What is the state of German Studies as an academic discipline as we move deeper into the twenty-first century? How does it manifest nationally and globally, what fresh challenges await the discipline and how are Germanists of diverse origins and persuasions responding to such questions? These are big questions and they are posed up front in the opening lines of our volume. They not only go to the heart of the specific legacies of the German language, Germanophone culture and their study in schools and colleges, but they also resonate with wider questions of disciplinary boundaries, of the place of non-Anglophone culture and its study in a global world and even of the value of culture and its study beyond the academy.
This collection has grown, changed, and taken on a global life of its own in the six years we have been working on it. It was born, in part, as a response to a series of events and meetings in the United Kingdom, including a symposium ‘German in the World’, held in London back in the summer of 2014. That event brought together scholars from around the globe in order to respond both to a perceived crisis at the time, the apparent decline of German Studies as a discipline, and the need to redefine German Studies appropriately – a task that was part challenge, part opportunity. Six years on, things look very different. We have seen the backlash against globalization in its many forms, a concomitant rise of nationalist populism, and the growth of alternative right movement ready to bait liberals, academics and the arts in social media forums. Now, more than ever, questions as to the specific value of a culture such as German feel fraught, caught as they are between toxic identitarian narratives on the one hand, and an academy that seems compelled to unravel the fiction of nationhood on the other. The world has changed. So how did we respond and where did our volume end up?
For one thing, our book is not a volume of conference proceedings. The collection has morphed and grown to include contributions by other scholars who were not present in London, who became interested in the project later and whose work the editors felt resonated with the volume’s themes as they have developed since 2014. This has allowed us to respond to shifts in our cultural landscapes. Rather than attempt to re-inscribe an essentially German cultural canon delivered through traditional methods, our chapters survey and exemplify the diversity of the subject in different locations globally, chart the diversifying media, methods, and forms the discipline has taken on and evaluate its wider contribution to the academy and beyond. So, whilst we have contributions by noted scholars on Goethe’s notion of world literature and on how German writing has grappled with legacies of colonialism, which both consider and refresh the canon, we also have studies which consider how German cultural legacies are inextricably bound up in the spheres of contemporary theatrical practice, popular music, the history of radio broadcasting, and practices of academic public engagement. Added to this, the collection also offers reflective academic biographies from around the world, charting the ways in which global scholars of German have (in some cases quite literally) danced between disciplines, media and national contexts whilst holding the common thread of German Studies.
Our book was finalized before the Australian bushfires of 2019 and explosion of COVID-19, and whilst ecological thought is dealt with in the volume, there is no foreshadowing of the global pandemic to be found within our pages. After all, who could have foreseen that? Yet, by grouping together telling studies which recount all that German culture has become through its interaction with the world, and given to the world in turn, we not only cover material often forgotten or overlooked because it has shed the skin of German language. We also capture the agility with which our colleagues globally have responded and continue to respond to changes and challenges alike. And that, surely, bodes well for any future world, however it might look.
This guest post was written by James Hodkinson, Reader in German at Warwick University and Benedict Schofield, Reader in German at King’s College London.