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Karina von Tippelskirch (Syracuse University)


Instead of addressing the crises that confront and affect German studies also at Syracuse University (SU), this brief contribution focuses on one area where significant opportunities for the humanities have arisen in the past decade at my home institution. These opportunities are remarkable enough to be shared here as one exceptional example of re-imagining the humanities. The thesis that evolved from this paradox is that current crises, different from those of the past and going far beyond the university, are driving forces for new research agendas, theoretical approaches, and curricular innovation. In this regard, one could say that they have invigorated and strengthened the discipline. Simultaneously, rampant ideas of effectiveness, unlimited assessment, and immediate applicability at the corporate university threaten its very mission and contradict Syracuse University’s motto, Suos Cultores Scientia Coronat:knowledge crowns those who seek her. 


For the context of German studies at my home institution: SU is an R1 research university. The German Program is one of seventeen languages and one of nine B.A. programs in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, the largest department within the College of Arts and Sciences. It is a small but persistently successful undergraduate program with an annual average of 8 to 10 majors. Every year, German students win national and international scholarships such as Fulbright, DAAD, CBYX and Max Kade awards. With one tenured faculty member, one teaching professor, and one part-time faculty member, course offerings are limited to seven language classes (GER 101 to GER 202) and four upper-level courses per academic year, one of numerous challenges and restrictions that German studies faces at SU. Simultaneously, faculty are involved in interdisciplinary research, teaching innovation, and events on campus such as German Campus Weeks, lectures, film series, cultural events, and symposia. German students form a close and active community in both the German Cultural Society, a recognized student organization, and a chapter of Delta Phi Alpha, the National German Honor Society. The program matches perfectly Peter Uwe Hohendahl’s description of “the contrast between the vibrant professional activities of the faculty in the area of research and scholarship and the fact that the basic enrollments…have been continually threatened by larger and mostly uncontrollable forces in the academic and social environment.”[1] This statement illustrates that little progress has been made at the institutional level since the publication of German Studies in the United States: A Historical Handbook in 2003.


Notwithstanding such familiar problems, there have been remarkable developments strengthening the humanities and research in German studies at SU. This conference is consequential to a success story that began with the founding of the SU Humanities Center under the leadership of Gregg Lambert in 2008.[2] Gregg should be mentioned here; he served as the Founding Director of the Humanities Center until 2013, something that many say was “the best thing that has happened to the humanities at SU in decades.” During that time, he also became the Principal Investigator for the Central New York Humanities Corridor.[3]  The CNY Humanities Corridor is a collaboration between Syracuse, Cornell, and the University of Rochester. It also includes Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Skidmore College, St. Lawrence University, and Union College, which form the Schools of the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, and in addition, Le Moyne College, a Jesuit institution in Syracuse. Gregg Lambert stepped down from his directorship in 2019. Together with a board of equally committed directors, among them Paul Fleming here at Cornell, the CNY Humanities Corridor has been secured by a permanent endowment of $6.5 million, $3.55million of which were awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. There are seven research clusters comprised of scholars from different corridor institutions, and 47 active working groups. One of them, Perspectives on Europe from the Periphery, was founded in 2015, bringing together scholars from Colgate, Cornell, and Syracuse University working in German, Italian and Spanish literature and the visual arts. The group has informed and enriched my research substantially, in addition to breaking down the professional isolation that I experienced as the sole German faculty member at SU for several years. A new working group, initiated by Patrizia McBride with Paul Fleming this year, is called Re-Imagining the Discipline: German Studies, the Humanities, and the University, and its first and hopefully not last event is this conference. 

The establishment of the CNY Humanities Corridor confirms Margaret Mead’s assertion that a small and dedicated group of thoughtful citizens – or scholars – can change the world. A regional, multi-institutional research collaboration does not remedy the larger crises I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. Yet it creates substantial opportunities for disciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarly exchange and the dissemination of knowledge, exceeding by far what any individual discipline and institution could achieve. It also indicates that we might have more power than we sometimes believe and urges us to use it. 


[1] Hohendahl, Peter Uwe. German Studies in the United States:A Historical Handbook. Modern Language Association of America, 2003, p. 18.


[3] All information and data relating to the CNY Humanities Corridor is from the web page and the 2019 annual report posted there.

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