Graduate Courses

This page contains synopses of Fall 2022 course offerings. For a full schedule and more detailed F22 course information, please visit the list of classes.

We also offer a list of past graduate course offerings.

Fall 2022

GERM 464 – Kafka and World Literature (Max Kade Professor Jens Kugele)
This seminar explores aspects of Franz Kafka’s work in the context of ‘world literature’. In US academia in particular, the concept of “world literature” marks a field that has experienced a great upswing in recent years. The seminar introduces central approaches from this academic field in order to apply them to selected texts by Franz Kafka as well as to central aspects of his work in general.

Among other topics, constructions of authorship in a trans/national context, (re-)readings of Kafka’s work worldwide, Kafka’s situatedness in the context of German-Jewish literature, Kafka’s view of questions of “national literature” and “minor literature,” and the worldwide struggle for legitimate ownership of Kafka’s literature and legacy will be examined.

GERM 510 – Theorizing Culture (Katrin Sieg)
GERM 510 is designed to introduce students to the major concepts, thinkers, and debates concerning European cultural identity formation. We will examine the historical emergence of national identity in the context of modern mass-produced print culture; trace the construction of a post-national, multicultural democracy in contradistinction to the colonial, fascist, and communist past through a consideration of museums and memorials; and explore the appeals to a cosmopolitan Europe in relation to visual media. Each module comprises theoretical readings and an application of the theories to cultural texts and objects. It is designed to make you more astute interpreters of cultural objects, and encourage you to set your knowledge of German culture in the context of European and transatlantic relations. In addition, the course will introduce you to certain genres of academic writing and oral presentation, enabling you to become more skilled at textual analysis, strengthen your abilities to conduct independent and collaborative research, and communicate succinctly and effectively.

GERM 545/445 – Fundamentals of Teaching towards Advanced Literacy in a Foreign Language (Joe Cunningham)
This graduate-level seminar focuses on developing requisite foundational knowledge and critical awareness of various practical approaches to foreign language instruction in the American educational context, particularly at the college level (e.g., communicative, task-based, ecological-semiotic, etc.). Students become informed about (1) cognitive, socio-cultural, linguistic, and affective factors influencing the principles and processes of learning, particularly instructed second language learning; (2) the historical, educational, institutional, and curricular context within which instruction takes place; (3) pedagogical approaches to developing adult learners’ second language ability; and (4) the roles they could and should take on as teachers in order to enhance student learning.

GERM 655 – Fluchtgeschichten (Friederike Eigler)
This new iteration of “Fluchtgeschichten” focuses on literary responses to three distinct historical situations in the 20th and 21st centuries that resulted in large-scale exile, flight, and/or forced migration:
– the persecution and exile of Jewish and/or politically progressive intellectuals and artists (among many others) during National Socialism and World War II;
– the expulsion at the end of World War II of approximately 12 million ethnic Germans from territories in the East and their flight towards the West (i.e., the countries that would become East and West Germany);
– the recent flight of large numbers of people from civil war in Syria and from other human rights crises on the African continent, and their attempts to enter Europe

The genre of the novel, in particular, lends itself for multi-voiced approaches to these historical events and their effects on individuals. The seminar will examine how literature presents us with changing counter-discourses to at times politicized or one-dimensional public discourses. Some of these texts begin to address the legacies of exile, flight and migration in transnational European contexts. In the last part of the course, we look at recent creative texts that address the situation of refugees in contemporary Europe, sometimes by relating them to earlier instances of exile and forced migration.

GERM 710 – Sounds German! Sound and Music in Modern German Literature and Culture (Mary Helen Dupree)
In the introduction to his groundbreaking 2003 study, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, Jonathan Sterne describes a process of “ensoniment” in the eighteenth century, paralleling the Enlightenment. He argues that in Europe around 1750, sound began to be thought separately “as an object and a domain of thought and practice.” In the early 2000s, Sterne’s work helped to catalyze the emergence of Sound Studies as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, inspiring scholars in a variety of fields including literary studies, musicology, history, cultural studies, film, and philosophy. Around the same time, the subfield of “German Music Studies” began to undergo a process of rapid diversification and theoretical reorientation(s) that continues today. The encounter with Sound Studies has helped accelerate this process of diversification, pushing past the German musical and literary canon and broadening the scope of inquiry to include phenomena such as soundscapes, cinematic sound, various recording formats, and acousmatic sound.

