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The German speaking world is a multicultural space that contains the lived shared experience by people of diverse backgrounds. We continue to strive toward an inclusive representation of this diversity in our language curriculum.
"Parliament must represent the entire breadth of society."
This is the wording for the mandate of the German government, which reflects a continuous effort toward a fair and inclusive representation of people from diverse segments in society.
We believe that a similar mandate is given to us when it comes to our German language curriculum. The German speaking world is a multicultural space that is made up of the lived shared experience by people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, gender identification, sexual identities and preferences, and by individuals with a varied range in physical and mental ability, age, economic means, and political status.
As language teaching is moving away from presenting German language(s) and culture(s) as a monolithic block that foregrounds the experience of a very small and exclusively White, heteronormative, economically independent middle-class segment of society and shifts towards the inclusion of diverse perspectives, we continue to evaluate what voices have, for too long, been silenced in the language classroom.
This doesn't stop at teaching words like "wheel chair" alongside the word for "chair," or practicing divers gender pronouns alongside binary gender structures, or talking about articles of clothing and clothing choice as an expression of gender identity, or exploring Nazi Germany from the perspective of an Afro-German childhood:
There is always more room in our teaching units for making more voices heard.
We also acknowledge that our inclusive approach does not so much represent an insertion of "special interest topics" into our curriculum, but that the contact with diverse voices and experiences inside the classroom reflect the shared life experience of our teachers, staff and students outside the classroom.
To represent a greater breadth of diverse groups and cultures from all walks of lifes in our language sequence is thus in and by itself of special interest to the Department of German Studies.
Nick Ostrau, German Language Program Director
As social beings, humans are obsessed with ideas of inclusion and exclusion where they come together in groups. While cultural perceptions between groups change over time, one constant remains, a concept which has been coined "the other." I am interested in all forms of representations and interactions of ingroups and outgroups: my neighbors in Atlanta who talked about the "War of Northern Aggression," my friends in Berlin who told me about "Schwabenhass" ("hatred against Swabians" which became a synonym for well-to-do west German gentrification drivers after 1989), children's games like "cops and robbers" (also known as "Cowboys against Indians" or "Catholics against Protestants" at the French border), accents as identity markers in film, discussions of books like Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars…
I have a MA in Intercultural Communication and was part of a Goethe Institute team that developed exercises for German teachers to foster so-called "intercultural competencies". While I acknowledge that this discipline can inadvertently produce new, artificially constructed forms of stereotypes and confirmation biases (Germans are "insecurity avoiders" and Americans are "risk-takers," etc.), I also think that this interdisciplinary field can help open up meaningful conversations to fight our conscious and unconscious biases, prejudices, micro-and macro-aggressions.
In my class "Intercultural Communication" (link to the course trailer of my class), we draw on concepts from linguistics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, business, communication, and media studies to problematize notions of "essential" cultural identities. Through role-plays, experiential exercises, and analyses of case studies, we not only try to improve awareness and gain knowledge about the mechanisms of racism, xenophobia, ableism, and sexism but also discuss more constructive communication styles and behavior patterns to fight and deal with any form of discrimination.
I am part of the Dartmouth Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality [ link: https://sites.dartmouth.edu/rms/consortium-members/rms-faculty-associates/]. In my research, I focus on representations of "foreigners" (i.e., refugees and "persons with migration backgrounds") in European and American film and television as well as media monitoring initiatives and activism for more diversity on the screens. I am particularly interested in the often conflated categories of race, ethnicity, and religion.
It was what I had already learned to call a typical Berlin day during my undergraduate study abroad at the Freie Universität in then West Berlin: gray, drizzling, windy, and cool. I put on my raincoat and covered my long unruly hair with a scarf. Leaving the house in Lichterfelde West where I rented a room, I thought I would just be making my familiar walk to the university. As I stepped into the street, I heard a high-pitched scream and registered that it was coming from a young boy—he couldn't have been more than 7 or 8--before I realized that it was directed at me: Du Türkin, geh nach Hause! Wir wollen Dich nicht! (Go home, Turk. We don't want you here!) Even as I type those words more than forty years later, I can feel the force of the hate that was aimed at me. My instantaneous reaction was an internally voiced outrage: I'm not a Turk; I'm a Greek. But my next reaction surprised me with its rapidity of wiping away twenty years of being raised with accounts of historical enmities between Turkish occupiers and Greek occupied during the period of the Ottoman occupation of traditionally Greek lands. This child could not have had negative interactions with Turks, especially not in this outlying neighborhood. No, he'd heard this language from someone else and was repeating it as if it were his own. In that instant, I felt a profound empathy for the many then so-called Turkish guest workers in Germany, and I swore that I would never allow myself to adopt someone else's attitude toward any group or even individual.
