Summer Research Circle in German

2 October 2023

This past summer, German professors Kiley Kost, Seth Peabody, and Juliane Schicker together with History professor David Tompkins received a Humanities Center summer research circle grant to support each other in projects related to both teaching and research (and the connections between them). In this post, we share the specific gains made on individual projects and the broader benefits we found in the collaborative process. Thank you to Carleton’s Humanities Center for their support!


I am thrilled to debut a new OCS program “German Studies in Vienna” in Spring 2024, and part of my enthusiasm stems from the many cultural opportunities in the Austrian capital city. Vienna is home to incredible orchestras, multiple opera houses, renowned theaters, numerous museums, and so much more. In my director’s course “Contemporary Austrian Literature and Cultural Production,” I look forward to visiting these cultural institutions and having students encounter a wide range of artistic expression. But planning a director’s course for an OCS program is a uniquely challenging task. How can faculty members combine Carleton-style instruction on complex topics with the ever-changing nature of on-site events and guest speakers? In my director’s course for the OCS program in Berlin “German in Motion: Migration, Place, and Displacement,” students examined migration and exile in different historical contexts and through various media. We read short stories, travelogues, poems, plays, novels, and scholarly texts about migration and we were then able to connect the texts with theater productions, films, museums, and local organizations and people in Berlin. A major highlight of the course in Berlin was reading Fatma Aydemir’s newest novel Dschinns and then having her join our class for a discussion. 

One hurdle I encountered in planning the course, though, was that the topics and texts we covered in class were somewhat bound by the availability of local partners and event schedules. This makes it challenging to have a straightforward structure to the class (my colleagues helped me rethink the structure of this class in our Humanities Center research circle last summer). I encountered the same difficulties while planning my director’s course in Vienna with the added complication that many of the theater and music showtimes aren’t scheduled so far in advance. I approached our research circle with a list of questions: How can I best organize the course and readings given the constraints of theater schedules and other activities? And how might I best balance contemporary works and production with important cultural figures and events of the past? Through our very helpful discussion, my colleagues helped me to zoom in on a critical part of the course: contemporariness. I am now structuring the course around the critical question of what makes a certain work or production contemporary or of contemporary interest. While I’m still waiting on the schedules of the theaters and other venues that we’ll visit, I am eager to investigate contemporary cultural production in Vienna with students this spring!


As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to gather with my colleagues and benefited greatly from their input. My text under discussion was a proposal–actually two proposals–for a new research project that I am planning for my upcoming sabbatical during the 2024-25 academic year. My goal was to decide which proposal to pursue (or how to combine them if possible) and how to make the final plan coherent and compelling. I had one rather narrowly defined project that builds on my prior work on German mountain films, but rather than focusing on traditional directors and actors around whom Bergfilm scholarship has centered (e.g., Leni Riefenstahl, who started as a mountain film actress and director, and then directed some of the most notorious Nazi propaganda films), I would focus on a star skier, Hannes Schneider, who was prominent in early German mountain films, then was persecuted by the Nazis and fled to the US, where he led a successful ski school in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. By plugging this reconsideration of the Bergfilm into a transnational history of skiing and Alpine tourism development, the project would offer new insights into a cinematic, cultural, and environmental history of mountain landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic.

The second possible proposal focused on more explicitly environmentalist initiatives and included several locations. One case study would focus on a rural area south of Salzburg, Austria, where subsidies from the European Union and income from international tourism are used to preserve hyper-local agricultural landscapes in an area that would otherwise be fully dominated by the ski industry. The complex mix of scales (local environments and human agents, state-level governance structures, EU funding, and global tourism) offer new insights into the development of Alpine environmental history. My other case studies would consider similar issues in relation to sustainable energy and waste management in the city of Wörgl, Austria; and would consider shifting discourses related to hydroelectric power and landscape preservation regarding the Isar River in Munich, Germany. This second project would comprise a major departure from my prior work, in that it would be focused more explicitly on environmental history, so I would either need to find specific cultural texts to analyze (perhaps films, advertising materials, or literature relating to each case study), or I would need to develop a foundation for historical narrative and argumentation to make sure my work would be compelling for historians as well as cultural studies scholars.

