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Two new 'free spirits' for Goethe University

Legal scholar Dr. Matthias Goldmann and archeologist Dr. Nikolas Gestrich receive coveted VolkswagenStiftung fellowship

Goethe University Frankfurt

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IMAGE: This is Dr. Matthias Goldmann, Goethe University Frankfurt. view more

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This news release is available in German.

FRANKFURT. A great success for Goethe University: The jury of the coveted 'Freigeist' Fellowship awarded by VolkswagenStiftung, the Volkswagen Foundation, has chosen not one, but two of Frankfurt's junior researchers as winners - along with six other young scientists from all over Germany. Legal scholar Dr. Matthias Goldmann studies the relationship between the economic sciences and law, while archeologist Dr. Nikolas Gestrich explores the relationship between statehood, urbanism and trade in pre-colonial West Africa. The Volkswagen Foundation will put up a total of 5.3 million Euros over the coming five years to fund the eight research projects.

Dr. Matthias Goldmann

Matthias Goldmann, born in 1978, studied Law in Würzburg, specializing in European and international law. After taking his first state examination, he spent one year at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He then took a doctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Following his second state examination he obtained a Master of Laws from New York University School of Law. In his PhD thesis, supervised by the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Prof. Armin von Bogdandy, Goldmann developed the concept of "international public authority" as a new legal focus for the ever-growing activities of international institutions in the course of globalization. It allows applying international law to instruments of international institutions such as the PISA Study or the Basel Accords which defy traditional legal categories.

In his fellowship project, Goldmann is turning his attention to the financial system, albeit he focuses again on fundamental issues. This time, it is about the relationship between two closely related disciplines: economics and the law. What is the understanding of law underlying economic knowledge, or the idea of economic knowledge implicit in legal practice? Goldmann thinks that both need to improve. Economic knowledge informs the legal regulation of the financial system and financial markets. Often, however, the respective legal rules are so vague that they disappoint the expectation implicit in the underlying economic knowledge that the law will successfully control market actors' behavior. In turn, when those applying legal rules rely on economic insights, they realize that economic knowledge is highly disputed and subject to change. Not a good basis for an enduringly stable market economy.

One example is what is known as the no-bail-out clause in European contracts. During the financial crisis many economists agreed that the clause had been violated, but the European Court of Justice ruled otherwise. "There is no red line that can't be crossed," as Goldmann puts it. His theory is that we need to understand the law as a far more flexible tool, one that first and foremost serves to structure decision-making processes. Hence, "Stability through Deliberation: Finance and Public Law" is the title of his fellowship project. Ultimately, he aims at the development of legal principles which acknowledge the flexibility in the relationship between economics and the law and might therefore help stabilize the financial system. At any rate, according to Goldmann, economists and legal scholars need to engage in far more intensive exchange.

For the duration of his fellowship Matthias Goldmann, who has been collaborating with the Normative Orders Cluster of Excellence since 2013, will be based at the House of Finance, for him one of the "most renowned institutes in the banking sector." Does he consider himself a "free spirit"? "Not necessarily more than others. After all, every scholar should strive to test his limits. The pursuit of knowledge presupposes freedom," says Goldmann, who is to begin his fellowship in January 2016.

Dr. Nikolas Gestrich

Dr. Nikolas Gestrich is to return from the UK for his 'Freigeist' project. The 31-year-old German-British scholar grew up in Stuttgart and studied Archeology in Durham, going on to complete his Master's at University College London. It was here that he also obtained his doctorate, with a thesis on the topic "The Archaeology of Social Organisation at Tongo Maaré Diabal." He was initially attracted to UK study programs as he believes they tend to concentrate more strongly on methodology and practical work, and students don't need to choose a direction as early as in Germany. Now however, his focus is clear: He is particularly interested in the complex societies of pre-colonial West Africa. The title of his 'Freigeist' project is "The Relationship of Urbanism and Trade to State Power in the Segou Region of Mali."

"Mali's earlier history is extremely interesting, but is still not well understood," says Gestrich. Though largely lacking the traditional signs of civilization, such as writing or palaces and monuments, this was clearly an advanced civilization with large cities that could have held more than 50,000 inhabitants. This urban form developed around the middle reaches of the River Niger in Mali as early as around 800 BC. From around 400 AD, states emerged that controlled a large part of West Africa. Taking the example of the Markadugu, a network of former trading cities, Nikolas Gestrich now aims to investigate the relationship between states, cities and trade in pre-colonial West Africa and clearly demonstrate that their structures were considerably more complex and mutable than previously thought.

In his research Nikolas Gestrich seeks to combine archeological methods with those of history and anthropology. He will analyze archeological sites with the help of modern technologies and relate them to written Arabic sources - and to histories passed down through oral tradition. "To this day in Mali an entire social category specialises on memorizing and telling stories in public. Within families too, past events are passed down through the centuries," notes Gestrich, who will collaborate with African scientists in his project. He will be based at the Frobenius Institute at Goethe University, where the African Archeology and African Studies departments offer him ideal research conditions. "Moreover, the institute has a library for this subject that is unparalleled in Germany," says Gestrich. He was delighted to learn that he had been selected for a 'Freigeist' Fellowship: "Given that so many specialist fields were considered I think it is excellent that my project was selected - after all, it is a rather unusual research topic."

'Freigeist' Fellowship

Excellent researchers and extraordinary personalities - this is the focus of the 'Freigeist' Fellowship scheme, running this year for the second time. With the initiative, the Volkswagen Foundation aims to support scholars who are at home in areas that straddle established research fields and wish to engage in unconventional, high-risk research. The fellowship affords them a wide scope in terms of subject and a clear timeframe. Junior scientists who received their doctorate no longer than five years ago can apply. This year a total of 156 funding applications were submitted. The official awards ceremony will take place on September 25 at the conference center at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hannover.

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Contact: Dr. Matthias Goldmann, E_Mail: goldmann@mpil.de

Dr. Nikolas Gestrich; E-Mail: Gestrich@gmail.com

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