Irène Herrmann


Professor at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Geneva

Situation professionnelle en 2019

"History is a complex system, and to fully understand it you need to develop a critical and curious mind. "

My career path

I’m a historian specialized in transnational history. I try to understand and reconstruct the past in order to better understand the present and prepare for the future. I also teach – I’m a full professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Geneva.

My passion. History is a complex system, and to fully understand it you need to develop a critical and curious mind. I like finding out what I don’t know, getting answers to my questions, and being amazed at how inventive humans can be. And I’m driven by my desire to keep learning.

My career path. My career took off quickly, but then after my PhD, things slowed down to the point where I wondered whether I should stay at the university. But then I met some really great people who helped me to build up my self-confidence again. Some of them went out on a limb for me, and I ended up getting the position I have now. I was supported by open-minded and generous men who were influential enough to pay no heed to academic decorum and hierarchies. Some women clearly told me about the difficulties you can encounter and generously shared their experiences so that I could learn from them. And of course, my family has been very supportive.

A downside or obstacle ? To have the freedom you need as a critical historian, it’s best to work in a university environment. But universities have their own rules, and they’re often not very favourable towards women with a critical mind. There aren’t many women in the upper echelons of the university – the qualities they are looking for in a Swiss professor are not necessarily compatible with the qualities required of a female historian.

I like having a critical yet considerate mind. I love understanding how social agents make – or don’t make – the ideals assigned to them their own.

The Proust Questionnaire

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Au-delà de votre profession

Lecture, cinéma, musique, famille, ami-e-s et voyages.

Des personnes qui vous inspirent

Marguerite Cramer et Michael Freeden.

Un livre & un film

Les mémoires d’Hadrien (Marguerite Yourcenar) et Le ruban blanc (Michael Haneke).

Un modèle

A chaque étape de ma carrière, j’ai eu des modèles dont j’ai fini par détecter les inévitables failles, ce qui m’a déçue et finalement détournée de ce type d’attachement. Je préfère l’admiration, la complicité intellectuelle et l’amitié. Mais c’est peut-être un luxe.

Un objet

Un livre

Une couleur

Le rouge