Petra S. McGillen

Academic Appointments

Associate Professor of German Studies

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"You're right; our writing tools take part in the forming of our thoughts," Friedrich Nietzsche said to his secretary in 1882. Nietzsche's statement captures what lies at the core of my research: I work on the material history of creativity and knowledge production in German literature and culture, ca. 1750 to 1900. In particular, I explore the impact of different forms and media of notation—from doodles to writers’ notebooks, from lists to databases—on creative writing processes and forms of generating knowledge. My other research and teaching interests include media and book history in 18th and 19th-century Germany, print and material culture, textual practices, authorship, intellectual technologies, the history of modern journalism, and the emergence of fake news.


(603) 646 2218
204B Bartlett Hall
HB 6084


  • Ph.D. Princeton University, 2012
  • M.A. Princeton University, 2009
  • M.A. University of Sussex, England, 2006
  • B.A. Universität Potsdam and Fachhochschule Potsdam, Germany, 2005

Selected Publications

  • “‘I Was There Today’: Fake Eyewitnessing and Journalistic Authority from Fontane to Relotius.” Observing the Everyday: Journalistic Practices of Knowledge Production in the Modern Era. Ed. Hansjakob Ziemer. London; New York: Routledge, in press (peer-reviewed).

  • “Fontane Goes to J-School. Theodor Fontanes Englandjahre und die Entstehung journalistischer Autorität im Pre-Truth-Zeitalter.” Colloquia Germanica 52.1–2 (Fall, 2020). Special Issue on Theodor Fontane. Ed. John Lyon and Brian Tucker, 11–26.

  • The Fontane Workshop: Manufacturing Realism in the Industrial Age of Print. New Directions in German Studies; 26. New York; London: Bloomsbury Academic, July 2019.

  • "The Business of Criticism: Theodor Fontane and Wilhelm Hertz's Media Campaign for Vor dem Sturm." Market Strategies and German Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century. Ed. Vance Byrd and Ervin Malakaj. Interdisciplinary German Studies. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020, 282–311.

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Speaking Engagements

  • "An den Außengrenzen des Journalismus: Fontanes 'unechte Korrespondenzen' als Boundary-Work." Invited Panel Talk, Fontanes Medien 1819–2019, Universität Potsdam, Germany, June 2019.

  • "Unreliable Reporters of the Pencil: Practices of 'Illustrating' Current Events on the Threshold of Photography." Invited Workshop Talk, Truth and the Logic of the Series, 1850 to 1930, NCCR Iconic Criticism/Eikones, Universität Basel, Switzerland, May 2019. 

  • “The False Correspondent in Nineteenth-Century Press Wars: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Fake News.” Invited Lecture, Landmarks of European Identity, Undergraduate History Seminar, Princeton University, scheduled for November 2018.

  • "Real Fakes: Textual Practices of 'Firsthand' Reporting in the Nineteenth-Century Berlin Press." Invited Workshop Presentation, Modern Journalistic Practices of Knowledge Production – Part 2, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, June 2018.

  • “Fontane's Sound Bites: Remix and the Realist Novel, ca. 1880,” Invited Lecture, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, February 2018.

  • “The Compiler's Moment: Fontane and the Manufacture of Nineteenth-Century Realism.” Invited Talk, The Novel and its Working Methods: A Workshop, Mahindra Humanities Center, co-sponsored by The Novel Theory Seminar, Harvard University, Cambridge, November 2017.

  • Faculty Member of the Sixth Annual Princeton–Weimar Summer School for Media Studies, "Start Making Sense: The Question of Interpretation under The Condition of Technology's Ongoing Provocation," Princeton, New Jersey, Summer 2016.

Works In Progress

  • Second Book Project: All the News That's Fit to Twist: Stories of Everyday Fakery in the Press, 1789–1900.

  • "'I was there today': Fake Eyewitnessing and Journalistic Authority from Fontane to Relotius." Observing the Everyday: Journalistic Practices of Knowledge Production in the Modern Era. Ed. Hansjakob Ziemer [typescript, 42 pp. , submitted.]

  • "Unreliable Reporters of the Pencil: Practices of 'Illustrating' Current Events on the Threshold of Photography" [chapter-length article related to second book].

  • Encyclopedia entry "Faken," Historisches Wörterbuch des Mediengebrauchs, ed. Heiko Christians, Matthias Bickenbach, and Nikolaus Wegmann, vol. 3, Cologne: Böhlau, scheduled for 2020.

  • Co-edited book: Theodor Fontane – Aus England. Große Brandenburger Fontane-Ausgabe. Ed. Heinrich Detering and Gabriele Radecke, section VIII: Das kritische Werk, vol. 1. Berlin: Aufbau, scheduled for 2021.

Selected Works & Activities

  • Video interview (pre-recorded) about Theodor Fontane’s creative process for the exhibition Fontane.200/Autor, curated by Heike Gfrereis, screening at the Fontane-Museum in Neuruppin, Germany, March–December 2019. 

  • Live radio interview (4:30 minutes) about Theodor Fontane as a journalist and fake news reporter, RBB Kulturradio am Mittag, Radio Berlin-Brandenburg, March 26, 2019.

  • Live radio interview (25 minutes) for the “Dr. Matt Townsend Show” about the history of fake news and prevention strategies for today’s media landscape, BYU Boston Public Radio on May 25, 2017.

  • “Fontane war ein Pionier der Fake News” [Fontane was a pioneer of fake news], interview about my research, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 20, 2017.

  • Op-Ed “Techniques of 19th-century fake news reporter teach us why we fall for it today,” The Conversation, April 5, 2017.

Selected Scholarships and Awards

Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for the best work in German Studies, Modern Languages Association, December 2020.

David Bloom and Leslie Chao Fellowship, 2020.

Karen E. Wetterhahn Memorial Award for Distinguished Creative or Scholarly Achievement, 2020.

Enhanced Junior Faculty Fellowship [competitive one-year sabbatical], Dartmouth College, 2017–2018.

Dean of the Faculty Mentoring Award, Dartmouth College, 2017.

Dissertation Completion Fellowship, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies, 2011–2012.