German Summer Research Circle

19 September 2022
By Kiley Kost, Assistant Professor of German; Seth Peabody, Assistant Professor of German; Juliane Schicker, Assistant Professor of German

This past summer, the German faculty applied for a summer research circle from the LTC and the Humanities Center to support each other in projects related to 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. 

Syllabus Workshop

Seth: This fall I am teaching a new A&I seminar about the idea of “home” that includes an Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) project. The course is writing-rich, includes various elements to support students as they develop new academic skills and become aware of resources that can support them at Carleton, and involves various activities through the ACE project that engage with the broader community in Northfield. Juliane and Kiley helped me to understand how the course might appear to first-year students: it might feel like there is too much going on, and could be seen as overwhelming. In fact, my goal in designing the course this way is to show lots of different ways students can find support and engage with multiple communities in order to thrive at Carleton–so the conversation with Juliane and Kiley proved very helpful in thinking about how to clearly communicate about expectations, supports, and scaffolding that the course includes in order to make sure that students can succeed. Having their outside eyes on my syllabus–as well as their expertise on course planning and assignment design–was hugely helpful in gaining this awareness of how my course will look to students who haven’t spent all summer thinking about it!

Kiley: I was eager to get feedback on the syllabus for the course I am teaching on the OCS program in Berlin this fall called German in Motion: Migration, Place, and Displacement. One major challenge in planning this course that I didn’t anticipate was how to fit together the different texts we were reading with the various museum visits, excursions, guest lectures, theater performances, and other activities in Berlin. I had already booked many of these activities and felt like I was trying to cram texts into a pre-supposed order that was difficult to access. Juliane and Seth clearly picked up on the muddled trajectory of the class; its somewhat chronological order seemed to suggest a narrative about migration that could have contradicted the main thesis of the course! My brilliant colleagues suggested reorganizing the course around different stations and places rather than the previous structure. This cleared an immense roadblock I was having in planning the course and I am so grateful for their input. They also helped me think through some assignment designs, which is especially tricky in this course because I have students who have only had one year of German taking the 200-level version of the course and students who will take the class at the 300-level. Now I can’t wait for the first day of class in Berlin!

Juliane: For the syllabus part of this summer research circle, I hoped to get insights from Seth and Kiley on two courses I will teach again in the near future, GERM 320, an advanced course in German about life under socialism that I had only taught online during the first year of the pandemic, and GERM 221, a course in translation about life in Vienna around 1900 that centers around representations of women. I had reworked this class from its first iteration with a focus on inclusion, diversity, and equity. My colleagues found it helpful how I contextualized each text on the syllabi and gave reasons for why I assigned them for a certain topic. Both reinforced that I should always think about scaffolding, not only in the assignment structure but also in giving examples and providing guidance for skill acquisition. They suggested improvements to the assignment structure that can clarify some questions students may have during the writing process and that make the tasks clearer. When it came to the reading list, I particularly grappled with the question of connecting readings from a different era (East Germany, Vienna of 1900) with contemporary texts. Seth and Kiley gave me helpful suggestions about how to keep the comparative approach while also supporting the students’ solid knowledge acquisition in both timeframes. One of these suggestions – the approach to offer sessions based on themes rather than on chronological time frame – helps me to think deeper into my class material and develop classes that can aid students in connecting their class material much more effectively with their own lives. In general, I found it to be incredibly helpful to discuss my syllabi with my colleagues because designing classes can often be a lonely task where I am unsure whether I am addressing my students’ needs and interests as well as my pedagogical goals and aspirations adequately. 

Research Projects

Kiley: My plan for the Humanities Circle this summer was to revisit and reinvigorate a project that had been dormant since last summer. Having the opportunity to discuss the work-in-progress with my two colleagues helped me to focus on expanding the piece greatly from the previous draft in the weeks leading up to the session. In the paper, I analyze a German novel from 2017 that tells multiple stories of people who all live in the same apartment building, focusing on the multispecies interactions between people, plants, and animals that play out in each apartment. I originally wrote a version of the paper for a conference panel on plants in literature, but Juliane and Seth’s feedback helped me see that my approach to the analysis was too narrowly focused on the plants for this expanded project and that there were other major themes that would be more fruitful for analysis. With their help, I have been able to reconceptualize the project and will submit the article for a special issue of a journal in German studies. Sharing my work at an early stage and discussing different approaches to research and writing with colleagues is incredibly helpful.

Seth: For the session in which we discussed my summer research, I decided to focus on an article I have been preparing about two documentary films, Chasing Ice (2012) and Free Solo (2017), in relation to ideas from digital film theory and environmental humanities scholarship. I had been planning the article for over a year as part of a collected volume of essays about Global Mountain Cinema, but until this summer it was never my top priority. When I finally wrote the article this summer, I was able to plan a discussion with Juliane and Kiley two weeks before the deadline, which gave me a strong incentive to have a complete draft ready with some time remaining for editing. The draft we discussed was very rough, but it was enough to help me hear from Juliane and Kiley about what aspects were working, what seemed to need more work, and what seemed to be too far afield and should be deleted. Specifically, it became clear that I was spending too much time discussing secondary literature and theoretical background. The parts that Juliane and Kiley both found most effective were the close readings of specific film sequences that use digital techniques to create remarkable portrayals of seemingly natural environments. Beyond trimming away excess background discussion so that these passages are more in focus, the input from Juliane and Kiley helped me to refocus on the central argument that seemed to lie at the core of my paper, which (as is often the case) was not the same argument I had thought I was making when I had begun writing the paper. In short, the collaborative writing process provided an initial benefit of forcing me to complete a first draft in order to meet our (self-imposed) deadline, and then proved enormously beneficial at figuring out exactly what I was trying to say, and how I could be more effective at saying it. 

Juliane: The research-focused sessions had a dual purpose for me: on the one hand, I was eager to hear how my colleagues approached their research activity so I could gain insights into best practices of other scholars. After publishing four articles in the last two years, I had run into a writing block that made it very hard for me to find it rewarding to work with the material I had in front of me. On the other hand, I needed concrete feedback on my current research agenda to prepare a grant proposal for an upcoming sabbatical. In this context, I sought my colleagues’ guidance to connect my activism better with my writing. While listening to Kiley and Seth talk about their research, I appreciated their insights into how they moved from the idea to the project state. I learned about resources that had not yet been familiar to me, such as certain institutions that could support someone in their writing journey. During the session dedicated to my work, I presented Seth and Kiley with my research questions about working mothers and their children in the German Democratic Republic and contextualized these ideas with my interest in contemporary motherhood. Then, they both helped me to hone in on a theme that seemed to pervade my inquiry into the topic. Brainstorming out loud with my colleagues allowed me to put the many pieces into a coherent whole. Kiley and Seth pinpointed viable connections between my previous and current research agendas that I discussed and made suggestions for next steps. I immediately felt invigorated to return to my writing desk. While I came into the session considering multiple ways to approach my topic, Seth and Kiley’s questions and comments led me to a concrete approach that I then solidified while thinking through my grant proposal, which I will have submitted by the time this post is online.