In this graduate-level seminar, we will explore the meanings of music and sound in German literary, cultural, and media history since the eighteenth century through close readings of primary texts, as well as secondary and theoretical readings. While German Romanticism has traditionally been most closely associated with music and the acoustic, we will also look at texts from other periods such as the Enlightenment, twentieth-century modernism, and the contemporary era. Although separated temporally, this diverse range of texts is traversed by a set of common key tropes, concerns, and figures: hearing and listening; voice and instrument; musicianship and virtuosity; orality and literacy; body and mind/brain; technology and innovation; identity and Germanness; gender and race.

Past Courses

The following graduate courses were offered in recent semesters.

GERM 403 – Ich und die Welt (Peter C. Pfeiffer)
The course investigates the particular contribution of the German literary tradition to the exploration of the self. In contrast to other European traditions, German literature can be viewed as focusing more pointedly on the experience of the individual rather than on depicting society at large. It is this perspective embedded in Germany’s cultural tradition that will guide the readings in this course which are drawn exclusively from canonical works of modern German literature.

The course provides students with a traditional literary historical perspective to provide students with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with canonical works in the German tradition and with some of Germany’s major underlying cultural traditions. The goal is to hone interpretive skills within a historical and systematic context and to have students develop the necessary written and spoken German to communicate such interpretation and their contexts in a convincing and appropriately complex style.

This is a seminar-style, reading intensive course that will focus its classroom activities on structured discussions of the texts while developing a broader historical/aesthetic framework for such readings. Frequent presentations by students on particular issues — such as comparisons between aspects of two works, introduction of additional works with reference to the ones read in class, etc. — will provide additional starting points for student engagement.

GERM 421 – Decolonizing the Museum (Katrin Sieg)
Museums have become prime venues for promoting a newly self-reflective colonial memory culture, and raising questions about the obligations former imperial powers have for the places and people they colonized. The course will survey the transformation of museums into institutions supportive of indigenous people and ethnic minorities as authors of their own, long-suppressed stories. Both in settler colonial nations such as the United States and Canada, and former European colonial powers, museums have begun to respond to demands of repatriating parts of their collections, to serve more demographically diverse constituencies, and perform new civic functions. 

This class will examine the agents of decolonizing the institution, the politics of repatriation, apology, and reparations, and the role of museums for instigating larger processes of economic and social justice and repair.

The course is divided into three parts: the first will introduce students to the role of museums in the colonial era; the second will examine their transformation into engines of diversity; and the third will explore recent exhibitions as case studies for decolonizing museology. Here we pay special attention to the work of artists. Students will investigate representations of violent colonial pasts at museums in the region in their own research projects.

GERM 430 – Literature and Culture in the Weimar Republic (Peter C. Pfeiffer) (upper/under)
This seminar-style course explores the incredible artistic and intellectual vitality of the Weimar Republic, the time between the end of World War I and the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Many of the works of architecture, art, literature, film, and philosophical thought that were created back then remain a standard for us today. 

We will read literature and essays, view films and consider artistic developments within the context of three interlocking spheres of experiences that characterize the Weimar Republic. First, we will look at the immediate post-war and revolutionary period with its often messianic understanding of future possibilities and pragmatic approaches to building a republic. Then we will look at the experience of socio-economic upheaval and instability caused by both hyper-inflation and mass unemployment. Finally, we will focus on political radicalization and increasingly violent conflicts within the political system.

GERM 455 – Scandalous Tales: The German Novella (Mary Helen Dupree)
In German novellas of the 18th through the 20th centuries, authors have found a space to explore and dramatize what Goethe termed “unheard-of events” (unerhörte Begebenheiten), from war stories to murder mysteries to Gothic and fantastic narratives. Eschewing the lengthy psychological studies and extended dialogues typical of longer novels, the German novella delights and confounds its readers with condensed accounts of mysterious and scandalous events. In fact, the word “novella” (in German, Novelle) is etymologically related to the word for “news” in many Romance languages. So, in a sense, novellas are the original “fake news!”

In this course for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, we will analyze and compare novellas by German, Swiss, and Austrian authors from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Particular emphasis will be placed on how novellas approach the question of difference, as figured for example in depictions of outsiders, “exotic” settings, women, and the uncanny. Through an in-depth exploration of a key genre of German literary history, students will learn to recognize formal and stylistic differences in literary texts from different time periods, while expanding specialized vocabulary. Students will be expected to build on existing knowledge of German history and culture and make convincing arguments that relate aspects of literary texts to larger social, historical, and cultural trends.

