Globalizing German studies: A new border action

By Peck, Jeffrey M | German Quarterly, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Globalizing German studies: A new border action


Peck, Jeffrey M, German Quarterly


Why should anyone study German or Germany in the future? And if they are indeed interested, how should it be taught? These questions, for students in the first case, and for teachers in the second, seem the most pressing (and interesting) as a century has come to a close in which Germany has had, to say the least, a prominent role. These last hundred years have seen the vicissitudes of German history and its subsequent place in the European order of feet the status of German in schools and universities. During World War I German was banned in many American schools, and seventy years later we celebrated with many Germans at the reunification that seemed to be raising our enrollments, as well as our hopes for a successful united Germany Nothing needs to be said here about what happened in between those major events as to German's popularity in the United States. Still, it is ironic that in the later postwar period-the seventies, eighties, and nineties-courses on the Nazi period, as well as the Holocaust, seem to draw the largest crowds.

My very brief historical excursion is meant here to emphasize that political events, particularly in Germany, do indeed influence interest in "things German," be they literature, culture, politics, history, economics, or language itself. The millennium itself may indeed have been prematurely initiated with the fall of the German Wall. Unfortunately, that peak of excitement has waned, and as language enrollments fall for all but Spanish, it is obviously important that we ascertain how to maintain the curricular integrity (and the FTEs) in our departments and in a university that is becoming increasingly corporatized and bureaucratized. The links between academic policy and the marketplace are not to be forgotten, especially in the integrated and convergent global markets. In the last few years the answer has been interdisciplinary German Studies, focusing precisely on the various fields I mention above. Some universities have been fortunate enough, as Georgetown University, to have a "Center of Excellence" in German and European Studies that institutionally creates such intellectual opportunities for students and for faculty Even without such formal centers, most other universities and colleges have moved, at least in name, to a German Studies model that draws courses and faculty from multiple departments. The teaching of the German language remains -properly so-a central support in such a program. The battles fought for many years against traditional Germanistik have, I hope, been settled, and while German Studies-if job descriptions are to be a gauge of our self definition-dominate German Departments today, literary critics and cultural studies practitioners have found an alliance in trying to save the study of German and Germany And even the latter, including myself, have become more critical about the excesses of such approaches.

Today, especially from my vantage point in Canada as the Director of such a Centre of German and European Studies, the landscapes of German Studies in particular and area studies in general have taken on a new contour. Perhaps it is unavoidably my view of our discipline, area studies, and international academic relations from a Center in what some would call "the periphery." But in global processes traditional centers and peripheries rearrange themselves quite quickly, forcing us to reevaluate our own angles of vision, how they are constituted, and what they mean. This hermeneutics takes on a new urgency when German language and literature study is situated in interdisciplinary German Studies, in European Studies, and finally in an international studies that now needs to be globalized itself. Like Russian dolls that fit neatly one into the next, these multiple parts can appear to glide in and out quite smoothly. But more often today, university policies are shaped by the exigencies of the global marketplace, making parts and wholes fit uneasily together, when they fit at all. …

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