Germanic Languages | An Introduction to German Culture
E121 | 13330 | Sponsler


What is Germany? What does it mean to be German today? What has it
meant to be German during the two thousand years of German history? Of
course, the sort of answers you give these questions depends largely
on where you are standing. But whatever the answer, the content comes
from a vast and amorphous body of shared knowledge and experience
called “culture.” This body “incorporates” the so-called high culture
(philosophy, classical music, Belles-lettres, etc.), the so-called low
culture (pop-literature and -music, film, newspapers, etc.), and
everything in between.

Scholars and students often read the history of German culture(s)
using agreed-upon ciphers meant to organize diverse cultural
artifacts. For example, some read Germany’s history as a tale of
unifications, of becoming a people (through figures and events such as
Hermann der Cherusker, Charles the Great, Bismarck, the Unification of
Germany of 1871 and the Reunification of 1990); while others use the
Sonderweg (roughly “distinct path”) thesis to read all signposts as
pointing to Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and the dissolution of the
German nation and identity. In this course, we will examine such
ciphers as meaningful and productive not in isolation, but when read
together and in tension with each other.

How is such an endeavor relevant to students at an American
University? Engagement with German culture can benefit the student on
personal and broader social levels. The idea that you come to know
your own culture better through learning about another is particularly
true of German Culture. Few philosophical traditions have engaged the
question of identity the way the German tradition has. This engagement
can provide American university students with a model for engaging the
question of their own identity (and that of their neighbors). Linked
to this, on the social level, a citizen in an increasingly global
society has the duty to develop an understanding of the other players
on the scene. If the Germans are still in the process of producing a
new identity (which will be a puzzle piece in the global picture), and
in so doing are examining (and often rewriting) their past, then it
can only help the outcome if other non-Germans are in the position to
admire and critique the results.

Required book:

Schulze, Hagen. Germany: A New History. Trans. Deborah Lucas
Schneider. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.