in Austria," noted Mitterlehner in congratulating the 2014 grant recipients. "For outstanding junior researchers, being inducted into the highly competitive START Programme serves as a springboard that allows them to develop their own research careers, to enrich their research disciplines and to strengthen Austria as a research location."
In addition to the anniversary of those programmes, the FWF had another reason to celebrate this year: For the first time ever, the organisation was able to confer the Weiss Award, which is sponsored by the Gottfried and Vera Weiss Science Foundation and administered by the FWF. The first recipient was Kay Helfricht, who received the award from Austrian State Secretary for Science Harald Mahrer and the Weiss Foundation's Chairman Rudolf Bauer.
"Privately financed initiatives such as the Weiss Award create more space for outstanding research in addition to public funding. The path chosen by the Weiss Foundation is clearly the right one, as initiatives like these sow the seeds for a brighter future in Austrian science and research. In order to strengthen innovation in Austria, we need to work together to leverage and increase all areas of potential," commented Mahrer.
FWF President Pascale Ehrenfreund added: "For 20 years now, the Wittgenstein Award and the START Programme have stood for research excellence made in Austria and funded by the FWF, and these prizes provide impressive evidence of Austria's high potential in basic research. On behalf of the FWF, I would like to offer my heartiest congratulations to this year's Wittgenstein Award winner, Claudia Rapp, as well as the eight outstanding young researchers who have been inducted into the START Programme. You have succeeded in an extremely competitive environment, and I cannot stress enough how extraordinary an accomplishment that is."
Born in Berlin, Claudia Rapp became a full professor in 2011 and is currently the chair of the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Vienna. Since 2012, she has also served as head of the Department of Eastern Mediterranean Studies at the Institute for Medieval Research in the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). After completing her studies in history, ancient Greek and Byzantine studies at the Free University of Berlin, Rapp earned her doctorate at Oxford University in 1992. In that same year, she went on to work as a visiting lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles. From 1993 to 1994, she served as an assistant professor in the Department of Classics at Cornell University, after which she returned to UCLA as an assistant professor in 1994. From 2006 to 2011, she was a full professor in UCLA's Department of History. As for her management activities in science and research, Rapp was president of the Byzantine Studies Conference from 1998 to 1999 and president of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America from 2009 to 2010. Since 2014, she has been president of the Austrian Society for Byzantine Studies. Rapp became a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 2013 and was elected as a full member in 2014.
In her research, Rapp focuses on investigating the experienced reality of social and cultural phenomena and questioning established patterns of explanation. Many of her publications have arisen from her intensive study of hagiographic descriptions of the lives of holy men and women; these unique resources shed light on the everyday life as well as the concerns and mentalities of the middle and lower classes far away from the capital of the empire, Constantinople. With her methods firmly anchored in basic research, in particular in codicology, Rapp also devotes efforts to researching cultural and linguistic networks, for example in her work with the palimpsest manuscripts at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, in which erased writings in nine languages are being made legible again using digital technologies.
The Wittgenstein Award will enable her to pursue these questions – both within Byzantium and in connection with Western Europe as well as the Middle and Far East – in three areas: the mobility of people and objects, the mobility of people and ideas, and cultural mobility and social practice. In this context, her indispensable basic research focusing on manuscripts and other artefacts will be complemented by analysis and interpretation, which will also involve dialogue at the international level. The findings will be discussed in colloquia and conferences, disseminated through publications and conveyed to a broader public via the Internet and through public events, including offers designed for school pupils.
The Wittgenstein Award is Austria's largest and most prestigious research prize, and it has been awarded by the FWF since 1996. Wittgenstein recipients are provided with a budget of up to €1.5 million for research work over a period of five years. The Wittgenstein is a "dry prize", meaning that the funds are only available for the scholar's intended research.
In addition to the Wittgenstein winner, eight top-notch young researchers were chosen among 82 applicants for the START Programme in 2015. The START grant, which has also been awarded since 1996, is the FWF's largest and most renowned award for outstanding young researchers. On the basis of their scientific track records, recipients are given the opportunity to plan their research work on a long-term basis (six years) with sufficient financial security and to establish, expand and lead their own research teams independently. All grant recipients are subjected to an interim evaluation after three years. Each START project is endowed with up to €1.2 million.
Both the START Programme and the Wittgenstein Award are open to all scientific disciplines.
The researchers chosen for the START Programme in 2015 are as follows (in alphabetical order):
Benjamin Peter Lanyon
Gareth S. Parkinson
Recommendations for grant awards are compiled by the international START/Wittgenstein Jury on the basis of peer reviews from expert scholars based outside of Austria. In order to ensure a maximum of objectivity in decision-making, the jury itself comprises renowned scientists from abroad. The jury convened at the end of last week and was chaired by Jan Ziolkowski, Professor of Medieval Latin and Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection at Harvard University.
Link zur Pressemappe(pdf, 2.5MB) (in German)