Academic journal article German Quarterly

A User's Guide to German Cultural Studies

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A User's Guide to German Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

Denham, Scott, Irene Kacandes, and Jonathan Petropoulos. A User's Guide to German Cultural Studies. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P 1997. 559 pp. $24.95 paperback.

A User's Guide takes on the taunting and indeed almost thankless task of summarizing the accomplishments of Cultural Studies scholarship over the last twenty years. Its articles range from a theoretical introduction, definitions of the discipline, investigations into past conceptions of German identity, contemporary questions about "Germanness," pedagogical advice on how to teach Cultural Studies along with a diverse collection of syllabi and "How to..." hand-outs. A User's Guide strives to do more than just give a collection of isolated cultural readings. The editors clearly encouraged contributors to provide general introductions on well-established topics in Cultural Studies such as colonialism, Holocaust memorialization, and popular reading habits.

Stuart Hall has written about the two paradigms in Cultural Studies, and even if it nods in the direction of French post-structuralism, the editors here seem most at home with the Birmingham School and its less theoretical manner. This approach is well-suited for a giant anthology, for allows many different voices to be heard, yet the reader does at times yearn for a sustained line of argumentation, and not a collection of journalistic observations. The anthology runs the risk of presenting Cultural Studies as just plain liberal common sense. The editors do try to create a little polemical fire by positioning themselves as opponents of traditional German curricula, yet this tried and true maneuver lacks the urgency it had thirty years ago.

Despite these criticisms, A User's Guide contains superior contributions, demonstrating that as a field Cultural Studies makes its finest contributions when it engages clearly defined historical materials that by their very nature invite an interdisciplinary approach. Cecilia Applegate's paper on Felix Mendelsohn's 1829 revival of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. John's Passion is exemplary because the performance and its preparation reveal much about the Biedermeierzeit. Many of the articles were written not to present samples of scholarship, but rather to guide readers on the developments of various subfields. Susanne Zantop provides a nuanced, densely informative account of German national identity's relation to colonialism. Arlene Teraoka traces the rise of multiculturalism. David Crew surveys how historians in both the U.S. and Germany have treated "cultural" phenomena. …

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