GERM 461 – Contemporary German Literature (Peter C. Pfeiffer)
This seminar-style course for graduate students and advanced undergraduates is designed to familiarize students with various aspects of German literature since 1945, focusing on the relationship between literary form and social/historical context. In addition to the pleasure of reading some outstanding examples of post-war German-language literature, the course provides an introduction to the literary tradition as it is part of the educated discourse in German-speaking societies today. The topical foci of the course are supported by the development and honing of writing and presentational skills through regular short papers on the readings and presentations on additional books.

GERM 504 – 19th Century German Literature (Peter C. Pfeiffer)
The 19th century is often overshadowed by the outsized attention focused on other periods of German-language cultural production. It is framed by German Enlightenment, Classicism, and the early Romantics which dominated the second half of the 18th century, on the one hand, and, on the other, by the creative outpouring after the turn of the century in Vienna/Habsburg and, later, the Weimar Republic when modernists were at their prime.

This graduate-level reading course familiarizes students with major aspects of the fascinating literary production of the nineteenth century.  While being cognizant of the overlapping presence of many of the key figures – Goethe published Faust II as late as 1832! – we will concentrate on major literary periods such as late Romanticism, Young Germany, Biedermeier, Realism, Naturalism, and Symbolism. The surprising breadth of literary genres and media – for example, the beginnings of cartoon and graphic narratives – will be showcased as well as the full reach of authors from different areas of the German-speaking world.

GERM 521 – Systemic Functional Linguistics (Marianna Pankova)
Linguists, language educators and researchers of literature and culture conduct discourse analysis for a variety of purposes: to capture writing and literacy development, to characterize teacher-student classroom interaction, to describe social practices at various institutions, or to reveal aspects of an author’s style. This course introduces students to the socioculturally-oriented analysis of language using Hallidayan systemic functional linguistics (SFL) as an approach that enables discourse analysts to systematically account for the connections between grammar, discourse, and social activity no matter what their research data are: learner written texts, spoken conversations, institutional documents, or literary discourse. The course will cover the fundamental conceptual and methodological tools the SFL approach makes available for such an analysis.

The course will start with the overarching assumptions about the SFL model of language as social semiotic and then explore its specific theoretical constructs, such as genre, register, metafunctions, and the grammatical systems that are used to encode them. Three fundamental questions will underlie our exploration: How is language structured for use? What choices do language users make? How do these choices function in various contexts of use? Throughout the course, participants will be discussing studies that demonstrate how the analytical constructs and tools can be applied to the analysis of language data in various contexts. We will examine studies of oral and written texts in diverse registers and genres, aspects of second language acquisition at various educational and performance levels, second/foreign language pedagogy, curriculum development, teacher education, and assessment. Those interested in literary texts will discover how the approach can shed new light on the study of literature as a phenomenon of languaging in a particular way.

GERM 540 – Gender and Postcolonial Perspectives in German Literature (Max Kade visiting professor Dr. Andrea Geier)
Methodical pluralism in literary studies includes analytical approaches in gender studies and postcolonial studies that focus on the perception and construction of different forms of otherness and processes of ‘othering.’ New interpretations of gender relations and cultural contacts in canonical texts such as Goethe’s “Iphigenie auf Tauris,” Kleist’s “Die Verlobung in St. Domingo” or Fontane’s “Effi Briest” show in particular how productive both areas are, and also how they work together in an intersectional perspective. In the seminar we will read selected theoretical texts, e.g., from Judith Butler and Edward W. Said, and ask: How can these theories be turned into useful tools for the analysis of aesthetic phenomena? How can we make sense of specific  themes and aesthetic phenomena with the help of these theories?

GERM 542 – Classical Drama (Mary Helen Dupree)
This graduate seminar will engage in a threefold examination of drama in the long eighteenth century: as a site of theoretical inquiry, as a field of literary praxis and as a mode of theatrical performance. Through analyses of texts from the early Enlightenment to the so-called Classical period, the seminar will address the following questions: Why does drama hold such pride of place in eighteenth-century aesthetics (and in accounts of eighteenth-century literary history)? How do eighteenth-century intellectuals think through the relationship between dramatic form and the social world? How, when, and why do they call upon (or abandon) Aristotelian drama theory? What are the consequences of theoretical and practical interventions such as the banning of the Hanswurst, the establishment of standing theaters, and the publication of Lessing’s Hamburgische Dramaturgie? Finally, how do eighteenth-century dramas generate, critique, and transform images of gender and the family?

