Dear friends, lieve vrienden, kära vänner—Liebe Freunde nah und fern
Wherever it finds you, I hope this newsletter finds you well in these tumultuous times. I’ll get to what I mean by tumultuous in a moment; but first, I’m pleased to report that the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures is bursting with activity once again, from the classroom to faculty research, from our ambitious schedule of talks and events to our efforts at outreach and community engagement. We’re especially proud to have received—for the second time already!—the College of LSA's Department Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education, which was officially awarded at the beginning of the semester. This is a tribute to the engagement and dedication of everyone in the department, from our outstanding lecturers, professors, and staff to the graduate and undergraduate students who give back so much, and across all three undergraduate programs: German, Dutch, and Scandinavian Studies. Please take a moment to congratulate your favorite member of the department for this collective achievement!
At the same time, we remain keenly aware that our work does not take place in a vacuum, but in the overlapping contexts that make up our current cultural and political moment. This fall, I taught “Fascist Cinemas”—a course on the history of film in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan from the 1920s through WWII. It is a course I’ve taught several times, but this past semester, it felt different. A number of students who signed up for the class back in April, mainly because it helps them satisfy distribution requirements, have told me that in the wake of Charlottesville, understanding the history of fascism and fascist culture has taken on a new urgency; others are looking outward from our screenings and lectures, working hard to get their bearings in a world that is witnessing newly emboldened white supremacists, threats to democratic institutions, and a tidal wave of populism.
That wave has engulfed Europe as much as the United States. Here in the department, we have certainly been following this fall’s elections closely, first in Germany and now in Austria, after the Netherlands had voted in March. These elections have brought the far right into the mainstream of national politics, a development that long seemed unthinkable after the end of Nazi Germany. Students had the opportunity to engage with these portentous political developments, whose consequences extend to the European Union and beyond, in their classes—including Silvia Grzeskowiak’s 4th-semester language course on “News and Media in the German-Speaking World,” Peter McIsaac’s upper-level seminar on “Current Events Through German Media,” and Andy Markovits’s course, cross-listed with Political Science, on “German Politics in Europe since 1945.” Andy even organized an election viewing party for his students, and he has commented on the outcome of both the German and the Austrian elections for the press (see our website for links to his articles).
In these ways and more, many of which you’ll find detailed in the coming pages, we strive to help make students aware of the culture and politics that surround them, whether close to home or in the German-, Dutch-, and Scandinavian-speaking countries across the Atlantic. We do so in the firm belief that cross-cultural encounters of the kind enabled by language learning, study abroad, and literary and cultural studies remain key for navigating, and hopefully ameliorating, these tumultuous times. Read on to see the many ways in which we approach this task in our diverse departmental activities.
Johannes von Moltke