Academic journal article German Quarterly

German studies strikes again

Academic journal article German Quarterly

German studies strikes again

Article excerpt

One of the texts I read with my undergraduate students in our Western Civilization course is Tacitus's The Germanic. About a thousand years old (give or take a bit), it provides me with a chance to talk with them about how the Romans needed to idealize the Northern peoples they fought and did so by constructing a positive stereotype of German. Tacitus's image was rooted more in his views about Roman decadence than any type of simple praise. In complex ways, reading Tacitus's text also enables us to trace how we see the Germans seeing themselves. Knowing the German reception of Tacitus from the seventeenth century to the present can help us examine many of the fantasies, myths, and constructs about German-ness. But equally important a thousand years after Tacitus wrote The Germanic (OK, 902 years) we stop and look back and see in his text, which is more about the Romans than the Germans, our own reflection in the texts we read and the books we write. Our North American study of things German is a reflection of our own sense of the Germany we need and the Germany we construct. Books written for other people's needs and readers other than ourselves shape our fantasies, and yet they become part of who we are and what we desire.

"Why and How I Study the German" was the title of an essay I published in these pages over a decade ago. (German Quarterly 62 [1989]: 192-204.) And to this day my German-born colleagues look on this attempt (semi-satirically) to chart our field as a personal insult. I am accused of reducing them to objects of study Indeed, we in the field of Germanic Studies (whether linguistic, literary, cultural, or historical scholars) must be aware that it is precisely our collective construction of Germany, the Germans, and the German, in all of their variety, all of their projects, and all of their texts, that forms part of our North American scholarship at the close of this century. (And that does indeed include all the Austrians and the German Swiss as well as things German throughout the world, from North America to the former German colonies in Africa and the South Seas.) Why and how we study things German is at the center of our enterprise, and that center has shifted radically over the past thirty years.

In the 1960s the final wave of German-trained Germanists began teaching at American universities. Following upon the Imperial scholars of the pre-WW I period, the emigre scholars of the Nazi period, the post-WW II emigration (which included even some Nazi scholars), the economic emigres of the 1960s were the last substantial wave of German Germanists to establish themselves in North America. The earlier waves of academic immigrants added measurably to the mix of the North American academic experience, bringing with them new insights, new methods, new texts. Our German-trained colleagues who came here in the 1960s have over the past thirty years also added to this mix, many of them becoming major figures both in the German as well as the American academic scene.

However, over the past twenty years the shift to North-America-based German Studies has meant that we have been able to train our own students for their roles in the North American system. The importation of scholars trained in Germany has become a trickle. Among the students we now train in North America are relatively large numbers of European-born German speakers who have opted to do their graduate (and some even their undergraduate) training here. In addition, we have graduate students and colleagues from every corner of the world, as well as from the widest range of American ethnic groups in German Studies. Over the past twenty years we have increased the number of women in the profession radically, as well as producing the first (and still the most active) major organization of women scholars in German Studies.

Such diversity in personnel and approach has little parallel in Germany today, where Germanistik is struggling with its own self-definition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.