It would be a few more years before I read the growing and important work on the German Turkish communities by talented scholars like Leslie Adelson and Azade Seyhan and insightful public intellectuals like Zafer Şenocak and Claus Leggewie. These thinkers and others blazed the way for the study of migration and German culture, Black diaspora studies, German colonialism that are fundamentals of the field of German Studies today.
My own work took me in the direction of studying hate, dehumanization, and genocide mainly in the context and aftermath of the mid-20th-century Nazi Judeocide. Most recently I have wrestled with systemic racism in North America by studying and teaching Neonazism and white supremacy. My students have helped me see the need for ongoing engagement with these issues outside of class and after the academic term finishes. To that end, we started the Facebook group Doing Something. I also steward the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative of the German Studies Association. These activities are just a start. But we should all start doing what we can immediately.
When my parents arrived in Germany in 1998, as part of the Jewish migration from the former Soviet Union, they were put up in a refugee resettlement camp. It was cramped, neglected, and eerie and lay across the street from a zoo in Karlsruhe, in Germany's southwest. The symbolism of the location that did not escape the inmates, yet the locals seemed oblivious to it. For years, my research and teaching about belonging in Germany used to skirt the significance of this and other intimate episodes. After all, the profession encourages personal distance. But I have since reconsidered. Can we ever leave ourselves and our experiences (or lack thereof) outside as we analyze and interpret? Does "the view from nowhere" really exist? Now, these are the questions with which I research and, especially, teach.
The role of zoos in fiction is one of the topics that I grapple with in my current research on the biography of Margret and H. A. Rey, creators of the "monkey" Curious George. They grew up in Hamburg and spent much time sketching in the world's first modern cage-free zoo, Tierpark Hagenbeck. The zoo had no shortage of animals obtained through various colonial trade networks, but one of its big draws was ethnographic displays. To this day, the zoo has not apologized for exhibiting humans or for the pseudoscience that the spectacles enabled. This essay by Seyda Kurt is one of several terrific attempts to reconstruct the fates of the zoo's inmates and restore agency to them, with Dr. Albert Gouaffo's article being an essential academic corollary.
As scholars in the field of German Studies, our work confronts us at every turn with the history of racism and antisemitism in Europe. As teachers, we have a special responsibility to address the legacy of Nazism and fascism in Germany, to remember the suffering of those who were murdered or uprooted, and to understand the roots of racist violence and exclusion. While Germany has been exemplary in developing a culture of remembering its Nazi past, however, racism is still very much a part of contemporary German society, and we have observed with concern its resurgence in recent years. In the past 70 years, Germany has become a diverse, multicultural society. We recognize and cherish this diversity and welcome students of all backgrounds, without exception, to explore with us the German language, its literature, and its cultures. We believe that the German intellectual tradition has much to offer in its resistance to fascism and racism, and that these lessons are highly relevant for confronting and opposing racism both in Germany and beyond.
Racism permeates all areas of society, and this has a lot to do with our relationship with media. I believe that understanding the technological mechanisms and historical developments by which our current media landscape has emerged is vital to our opposition to racism. As a case in point, take a look at the history of the stereotype. In its original meaning, the stereotype referred to a piece of printing technology: developed in the 18th century, the stereotype was a cast-metal printing plate that printers made by taking an impression from composed type or a woodblock illustration. The idea was that "stereotyping" would save time and money—with the help of stereotypes, texts and images that were on high demand or that were assumed to sell well could be reprinted without wearing down the original type or having to reset it. By the mid-nineteenth century, lots of companies began trading in stereotype blocks, giving printers access to cheap, readymade texts and images to fill their pages.
It's easy to see how "stereotyping" in the technical sense fostered a media culture in which stereotyping in the figurative sense could take hold, and in which people, ideas, and things became subjected to the harmful and perverse "logic" of oversimplification and racist prejudice. In our current media landscape, conscious and unconscious stereotyping in the representation of Black and Indigenous People, People of Color, and LGBTQ People is extremely widespread. The online news world, in which ready-made materials abound, and in which anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can call themselves a "journalist" and propagate falsehoods, compounds this problem.
When I discuss media history in class, my students often wonder how we might change a media landscape that feels amorphous, vast, and out of control. While the overall challenge that we confront in this arena is enormous, there are very concrete measures that everyone can take to counteract the spread of stereotypes and lies. I think one of the most important measures is to diversify your media intake as much as you can. Read news from a variety of sources, read news in foreign languages, read critically—and support independent journalism. The same online landscape that compounds the problem also contains resources for a better, more diverse, and more just representation of the world.