The research group was beneficial in three primary ways. First, my colleagues provided precise input regarding the texts I had written: what parts were already compelling, and what needed work. As is often the case in early drafts of my scholarly writing, the final paragraph was where each proposal finally became focused and compelling, so they encouraged me to put that portion at the top, and then re-develop my proposal from there. Second, they reminded me to be more explicit about my own position in the work: my experience and background, my skills and interests, the specific things I would still need to learn. Why is this project important, and why am I the person who should be funded in order to carry it out? Finally, perhaps most importantly, the group helped identify the unifying interests that connected both projects, with their shared focus on cultural processes related to environmental changes that cut from the local to the global scale. The summer research group came at an important moment for me–my first book is about to be published; next year, I will have the first sabbatical of my career. In a job where so much of our effort is focused on getting through the immediate task at hand, the conversations this summer helped me turn to the question of what questions will keep me engaged for the next five years or more.


For some of my scholarly activities, I reflect on my work inside the classroom. I published, for example, on approaches to teaching writing and grammar in upper-level German classes in 2018 and, together with my colleagues Kiley and Seth, wrote about building a critical German Program at Carleton in 2023. Both articles were published in the leading pedagogical journal of our field, Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German

During this summer’s Humanities Center research circle, I shared with my colleagues an article manuscript in progress that derived from my work in the GERM 150 classroom, “German Music and Culture.” I had already offered preliminary thoughts in 2021 in one of our German Blog posts about the ways I approach teaching German-speaking cultures while pursuing the goal of diversifying and decolonizing the German curriculum at Carleton. I presented a longer version of this post as a conference talk at ACTFL in 2022 – The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The article I am now writing derives from both the blog post and the presentation. It expands my thinking on IDE work (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, as it is called at Carleton) in the German classroom and also includes the course genre of GERM 150, that of a so-called “survey course.” Over the centuries, such survey courses have been a persistent and contested genre in various subjects on college campuses, but it seems especially in world language programs. In their design, surveys are rapid, cursory, and broad. They serve as an introduction or overview to different cultural periods, their characteristic forms and features. My article follows the thread of rethinking the survey course with a focus on diversifying and decolonizing the curriculum as well as reaching students in the current academic climate, through the specific lens of music as medium. I share concrete steps for approaching course diversification while also reflecting on the complexities and influence of various stakeholders. My article emphasizes the importance of developing the students’ voices, of acknowledging privilege, of challenging traditional approaches to teaching, and of avoiding tokenization of minoritized voices. I discuss the general pedagogy, the materials, assignment structure, and syllabi language of the GERM 150 course that aim to rethink a white, male, heteronormative approach to teaching German-speaking cultures while normalizing the inclusion of artistic expressions and experiences of female identifying people, People of Color, and those who identify as part of the LGBTQAI+ community. In addition, I also include my personal journey and ongoing growth in this context, demonstrating the integration of the personal and professional realms in teaching.

The opportunity to share this work in progress with my colleagues was invaluable. Just like my students workshop their papers and projects with their peers for classes I teach, I was able to workshop my work and receive supportive, critical feedback that allowed me to edit the manuscript in a way that it will be clearer, more focused, and persuasive. The article is now in its final stages and will soon be sent out to review!


I was delighted to have the opportunity to hang out with my German colleagues… something I always want to do more of, and hope will be the case in the future! It was fun and rewarding to engage with their work.

And I very much appreciated the feedback on an article “The ‘Yugoslav Bomb’ and the Construction of Socialism in East Germany and Poland,” which was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cold War Studies. I had just incorporated the comments from two anonymous outside readers, and wanted some fresh eyes to let me know if the article had come together reasonably well. After the excellent feedback from Kiley, Seth, and Juliane this summer, I continued revisions and recently sent off the final version.

It’s part of a larger project on socialist internationalism and images of the Other in Cold War Central Europe. Using my usual case studies of East Germany and Poland, I have been looking at the connections and interactions with countries like China, Yugoslavia, and Israel to try to understand how Poles and East Germans saw themselves and their societies in the context of the Cold War. I hope I might have some more writing to share with my Germanist colleagues in the future!