GERM 565 – Aesthetics and Politics: Kleist (Mary Helen Dupree)
In recent years, Heinrich von Kleist’s oeuvre has attracted renewed attention among scholars for its philosophically and aesthetically sophisticated engagement with questions of politics, war, terror and revolution. This course will interrogate the links between aesthetics and politics in Kleist’s literary works in the context of the profound cultural, social, and political upheavals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We will read novellas, plays, letters and journalistic writings by Kleist in tandem with theoretical, critical, and philosophical texts from the seventeenth century to the present. In addition, we will explore the implications for Kleist’s work of more recent interventions in aesthetic and political theory (W. Kittler, Rancière, Buck-Morss). Following an introductory unit on aesthetics and political theory around 1800, the course will be divided into three units. The first will focus on the relationship between power and aesthetic representation in Kleist’s plays, with special emphasis on theories of the political and legitimation. In the second unit, we will concentrate on the depiction of war, terrorism and social upheaval in Kleist’s novellas and plays, with emphasis on Kleist’s own political activities. The third unit will explore questions of colonialism and historical change through readings of Kleist’s novellas Das Erdbeben in Chili and Die Verlobung in St. Domingo.

GERM 567 – Literarische Ökonomik in der deutschsprachigen Literatur 1800-1900 (Peter C. Pfeiffer)
Traditionally, literature/arts and economics were thought to be separate, even conflicting areas of human thought and social organization. While some sort of representation of economic activities has been a facet of art since the very beginning, coherent and sustained scholarly exploration of the “economy of literature,” to use the famous title of Marc Shell’s groundbreaking 1978 study, ensued only in the latter part of the 20th century. In many ways, only at the end of the century did some of the research really come to fruition as Jochen Hörisch’s Kopf oder Zahl (1996) firmly established the field in Germany, and Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osten published their wide-ranging collection of essays, The New Economic Criticism (1999). Since then, partially inspired by financial crises, economic upheaval, and rapidly changing contexts for and meanings of work, there has been a steady stream of significant contributions by thinkers like Richard T. Gray, Joseph Vogl, Franziska Schößler, Birger P. Priddat, Fritz Breithaupt, and Christine Künzel, to name just a few.

As a seminar-style course, “Literarische Ökonomik” combines extensive readings in primary sources with a selection of contemporary theoretical treatise and some seminal research articles. It combines two foci – money as semiotic/semantic system and work as productive practice – the first well-researched in economic criticism, the latter less well attended to.

GERM 574 – Cultural Turns (Mary Helen Dupree)
This course aims to help graduate students become conversant in recent “cultural turns” in the humanities and social sciences, with special emphasis on their impact on German studies in the U.S.  The interdisciplinary analytical concepts developed in each of these “turns” have been fruitful for a wide variety of disciplines. We will explore four of the most significant “turns” since the 1960s: the linguistic and interpretative turns, the performative turn, the postcolonial turn, and the iconic turn. Students will examine these key “turns” in light of their respective historical contexts and theoretical and methodological impacts, focusing on the following questions: What constitutes a cultural “turn?” How can these “turns” be made productive for the interpretation of literary texts as well as performances, films, visual materials, and works in other modes/genres? How can students profit from these “turns” in their own research projects?

GERM 580 – Autobiographical Fiction (Friederike Eigler)
This reading-intensive graduate seminar explores a pervasive trend in contemporary literature: the blurring of the distinction between fictional and autobiographical texts. Following a brief introduction to the history of autobiography in German literature (Goethe, Jean Paul), the course covers works by important contemporary authors and explores how, in the narration of individual life stories, these authors rely on the rhetorical tools of fiction.

The course considers the social and political contexts of the literature presented in class, especially as they pertain to the way the authors represent aspects of 20th century German history when writing (their?) life stories. Students will also be introduced to contemporary literary criticism and theory pertinent to the discussion of autobiographical fiction. Issues that we will address include: authorship & the subject, gender & genre, history & memory, language & representation.

GERM 588 – Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (Joe Cunningham)
As computer-based technologies have taken on an increasingly central role in foreign language instruction, Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is no longer a specialty area. Accordingly, this course serves as an introduction to the broader field of CALL and various techno-pedagogical applications that fall under this umbrella. Students will understand the growth of CALL in foreign language (L2) instruction, examine the pedagogical rationale for utilizing CALL, and evaluate various applications for L2 instruction. In addition to critical examination of learning technologies, students will develop their own abilities to utilize and apply technologies relevant to L2 instruction. There will be three major course assignments, and they will be showcased on a jointly-constructed class website. This course is taught in English and cross-listed with LING/SPAN 588.

