You have been a professor of translation studies at the University of Graz since 2020 and head the Translation and Digital Change research area. What has been the biggest challenge in your work since then?
To be honest, the biggest challenge so far has - unfortunately! - has not been one aspect of my research work. This is due to the fact that I have been Head of the Institute since March 2021, with the task of equipping the Institute of Translation Studies for the digital future. These and other organizational tasks, as well as the fact that I took over as head of the institute as an outsider right at the beginning of my employment, have proven to be the biggest challenges of my work to date. As far as research is concerned, I try to use my work to spark a critical debate on the use and social impact of language and translation technologies, for example with regard to the mostly unreflected use of ubiquitous machine translation in the public sphere today.
Among other things, you conduct research into issues such as the unequal global distribution of power, anti-democratic developments and the associated denial of global climate change. What is the connection between translation studies and such topics?
Translation studies is a discipline that has been firmly established for decades and sees itself as a link between the most diverse scientific fields. There are countless links, for example, to literature and linguistics, cultural and social sciences, but also to supposedly more remote fields such as computer and cognitive sciences.
At its core, this question relates to what we translation scholars call a translation-sociological problem. Translation, like all forms of communication, has a lot to do with power and ideology. When it comes to translation and interpreting processes, individual and group interests usually play a significant role. Translation actually always takes place via unequal power relations, usually to the detriment of the "weaker" party. At a concrete level, for example, community interpreting in asylum procedures in most countries is not yet professionalized to the extent that the concerns of asylum seekers can be negotiated in a translationally and ethically satisfactory manner.
On a global level, "strong" cultures - such as the Anglophone English-speaking world - tend to pay less attention to the cultural characteristics of other countries and cultures. This is often reflected in literary translations into English that ignore cultural differences. It is obvious how little foreign literature and culture is translated into hegemonic languages at all, especially into English. I myself refer to this problem as "hegemonic non-translation".
Furthermore, just imagine a re-elected President Trump establishing a flawless quasi-fascist dictatorship in North America. This would likely further cement the power imbalance between English and other languages, bring illiberal democracies to the fore worldwide, let alone stop climate change. In this context, it is the task of a translational sociologist not only to sense such developments, but also to point out that global cultural and linguistic diversity is just as central to the survival of human civilization as plant and species diversity, which is much more widely discussed in the media.
What is particularly important to you in your teaching - what do you want to pass on to students of translation studies?
University teaching is not just about acquiring specialist and specialized knowledge, but increasingly also about the ability to distill the essentials from a wide range of communication and information. This is particularly true of the translation and interpreting professions, where research skills play an important role, despite the apparent promise of communicative artificial intelligence! Students of translation studies gain a particularly intensive insight into the similarities and differences between cultures, languages and different forms of society. Through a scientific foundation, stays abroad and practical translation and interpreting work, you will be inspired not to view yourself and the world exclusively through monocultural, possibly even nationalistically colored glasses. If the students complete their studies with us with an open and open-minded, but at the same time interested and critical attitude, then I am already satisfied. Perhaps the only thing I can give them is to simply see themselves as human beings, nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it's just a song that gives you hope again, for me it's Ziggy Marley's I am a Human. Just listen to it, translate it, spread it, ... if you want.
What would you say to someone who is interested in studying Slavic Studies at the University of Graz?
Even Ivo Andrić, the famous Yugoslavian Nobel Prize winner for literature, did his doctorate at the University of Graz. And if you want to find out what Russian bliny are, what the Slavs believed a thousand years ago and which Slavic language is the most romantic language in Europe, then studying Slavic Studies at the University of Graz is just the thing for you.
In addition, Styria borders on South Slavic countries and many students from these countries come to us - this provides easy opportunities to perfect these languages in conversation. The approach of the Institute of Slavic Studies and its researchers to Slavic cultures is also extremely diverse and enriching.
Which area within your field fascinates you the most and why?
The concept of the "(mysterious) Russian soul", which world-famous writers such as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol talk about in their works, aroused my curiosity. Even the Soviet author Mikhail Aleksandrovich Šolochov said: "The greatest wealth of a people is its language. For thousands of years, the immeasurable treasures of human thought and experience have been gathered in words."
So I wanted to learn the Russian language in order to understand the mentality and thinking of Russian society and to unveil the mystery that surrounds the Russian soul.
You are studying for a Master's degree in Slavic Studies - are you planning to do a doctorate or do you already have your eye on a non-university field of work?
