The texts gathered here arise from an international conference organized by the Institute for German Cultural Studies at Cornell University on September 13-14, 2019. Together we examined the disciplinary and institutional contexts that make up Anglo-American German studies in our day. 

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​Since the 1970s the field has developed a unique profile as an umbrella term for interdisciplinary endeavors that have driven critical conversations informed by the German intellectual tradition, helping frame momentous trends in the last that decades have reshaped humanities studies and the institution of the university in North America. This historical trajectory makes German studies an optimal lens for appraising the state of the humanities in the current landscape of higher-education as they meet the challenges and seize the opportunities created by a) profound changes in the structure and funding of the university; b) the technological and institutional developments that have reshaped the ways we teach and conduct research; c) the diversification and stratification of our student population; and d) the shrinking support for public education displayed by politicians and the public at large. 

The conference featured twenty-minute presentations by scholars who have made critical contributions to thinking about the field or have spearheaded innovative initiatives at their institutions. These presentations were complemented by round-table discussions framed by five-minute thesis statements offered by both speakers and conference participants. Topics for presentations and round-table discussions included: 

  • The ‘what’ of German studies: describing the relation between the study of language, literature, culture, and other fields of knowledge in the university setting. 

  • Changes in protocols of disciplinary knowledge production, for instance as they are driven by shifting funding priorities and new media ecologies. 

  • German studies in a transnational perspective and in relation to the university’s mission of internationalization. 

  • Promoting interdisciplinary exchange, not just within the humanities but also with contiguous fields in the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the information sciences. 

  • German studies and radical collaborations that link the field to engaged initiatives focusing on global health; the environmental humanities; old and new media; and the public humanities. 

  • Learning from and capitalizing on the ways the field thrives in different kinds of institutions (liberal arts colleges, R1 universities, etc.) 

  • Existing and future frameworks for undergraduate education and research, curricular challenges and opportunities flowing from these frameworks. 

  • Evaluating current practices of professionalization and credentialing at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

  • Rethinking the mission of graduate programs and the rationale of graduate studies in view of the available career paths after the Ph.D. 

 

A special aim of this conference lay in creating opportunities for dialog and cooperation among scholars whose university affiliations reflect the wide range of institutional frameworks that are home to German studies: research universities and liberal arts colleges; departments of German and departments of modern languages; etc. Within the limits of budgetary and travel limitations, we sought to assemble a cohort of conference speakers and participants that covers a wide (but still imperfect) spectrum of Anglo-American institutions and departments in which German studies is embedded; we were especially interested in a wide range of voices and insights: not only departmental chairs, directors of graduate and undergraduate studies, but also adjunct faculty, visiting assistant professors, MLA representatives as well as journal and book series editors, i.e., individuals whose work, both scholarly and pedagogical, and administrative experience grants them special insight into contemporary trends and challenges for the field. This broad representation enables us to take stock of the current landscape of higher education in its great diversity and develop forward-looking models for supporting German studies and the humanities more generally. To this end, the short pieces collected here are naturally limited. Therefore, we welcome and encourage you to keep the conversation going and please consider contributing your own short statement for posting here on any aspect that is of important to you in thinking and acting on the future of the field of German studies. 

--Patrizia C. McBride & Paul Fleming, Organizers

 

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