GERM 589 – Theodor Fontane at 200 (Peter C. Pfeiffer)
This seminar is designed to explore the works of Theodor Fontane, the most famous German writer of the second half of the nineteenth century whose 200th birthday anniversary will be celebrated in 2019. Guiding principles will be the (changing) relationship between social and historical reality and literary realism, and, more specifically, how historical and contemporary reality is represented in Fontane’s novels and other writings.

The premise of the course is that Fontane used different genres to represent the history of the German Reich in different ways. First, he wrote his three histories of the wars that lead to unification in 1870/71 as master narratives of political history. In parallel with that, he wrote the same history as local histories in his extensive Wanderungen (1862-1889). Thirdly, he wrote the history of German unification in a series of novels, starting with Vor dem Sturm (1878) which is set just before the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars. In addition, the particular aestheic challenges of long novels (Der Stechlin), and of cinematographic and literary adaptations are the main themes of the course. Readings will be diverse and include novels, novellas, ballades, travel writings, and literary criticism.

GERM 590 – The German Novel in the Long 18th Century (Mary Helen Dupree)
In eighteenth-century Germany, the novel emerged as a key site of both generic innovation and the negotiation of cultural and social norms. As literacy rates rose and the book trade flourished, the German middle classes sought out literature, and the novel in particular, as a means of asserting their cultural and social identity. The international success of sentimental epistolary novels from England and France, such as Richardson’s Pamela and Rousseau’s The New Heloise, inspired numerous translations as well as Goethe’s runaway hit, Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774). The popularity of such novels among young female readers in particular led to fears about “Lesewut” and the capacity of literature to corrupt young minds.

This course will explore the history of the novel in the long eighteenth century through background readings and close analyses of canonical works in four important subgenres: the sentimental novel of letters (Sophie von la Roche, Geschichte des Fräulein von Sternheim, 1771); the psychological novel (Karl Philipp Moritz, Anton Reiser, 1785/86); the Bildungsroman (Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795/96); and the Künstlerroman or Romantic novel (Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1800). We will also explore Goethe’s enigmatic 1809 novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften, which draws on the language of the natural sciences to account for shifting “affinities” in the social realm. Readings and class discussions will be concentrated on key issues in the scholarship on the eighteenth-century novel, including but not limited to: narrative structure and genre; the novel’s relationship to autobiography; identity and subjectivity; communication and media history; gender and sexuality; class and social mobility; religion and secularization; visuality and aesthetics; and embodiment and disability.

GERM 612 – Coordinates of Modernism (Verena Kick)
Modernism can be defined temporally, spanning as little as a few decades or up to 100 years, and spatially, as an international phenomenon. Most of all, however, modernism can be understood as a search for adequate forms that support the interpretative task that an intense period of unprecedented experiences and radical changes imposed on art. The response of literature and visual arts to such experiences was not a mimetic one anymore. Rather, the task of art was to make this new and changing world accessible and understandable by creating literary and visual forms that were able to grasp the new experiences caused by increased industrialization, urbanization and new technologies: new forms of poetry (Trakl, Benn), a new form of the novel (Rilke, Kafka, Döblin), or new forms in filmmaking (Ruttmann, Lang, Pabst). 

This graduate course focuses on literature and films in German modernism of the early 20th century. After an introduction to modernism and its relationship to the classical avant-garde, including covering the various “isms” at the beginning of the 20th century, we will follow a loose chronological order from 1900 to the 1930s, when we explore modernism via various themes including Sprachkrise, Kunstkrise, Identitätskrise, Bilder des Krieges, Metropolis und Montage, Technologie und Sexualität, und Die Neue Frau.

At the end of the course, we will reflect on the coordinates of modernism by discussing its international traces and by looking both at its starting point in the late-19th century and examining its afterlife in post-war Germany.

GERM 680/380 – Teaching and Researching L2 Digital Storytelling Literacies (Marianna Ryshina-Pankova)
With the rapid development of digital technologies as well as the increasing importance of the ability to process and produce digital information in the modern world, digital storytelling (DS) has been investigated and implemented as an effective tool for developing media, technology, visual and other types of literacies. Digital stories are a range of digital narratives that combine visual and acoustic material, such as images, sound effects, and video clips with a narrator’s voice-over to present a story. Research on DS reports benefits for fostering L2 learner engagement, identity construction, and deep reflection.