Petra S. McGillen
In this picture, my mother sits with Rami, my adopted nephew from Syria. This photo was the final piece in an exhibition from five years ago, entitled "Flight 2.0" shown in the cathedral in Mainz, Germany. It described Rami's dangerous flight from Syria to Germany and culminated in an allusion to German refugees after World War II, one of whom was my mother. The exhibition forged a bond between the three million refugees after 1945 and the more than one million refugees that came to Germany in 2015 (mostly from Syria, the Balkans and Northern Africa). Rami, now 20 years old, has been living with my sister for the last 6 years. Adopting a refugee was transformative for my family, as was the "refugee crisis" in 2015 for Germany as a whole.
I have often dreamt of a "United States of Europe" that would understand itself as a melting pot, akin to the United States, a multiethnic place that welcomes people from across the globe. I grew up in the city of Frankfurt and most of my childhood friends were Turkish, Spanish or Italian. It mattered little to us where we came from–and yet it mattered a lot. For example, less than 10% of professors at German universities are citizens from another country and more than 75% are male. Professors from a working-class background are rare in Germany as well as in the US. Similarly, the university resembles a monoculture when it comes to the student body. There are data on many categories, but not on others, including disabilities, sexual orientation, age, or class.
As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu put it, exclusion forms through subtle distinctions- how to talk and walk- not taught at schools. Discriminatory attitudes are mostly unconscious. Although it is a well-studied fact that demographically underrepresented students innovate at particularly high rates, universities remain closed for many people. And diversity is not even enough. Diversity is being tolerated at the table, but inclusivity means to participate in the conversation about who we are as a people. This is what my nephew Rami taught us.
By the time my father emigrated from Morocco to Germany in the 1970s, he entered a society that had already been undergoing profound changes in its multicultural composition since the 1950s: during the Wirtschaftswunder years after the war, the government had started to open its doors to cultures from around the world to "invite" affordable labor into Germany. While I never got to ask my father whether he also was part of the federally instituted "guest worker program" that imported people not only from the Maghreb region in North Africa (looking back at a long history of being fought over by colonizing powers, including Germany and France) but also from countries as diverse as Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Portugal, and Yugoslavia, I am sure he shared in many of their struggles. To be called a "guest" comes, after all, with the expectation that one will leave in due time and to behave while putting one's feet under somebody else's table. When I reflect on inclusive societies I always go back to the question of the challenges that presented themselves to my father and many others who not only grappled with adapting to a new language, culture and religion from their end but also had to fight to earn the trust and recognition of the native population many of whom viewed them with scorn and suspicion. For my father, to earn his rightful place in society, as well as the recognition within my family, was certainly as hard a labor effort as for the many who worked long days in the factories for little pay and less appreciation. I never met my father, and so I struggled while growing up to see him beyond the statistics: for me, he remains one out of 14 million who came, one out of the many who went back to their native countries, and one out of those who stayed to build a new life in Germany. It is true that I was never able to ask him the many questions I had that could break through the wall of that statistic. Yet as little as I knew (and know today) about my father, he still gave me food for thought. His story led me to question how societies perceive people from other places and at what point, if ever, they and their children and grandchildren—even with German citizenship—lose their perceived social status of being descendants to foreign-born "guests" who, in the eyes of many, had at one point overstayed their welcome. How well do we do in cherishing diversity today while acknowledging disparate socioeconomic opportunities that are still tied to a person's origin, language, or religion? Do our political processes work for all or just a few? What can we learn from the past about integration for the future? Before all I realized that to think with an inclusive frame of mind is hard labor. But it is important work to be sure, and I wonder if my father and so many others were determined enough to engage in that work from their end, then why can't our society do a better job as a whole?
The scholarly collective Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum was launched by Regine Criser and Ervin Malakaj in 2017 with the aim of dismantling forms of structural oppression within the field. DDGC members are committed to an anti-racist curriculum, professional support and solidarity, labor equity, and accessible education. Since its inception, the group has organized a number of conferences—the most recent one focusing on antiracism, antiblack racism, white supremacy, and Black resistance in German Studies—, published a volume (eds. Criser and Malakaj) on critical pedagogy, and published many blog entries on topics like Black German Studies, Queer German Studies, German Migration Studies, and scholarly activism. The work undertaken by the collective represents a significant development within the field. DDGC, along with similar collectives outside of North America, has furthered a widespread, critical reckoning with and within German Studies.