Due to my great passion for Slavic culture and language as well as my Slavic origins, I would like to be able to make a fundamental contribution to Slavic studies and also advance them.
For this reason, I am aiming for a doctorate in order to pursue an academic career. In my opinion, researching a subject that serves the general public is an enriching occupation.
When your friends or your family asks you: Why art history? What is your answer?
I have long enjoyed dealing with antiques but also with architectural styles, I like going to museums and visiting exhibitions, and after completing my studies I would like to work either in the auction trade or in the preservation of historical monuments. Above all, I also find it important to deal with ephemeral things and create awareness to preserve old values.
Which area within your subject fascinates you the most and why?
In general, I prefer to deal with the eras from the Renaissance to Historicism. In addition, I am interested in the areas of architectural stylistics and painting from these periods, as I find the details often found in Old Master paintings, as well as their painting techniques, fascinating.
You are currently studying for a bachelor's degree in art history, will you also pursue a master's degree?
Yes, I would also like to add a master's degree, although it is still uncertain whether it will be art history or another humanities subject.
What does someone actually do who deals with the history of science and why is it important at all?
As the term implies, the history of science deals, among other things, with the emergence and development of the sciences. I myself look at how the training of pharmacists developed in the early modern period, because unlike today, pharmacy was not yet a university subject but a teaching profession. To do this, I scour archives, libraries and museums for old manuscripts, pictures and anything else that can tell me something about it. Especially in times when health care plays a central role, it is always important to know the historical developments in more detail. Why is something the way it is today? I also report on this, among other things, on my Instagram channel @weltinderstube.
What is the fascination of your research field/dissertation for you?
History has fascinated me since I was a little kid! I find it totally exciting to read old letters or other things that people wrote several hundred years ago and held in their hands. I'm also an incredibly curious person and often wonder why things are actually the way they are today. A look at history can usually answer my questions.
You are an expert on curiosities, so to speak - what is the most curious thing that has ever happened to you at university?
As a first generation student, university and everything that goes with it was and still is somehow curious, strange, takes some getting used to. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy my time at the university. But especially at the beginning, you experience a lot of things that could be described as strange: People talk about other things differently, many things are unfamiliar to you, and you first have to find your place. That's how it is for many first generation students.
What exactly does a professor of Classics/Latin Studies do?
I am often asked what I actually do; the ancient texts from antiquity should all have been translated by now. In fact, we still translate texts today; because many books have not yet been translated, or the translations are outdated and can no longer convey the interesting statements of the texts in our present day. In many cases, the original sound of the texts must also first be laboriously determined. Above all, however, I would like to understand the texts and their style, interpret them, and discuss with students, colleagues, and anyone else who is interested what they once had to say and how we can understand it today. At the moment I am working on fables. Why does a wolf actually speak?
Does your heart belong to research or teaching?
I enjoy teaching very much; in particular, the lively discussions in the seminars, whether about Ovid's teachings on love or about Cicero's philosophy, are among the most gratifying moments in my profession. In the hustle and bustle of the semester, however, there is often no time to pursue one's research in depth; one can do that in one of the longed-for research semesters, and these are most satisfying times when one can devote oneself quietly to a question and arrive at a solution. But one finds after a while that one lacks the lively exchange. What has not been asked here is the third part of my work, the administration, which consumes immense time, threatens to become more and more, and is more the duty than the freestyle.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in the teaching room so far?
As a very young assistant in Leipzig shortly after the fall of the Wall, it was my job to retrain former Russian teachers to become Latin teachers - the average age felt to be 55. To explain the concept of captatio beneuolentiae, I quoted the beginning of a speech by Cicero, where he says - somewhat abbreviated -: "credo ego uos, iudices, mirari quid sit quod ego potissimum surrexerim, is qui neque aetate neque ingenio neque auctoritate sim cum his qui sedeant comparandus - I believe, you judges, you ask yourselves why I of all people have risen, who am not comparable in age, talent or authority to those who sit here." - Rarely has laughter been heard so loudly in this teaching hall.
What exactly do you do here?
I work at the Dean's Office of the Faculty of Humanities , where I am responsible for matters relating to studying and examinations My tasks are of a very diverse nature. From administrative support for students to website design, I am known at the faculty as the person you ask when you don't know what to do. Sometimes I have to comfort people, and sometimes I admonish them - whatever the situation calls for!
What do you like most about your work?
