Petra S. McGillen

|Associate Professor
Academic Appointments

Associate Professor of German Studies

"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, intellectual technologies, history of information, the transnational history of journalism, and the emergence of fake news.


(603) 646 2218
Dartmouth Hall, Room 209D
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

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

    Forthcoming in German as Der Fontane-Workshop. Realismus-Manufaktur im Zeitalter der Druckmaschinen. Aus dem Englischen von Joe Paul Kroll in Zusammenarbeit mit der Autorin. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, November 2023 (in press).

  • Critical Introductions to "Wilhelm Hauff: The Belletristic Journals in Germany" and "Andreas Bauer and Friedrich Koenig: High-Speed Printing Presses of the HHrn. Bauer and Koenig in Oberzell bei Würzburg." Literay and Cultural Journalism in Germany, 1815–1848: A Critical Anthology. Eds. Michael Swellander and Sean Franzel. Rochester: Camden House, scheduled for 2024 (accepted).   

  • "'I Was There Today': Fake Eyewitnessing and Journalistic Authority, from Fontane to Relotius." Journalists and Knowledge Practices: Histories of Observing the Everyday in the Newspaper Age. Ed. Hansjakob Ziemer. London; New York: Routledge 2023, 25–49. DOI: 10.4324/9781003111993-3

  • "The False Correspondent's Real Scene of Writing: Capturing an Elusive Figure in the History of Nineteenth-Century News Work." Modern Language Notes 136.5 (December 2021): 1032­–1049 [Comparative Literature Special Issue: The Scene of Writing, ed. Bryan Klausmeyer, Johannes Wankhammer, and Andrea Krauss]. DOI: 10.1353/mln.2021.0078

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Speaking Engagements

  • "Realism: A Media Practice." Invited Talk and Graduate Studies Workshop, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Yale University, May 2023 (via Zoom).

  • "Fake Eyewitnessing and Predictive Reporting in Nineteenth-Century Visual News." Invited Lecture and Intensive Graduate Studies Seminar, Doctoral Research Training Group "Small Forms," Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, May 2022.

  • "Sketched with an 'Oracular Pencil:' The Manipulation of Time in the Nineteenth-Century Press." Invited Lecture, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, March 2022.

  • "Schneller, als die Zeit erlaubt – Praktiken des predictive journalism im späten 19. Jahrhundert." Invited Lecture, Institut für Germanistik, Vergleichende Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany, February 2022 (via Zoom).

  • "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.

Works In Progress

  • Second Book Project: Formative Fakes: Manipulation and the Origins of Modern Journalism, 1842–1900.

  • Predictive Reporting and the Manipulation of Time in Nineteenth-Century Visual News [chapter-length article related to second book].

  • Taking Stock: Media Inventories in the German Nineteenth Century. Co-edited volume (with Sean Franzel and Ilinca Iurascu), under contract with De Gruyter, Series "Cultures and Practices of Knowledge in History," scheduled for 2024.

  • "Das Repertorium C. May als Verfahren und Phantasma der Vielschreiberei." Kolportage – Pulp – Moderne. Eds. David Brehm and Katharina Scheerer. Freiburg i. Br.: Rombach, scheduled for 2024.

Selected Works & Activities

  • Public conversation (via Zoom) with Austrian writer Clemens Setz about fake literary codes for the virtual exhibition #LiteraturBewegt: Punkt, Punkt, Komma, Strich, curated by Vera Hildenbrandt and Heike Gfrereis, Literaturmuseum der Moderne, Marbach, Germany, April 2022.

  • "Media Inventories of the German Nineteenth Century," public humanities panel talk (via Zoom) with Ilinca Iurascu and Sean Franzel, Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada, 19 November 2021.

  • 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

Winner of the fourteenth Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, awarded for The Fontane Workshop, Modern Language Association, December 2020.

David Bloom and Leslie Chao Fellowship, Dartmouth College, 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.