Germanic Languages | German Cultural History
E322 | 16585 | Rasch

Topic: The Idea of Europe

In this course we will look at basic patterns of establishing national
identities within Europe and a common identity of Europe itself.  The
focus will be historical and will not deal with contemporary Europe
except by implication.
Using Spain and Germany as “case studies” of sorts, we will look at
the type of quasi-mythical history each constructed for itself based
on particular, if not peculiar, readings of the past.  Similarly,
using the Crusades, the 16th-century discovery / settlement /
occupation / conquest (take your pick) of America, and philosophical
texts from the 17th and 18th centuries, we will look at historical
attempts to imagine the unity of Europe in contrast to the
non-European world.  One operating presupposition will be that
collective political and cultural identities are fashioned in terms of
what and who they are not.  In other words, we will examine in what
way “selves” are determine by the idea of their “others,” or “friends”
by their “enemies.”

We will read primary texts (in translation), such as El Cid and
Tacitus’s Germania, receptions of those texts that seem to be guided
by identifiable political/ideological interests, and contemporary
critical readings of those receptions (that themselves may have
identifiable axes to grind).  In other words, the course will be an
exercise in reading literary and scholarly texts critically in an
attempt to assess and not merely absorb what one learns.  Students
will be encouraged to evaluate whatever axes are being ground in the
classroom as well.

So, in short: The purpose of the class is at least twofold: 1) to make
ourselves aware of possible recurrent patterns in European history
that may give us a historically and theoretically rich background
understanding of contemporary Europe’s attempt to form, as the saying
goes, “a more perfect union,” and 2) to develop tools that one can use
to examine assumptions found in the literature we read and even, with
luck, in ourselves.
Active classroom discussion and regular short writing assignments will
be the basis of evaluation.  Come prepared to think and talk.