I am always engaged in new projects and very different tasks, which makes working at the Dean's Office very varied. It never gets boring!
What is the funniest thing you have experienced in the process?
Over the years, there have been a lot of laughs.... But I'd better not tell you most of it!
You head the Franz Nabl Department for Literary Research and the Literaturhaus Graz, which is a wonderful combination of research, teaching and current literary activity. What is the most valuable thing about this job for you and your research?
My tasks here in Graz combine many different areas, but in an ideal scenario they all have a connection. One of the most beautiful moments I have experienced so far was when a student of mine was on her way out after an event in a packed Literaturhaus, and she said loudly and clearly and without any irony in my direction: "Thank you, Professor, for making us come to this event today!
How do you see the status of Austrian literature in the German-speaking world?
Perhaps, after decades of effort, we will soon be able to stop explaining Austrian literature to the Germans and presenting it year after year as a more exciting variant of German-language literature.
In the meantime, the Germans have become almost better acquainted with the supposed peculiarities of Austrian literature, and German authors make use of aesthetic patterns that we have hitherto taken as our own, as if it were a matter of course. Saying farewell to our past and embracing a future without aesthetic stubbornness could, however, be quite painful.
If the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Graz were a book, which would it be for you?
I cannot resist the temptation to immediately say The Man Without Qualities as an answer here. Musil worked on this novel for decades, and yet the book remained unfinished. Originally, the novel was supposed to clarify the preconditions that led to the outbreak of the First World War. Then the author was interrupted by the rise of National Socialism and the Second World War. The whole concept had to be transformed. Possibly, there is also a parable for humanities research here.
What exactly is your focus?
My research focuses on the philosophy of the early modern period, that is, the epoch in which the foundations of our present self-understanding were laid in many of its most important aspects. In my research, I also occasionally look back to the Middle Ages - a period that is sometimes underestimated in terms of its impact and diversity in philosophy.
What fascinates you most about your field? Or rather, what do you see as the value of the history of philosophy?
The history of philosophy can help us to discover our implicit prejudices and thus to look beyond our own presuppositions. Moreover, sometimes the old is just as good or even better than the new, and it is always instructive and helpful to improve one’s understanding of the past... and occasionally it is just fascinatingly quirky
What aspect of your work do you find particularly rewarding?
In particular, the opportunity to pass on my enthusiasm for the history of philosophy, and perhaps to encourage some students to do the same. I want to teach them to be open to the thoughts of others, as well as to understand the value of those thoughts.
What fields of work does your job actually involve exactly?
At our centre, I am involved with administrative tasks in the context of the university and the management of research projects and third-party funded projects. I represent the centre and the university in national and international working groups, professional associations, and research infrastructure projects on the topics of research data management, digital publication, curricula development, open science, and legal and ethical aspects of digital research. Copyright, licensing, and data protection in the context of digital scholarship are also my core teaching topics in our master's programme "Digital Humanities" as well as in our collaborative projects with internal and external partners.
Digital & Humanities - how do these two concepts fit together?
Actually, they fit together quite excellently. Thanks to progressive digitization and, above all, public accessibility of sources of global cultural heritage, we can research topics more extensively and in greater detail than was possible a generation ago. Ultimately, the humanities always explore artifacts of the human spirit and human culture - and since so much of what happens in society and culture today takes place in the digital realm, it is all the more important that researchers understand both humanities and cultural studies as well as digital methods and the associated ways of thinking.
What are the most common misconceptions that exist about Digital Humanities?
"Will you make me a website and a database?" is a question we still hear often today. Many still see computers as mere tools, think of a "digital publication" as a website, and think that digital humanities scholars are simply "programmers." Yet research-driven development and application of digital methods to digital sources is an extremely complex and ever-changing field that offers us ways of indexing, exploring, and, above all, communicating of our cultural heritage that could not have been imagined when I was a student - we can not only find previously unimaginable answers, but also ask previously unimaginable questions.
Why did you decide to study this subject in particular?
In the course of my undergraduate studies (Teacher Training Programme. Subjects: German and English), I developed a significant interest in linguistics. After graduation, I started looking for more ways to do computer-based research in this area. Instead of teaching myself programming skills through self-study, I tried the Master's program in Digital Humanities and then got 'hooked' on the field.
What was your favorite course and why?
