Professor Robert Gerwarth collecting his trophy

Irish Research Council 2022 Researcher of the Year winners

Posted: 6 December, 2022

Modern European history expert, Professor Robert Gerwarth, is the 2022 winner of the Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year Award. Professor Gerwarth is Professor of Modern History at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is also the Director of the UCD Centre for War Studies. His field of expertise is 20th-century Europe, with a particular emphasis on the history of political violence and armed conflict. He has published widely in that field, both on World War I and World II, but also on myriad armed conflicts that occurred in the so-called ‘interwar period’.

The Researcher of the Year Awards recognise the very best of the IRC’s awardees and alumni working in academia, industry, civic society, and the public sector. The Researcher of the Year category recognises a current or former awardee who has made an exceptional contribution to research in their field and their scholarly community.

While Professor Gerwarth’s principal area of interest lies in German history, one of his main objectives as a scholar has been to connect different national experiences in European countries. A particular scholarly interest is how incidents like the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War relate to other examples of unrest in early twentieth century Europe. In light of the current fraught geopolitical context, specifically the Russian war in Ukraine, his nuanced expertise in ‘war studies’ is more crucial than ever.

Professor Gerwarth has an extensive record of impact beyond academia, including a considerable profile in popular historical publishing; his work has been translated into 30 languages, with books such as The Vanquished selling well over 100,000 copies world-wide. Not only does he publish in specialist journals, he also has written over 100 essays, op-ed pieces and books reviews, and has been published in the Irish Times, Financial Times, BBC History Magazine, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, DIE ZEIT, and the Washington Examiner, among others. He has appeared as an expert commentator on history programmes broadcast by the BBC, RTE, NEWSTALK, Netflix, ARTE, Deutschlandfunk / DeutschlandRadio, and the main public broadcaster in Germany, ZDF. He is a frequent keynote speaker at high level conferences, most recently at the national conference to mark the centenary of the Irish Civil War (which he opened alongside An Taoiseach, Michael Martin).

Professor Gerwarth says that his first IRC award, a 2008 Major Thematic Research Grant held jointly with Professor John Horne (Trinity College Dublin), helped establish the UCD Centre for War Studies, and led to his 2009 ERC Starting Grant, the first for a humanities scholar in Ireland. He has had many funding successes subsequently, including further IRC funding, and in 2022 was awarded a highly prestigious ERC Advanced Grant.

Prior to becoming Professor of Modern History at UCD, a role he began in 2009, Professor Gerwarth was a Lecturer in Modern European History at UCD, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, and a Lecturer in Modern European History at Oxford University. He was Head of the School of History at UCD, from 2017-2020 as well as Vice President for Global Engagement in UCD’s College of Arts and Humanities.

To learn more about Robert’s impressive career to date, watch the video below.

Commended in this category

The standard of entries this year was so high that the judges made two commendations in this category. They were to: Professor Maria Baghramian, University College Dublin, and Professor John Atkins, University College Cork (UCC).

Professor Maria Baghramian, University College Dublin, is Full Professor of American Philosophy at the School of Philosophy in UCD. She is also Co-Director of the UCD Postgraduate Programme in Cognitive Science, which she co-founded in 2000. She is a Council Member of the Royal Irish Academy and the Academia Europaea. She was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Harvard in 2013. Her overarching research interest is in the possibility of objective knowledge in the face of intractable disagreements and incompatible knowledge claims, in both the natural and human sciences. Strands of her research relate to the problem of truth and objectivity, as well as expert knowledge, deep disagreement and the question of who to trust. Professor Baghramian has published extensively, including 16 edited and authored books, on topics from epistemology to contemporary American philosophy.

When asked what drives her to do work in this area, Professor Baghramian said: “Abstract philosophical questions about truth, facts and knowledge have become centrally relevant to our socio-political discourse. I hope that my work can help to address some of the unexpected epistemic challenges faced by democracies today.”

Professor John F. Atkins is a Research Professor at the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at University College Cork (UCC). He is also an Honorary Professor of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin. He is a Gold medallist of the Royal Irish Academy, a former Director of Biology and Biotechnology at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization.

The focus of Professor Atkins’ work is on recoding, an umbrella term for types of functionally utilized alternative genetic decoding that is in competition with standard decoding. One aspect of his research is identifying instances of recoding that are targets for inhibiting specific viruses. Professor Atkins led a team of researchers at UCC, who, together with Swiss collaborators, performed sophisticated biochemical and cryogenic electron microscopic analysis of the decoding apparatus poised to undergo the single recoding event the Covid causative virus requires for its propagation. This work, which was published as an article in the journal ‘Science’ in May 2021, also highlighted a drug that inhibited the recoding event and the virus. He has guided many postgraduate and post-doctorate researchers, with many of his projects involving collaborative work with Professor P. Baranov in UCC and/or major research centres internationally.

When asked what drives him to do work in this area of research, Professor Atkins said:

  • “To better understand genetic decoding, especially the forms of its versatility exploited by viruses and in the regulation of certain chromosomal genes.”
  • “Diverse novel possibilities for productive intervention are being revealed.”

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