Nov. 28, 1994
Vol. 14, No. 7

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    Germanic Studies: New name, new focus

    The Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures has voted to change its name to the Department of Germanic Studies, effective immediately, and has entirely redesigned its program of study. The new program will begin in the 1995-96 academic year.

    "This change of name is more than cosmetic," said Robert von Hallberg, Professor and Chairman of Germanic Studies. "It represents a complete shift in departmental and academic focus -- on both the graduate and undergraduate levels -- from German languages and literary history to a focus on German cultural studies."

    According to von Hallberg, cultural studies can be defined as a theoretical mode that applies interpretive methods, some from traditional literary study and others from sociology, anthropology and history, to a wide range of cultural "texts," including film, newspapers and advertisements.

    "The point is to draw conclusions about the nature of cultural experiences and productions, generally, and mass culture, specifically," von Hallberg said.

    "The new program is absolutely unique," said Sander Gilman, Professor in Germanic Studies. "No other university in the world is doing the kind of things we will do. We are no longer studying primarily German philology -- we are now providing a general introduction to German culture as well as specific ways of analyzing aspects of that culture, including in the areas of psychoanalysis, visual culture, Jewish life and social history."

    "While much of the whole profession is becoming interested in cultural studies, this department has been out ahead of others in developing a coherent curriculum," von Hallberg added. "Our new graduate programs have a serious commitment to cultural studies as the main focus of work. The idea is not to exclude but to broaden the field of possible textual studies."

    As part of the new program, graduate students in Germanic Studies will choose to work in one of eight newly designed concentrations:

    _ Literary History, Theory & Aesthetics, which emphasizes the study of historical, formal and theoretical questions about literature in general and Germanic literatures in particular.

    _ Social Analysis & Critical Theory: Philosophy, Historiography, Sociology -- focusing on the theories of Central European thinkers writing in German, including Marx, Weber, Freud and Benjamin.

    _ Visual Culture, which focuses on Central European cinema, as well as related aspects of photography, architecture and design.

    _ German & European Modernity, which emphasizes the relationships between 20th-century German and European political events, social transformations and aesthetic developments.

    _ Pre-modern Textual & Cultural Studies, which focuses on the development of pre-modern culture in Germanic and German lands -- that is, the medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, pre-Enlightenment and early Enlightenment periods.

    _ The Culture of Psychoanalysis, which emphasizes psychoanalytic theory and applied psychoanalysis within a wide range of theoretical approaches and options.

    _ Jewish Cultures in Ashkenaz, which focuses on the role Jewish culture played and plays in the German-speaking world and the destruction and rebirth of the Jewish cultures in the Ashkenaz region.

    _ Dialectics of Enlightenment, which focuses on intellectual life within the broad cultural, political and social contexts of late-18th-century and early-19th-century German-speaking Central Europe.

    "The new concentrations are very interdisciplinary, but the department has always had an interdisciplinary strength," von Hallberg said. "One of the reasons we can do what we are planning to do is the depth we have within the department as well as within the University. For example, we will maintain close ties to the Film Studies Center, and Miriam Hansen will be a part of much of our work." Hansen, Professor in English Language & Literature and Director of the Film Studies Center, is a leading scholar in German film history and theory.

    According to von Hallberg, individual advising is also an important component of the new graduate program. "Students will have the opportunity to devise interesting and challenging projects and to work not only with our department's faculty but with literally dozens of faculty members from other University departments," he said.