Difficult to say, because actually all my courses were exciting. They dealt sometimes more theoretically, and sometimes more practically with the question of what digital transformation is doing to us, to the humanities and generally to our cultural heritage. If I had to choose, it would be the application-oriented VU Data Science (Knowledge Discovery & Data Mining; SS2021), which was taught by Bernhard Geiger and Maximilian Toller in cooperation with the Know-Center/TU Graz. What I learned about data analysis and visualization helped me a lot in my master’s thesis and still helps me today in my work on the DiDip project.
What do you particularly like about Graz as a university location?
I think Graz is a pleasant mixture of city and country. Almost everything is easily accessible by bike. The location is also very diverse, whether it's culinary arts, the music and local scene, or events in general - it simply doesn't get boring. Apart from that, I like the location in the region, and in 2.5 hours you can make it to Vienna, or in 3.5 to the upper Adriatic.
What do you do at the Faculty of Humanities?
I am responsible for all administrative work at the Center for IInterdisciplinary Research on Aging and Care (CIRAC). And by that, I really mean all of it. From budget to project administration to the day-to-day business of office management.
What do you like most about your day-to-day work?
I always get to meet new and interesting people. I work with them on exciting projects whose content also interests me personally. And of course, the team in which I work!
What do you find particularly rewarding about your work?
Valuable friendships have developed over time with people from a wide variety of research fields and backgrounds.
Student, Teacher Training Programme. Subject: History, Social Studies and Political Education & Geography and Economics
Why did you decide to study this degree programme in particular?
During my school years, these were the two subjects in which my teachers particularly inspired me. In history, we worked with contemporary historical sources; it wasn't a matter of memorizing numbers and dates, but of understanding the subject. In geography, too, we talked about world politics and economics. I think that's important. I also want to empower young people to make good decisions. Especially in political education, it's not just about students knowing all the parties, but also why they should vote.
What has surprised or excited you the most in the course of your studies?
In geography, I was initially very surprised by everything that is part of this programme - human, physical and economic geography. In general, I was surprised at how different the areas are that are covered. In history, I was particularly impressed by Helmut Konrad's introductory lecture on contemporary history. When I listened to him, I knew: this is the right course for me. That's what I want to learn!
What do you particularly like about Graz as a university location?
I like the fact that everything is not too big here. It's easy to get to know your fellow students. You can also talk to the professors about problems on equal terms. That's really important! What's nice about campus life are the many small cafés and restaurants nearby and also the many green spaces that allow you to study or relax on warm days. The many study spaces that are available - especially in the new library - are also great!
What exactly does someone who studies German medieval studies do?
We deal with language and, above all, with the literature and culture of the Middle Ages (and their reception). What is particularly interesting about literary texts is that different discourses that preoccupied people at a particular time clash in them and not infrequently come into conflict with each other, are questioned, reconciled or modified. In our field, then, we ask ourselves primarily how a medieval text produces particular meanings by revealing its literary 'madeness' and the cultural assumptions that shaped it. This gives us revealing insights into an era that continues to fascinate many people to this day, as can be seen, for example, from the successful fantasy books, films, and series that continue to create medieval-like worlds.
You came to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Graz from Heidelberg - how do you like it here, and what are the biggest differences?
I really like it here and feel very much at home. The city of Graz is beautiful and somehow already feels Mediterranean. Not everyone has the privilege of working and living in a place where others spend their vacations! And the university and the Department of German Studies also offer a varied working environment with extremely nice, open-minded colleagues who all work on interesting research areas. The biggest difference to Heidelberg is perhaps the size of the department. Although there are also many young people studying German here, there are very few staff with permanent contracts. On the other hand, there are also advantages of working together in a small group, because then you quickly get to know each other and people’s different research interests well.
What is the significance of medieval studies today?
When dealing with medieval literature - and this is also possible in German classes at school, for example - we are confronted with narrative worlds that are not part of people’s general experience today. This foreignness of pre-modern texts may at first seem to be a hurdle to understanding. But it is precisely the peculiar, irritatingly different ways of thinking and narrating in the texts that make us question what we take for granted and can trigger an examination of our own cultural and historical influence. The medieval world is foreign enough for us to question our habits of thought. At the same time, especially because of the language and the culture, it is close enough to be relevant for our social self-understanding. This can be seen not least in the above-mentioned popular fascination with medieval worlds, figures and mythical creatures such as knights, dragons and unicorns, which evidently people still identify with to this day and can be encountered not only in children's books but also in computer games and on packets of gummy bear - in other words, everywhere.