Participants of this undergraduate/graduate course will examine how DS has been used in the context of L2 teaching and learning. Students will learn how to define and analyze DS genres using particular frameworks for linguistic and multimodal analysis. The course offers students an opportunity to become creative digital storytellers themselves, as they explore various technological platforms and produce a story across a variety of relevant DS genres (e.g., digital narratives, digital life stories, and digital literary texts) and languages (English, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, and French). Finally, students use the tools for DS analysis, principles of DS task design, as well as their experience of creating a digital story to develop an instructional unit that demonstrates how their DS can be applied to a particular L2 learning context. (Taught in English.)

GERM 708 – Remembering ‘Heimat’ in Contemporary Germany (Friederike Eigler)
The multi-faceted notion of ‘Heimat’ is considered to be central to German social and cultural  history since the early 19th century. Harking back to Herder’s notion of Germanness the term was traditionally linked to a specific geographical place or region and tied to collective identities rooted in a shared language, culture, history, ethnicity and race. The appropriation of ‘Heimat’ for the Blut and Boden ideology during National Socialism has illustrated the highly problematic, exclusionary dimension of the concept. Postwar and contemporary uses of the term vary greatly, ranging from recent conservative and far-right appropriations of ‘Heimat’ to alternative, inclusive reformulations of the concept – or rejections of the concept altogether. The arts, especially literature and film, play a crucial role in these developments.

GERM 720 – Writing Toward Publication (Friederike Eigler and Marianna Pankova)
This course is a writing intensive, works-in-progress seminar for graduate students seeking to prepare an article for publication.  It will explore the everyday challenges of writing and introduce students to the professional practices and protocols of journal publication. During the semester, participants will analyze the genres of an academic research article and article abstract and their most salient features, explore potential publication venues, read and comment on the work of their peers, learn how to interpret and generate feedback in the form of ‘reader’s reports,’ and revise and present their own essay. The final task of the course entails submitting your essay for publication in the journal of your choice (graduate student journal or a regular professional journal).

By offering the course to PhD students from several programs and areas of specialization, the course provides a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between disciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarship, to expand your understanding of key debates in a range of fields, and to consider current transformations in the practices of knowledge production in higher education more widely. This dimension of the course will be further enhanced by the instructors’ disciplinary expertise in Applied Linguistics (Ryshina-Pankova) and Literary Studies (Eigler). By engaging with a range of research projects, students will explore how objects of study are constituted by specific methodological practices and reading protocols, including those organized by frameworks of (cultural) theory, literature, visual culture, discourse analysis, language pedagogy, and applied linguistics.

The course is designed for graduate students who already have a substantive research paper (of 12-20 pages in length) and who want to focus on the process of producing a ‘stand alone,’ article-length publication based on the existing paper. 

GERM 730 – GDR Culture and Cinema (Katrin Sieg)
Thirty years after its official dissolution, the history and culture of the German Democratic Republic continues to be a topic of lively scholarly interest, and in the last few years, a number of new studies have tackled the as-yet unappreciated Otherness of GDR culture without falling back into cold war paradigms of evaluation (we’re modern, they’re behind). In particular, GDR cinema has continued to attract attention.

In this course, we shall take inspiration from this new generation of scholars, and attempt a fresh look at some of the works that have become canonical for grasping what living and dreaming in the German socialist state was like, and some that expose us to the strangeness of its culture.  We will concentrate on the study of one cultural institution, the cinema, with brief forays into theater, literature, and music. While we will begin by tracing changing and antagonistic scholarly positions on GDR culture, we will seek to arrive at our own interpretations through close readings of selected cinematic texts and the analytical literature about them. These readings are organized around two themes: (1) Artists in the antifascist state; GDR culture features a particularly rich set of debates about the role of artists and intellectuals, and about the issues of power, resistance, and complicity—they make an important contribution to any discussion of the ethics of social elites. (2) Social stagnation and the power of utopia: the new woman.  From the sixties onward, women assumed an important symbolic and social function in embodying the New Socialist Person at a time when progress appeared to have come to a standstill; conversely, the oppression of women became a privileged site for working through political injustices.

Course goals:

  • Develop critical vocabulary, interpretive skills for reading cinematic texts
  • Gain overview of key critical terms, issues, and debates within and about GDR culture and politics
  • Diagnose and evaluate historic shifts in the study of GDR culture in the GDR, Germany, and the United States.