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GERMAN 716: Cultural Foundations in German Studies

Course Objectives

This seminar, a required course for students in the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies, offers an intensive survey of literary, cultural and intellectual developments in German-speaking lands from 1200 to 1800. We will begin our investigation with a sampling of the major epics and poetry of the High Middle Ages. From there we will move into humanism and consider the invention of print and the popular literary forms characteristic of Reformation culture in the German lands. Venturing on into the 17th century, we will consider the revival of German poetry and the popularity of the picaresque novel in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. The final section of the course will be dedicated to the drama, poetry, aesthetic writings and narrative fiction of the so-called Age of Goethe.

Over the course of the semester, we will cultivate an understanding of literary history as a cultural formation that changes over time by paying particular attention to: 1) the role that shifts in media (orality and literacy, visual studies, print) played in constructing different concepts of literature; 2) conflicting models of what is German that have historically shaped the study of the diverse set of texts we are considering; and 3) the categories of gender, religion and secularization as critical indicators of social and cultural paradigm shifts.

This course is designed as a reading-intensive seminar. In addition to completing the readings and participating actively in seminar discussions, students will be expected to take a midterm and final exam and to give several oral presentations. No papers will be required. After successfully completing this course, students can expect to have acquired an overview of the canonical texts, authors, and epochs of German literature from the beginnings to ca. 1800; an active understanding of the cultural and aesthetic categories through which a literary heritage is created and maintained, and the ways in which literary history came into being and has changed over time; and a deep knowledge of the modern tools of scholarly inquiry (editions, translations, dictionaries, and so on) in both print and electronic versions that are fundamental to the field of German literary studies.

Course Requirements

Reading:  In addition to keeping up with the course’s rigorous reading schedule, students are expected to familiarize themselves with standard literary histories and with basic research tools.  Simply completing the readings and coming to class will not be enough to give students adequate coverage of the material

Papers:  The class is a reading course and requires no papers.

Exams:  In-class midterm (October 8) and three-hour comprehensive examination (Friday, December 10, 4-7 PM), consisting of identifications, essays and the like.

Discussion questions:  For each session, a group of two students will be responsible for composing three to five general discussion questions based on the primary text for that day, and for leading 10 minutes of discussion based on those questions. Discussion questions are intended to provoke analysis and debate by raising issues in an open-ended and fair-minded fashion. They include philological and interpretive as well as theoretical and literary-historical questions. Questions that seek to relate texts to previous texts we have read around the course themes may prove particularly helpful. Please note: you don't have to know the answer to the question to ask it!  Discussion questions should be posted to the class blackboard site after they are discussed in class so that all students have a record of these guiding questions. 

Literary History presentations:  For each text we discuss, a student will be responsible for giving a brief report (5 minutes) presenting basic facts and tracing how the text it has been discussed and canonized in histories of German literature from the 1830s to the present.  You are encouraged to create a simple 1-page handout and bring this to class.  Please consult the list of literary histories on the on-line Library Resource Guide (line below). Students must also distribute a write-up of the report  (edited as needed) to the class within one week of giving the presentation. 

Library guide contributions: The Western European Studies Librarian at Perkins Library (Duke University) has created an on-line resource guide to German Studies as a research aid on  Literary History. Working collectively, students and faculty will use the knowledge gained in this course to improve the usefulness of this guide by editing it and creating brief, pithy, descriptive annotations. A Google document has been created with the resource guide’s list of literary histories and reference works (tab heading five of the guide.) Students are required to update and annotate two entries. This means checking the accuracy of information, correcting errors, adding publication information as needed, and writing a pithy, descriptive, brief summary of the resource.