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Theatre professor wins “German Nobel” for humanities research

Tracy C. Davis, Ethel M. Barber Professor of Performing Arts and professor of theatre in the School of Communication and English in the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences, was recently named as the recipient of the Humboldt Research Award. This award, in recognition of a body of research offering “fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights,” enables foreign scholars to continue cutting-edge research in Germany.

Often called the German Nobel Prize, the Humboldt Research Award is given out by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and often awarded to scientists, rarely to those from the humanities. In fact, the last Northwestern humanities professor to win the award did so fifteen years ago.

“It’s a wonderful thing for me but it is also a testament to the School of Communication and the strengths of the humanities across Northwestern,” Davis said.

As a Humboldt winner, Davis will travel to the Universität zu Köln, where she will work closely with researchers at the Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, the largest theatre archive in the Europe. Davis said she plans to take the twelve-month award in parts over the next three years, beginning next April.

The award Davis received recognizes professors “at the height of their productivity” rather than singling out a single project. Davis is currently researching nineteenth-century human rights activists and abolitionists. “These activists were based in London but networked globally,” Davis said. “My research examines the echelon of people who facilitated political processes but were not famous themselves. Because they were also journalists and theatre critics, they present a beautiful example of how the artistic sphere and the political sphere interconnected.”

Tracy C. Davis is a specialist in performance theory, theatre historiography, and research methodology. She edits the book series Cambridge Studies in Theatre and Performance Theory and Palgrave’s Transnational Theatre Histories, and is a general editor of the forthcoming six-volume The Cultural History of Theatre. She is director of the Provost’s Excellence in Mentoring initiative, as well as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in The Graduate School at Northwestern University. She is a former president of the American Society for Theatre Research.

-Cara Lockwood