Monday, November 16, 2020, 3:30-5:00pm (Pacific)
Event Moderators: Emily Frazier-Rath, Gizem Arslan, Derek Price, Andrea Bryant.
Event Organizers and Notetakers: Patrick Ploschnitzki, Rosemarie Peña, David Gramling, Ervin Malakaj, Beverly Weber, Maria Stehle, Hannah Eldridge.
Contents of this Document
Context, Attendance, Protocol, Purpose, and Next Steps
Paradigm Problems & Conditions We Face Now
General Commitments and Principles shared among attendees
Scholarly Activism: The Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA) and Black German Studies in the United States
By Rosemarie Peña (Black German Heritage and Research Association)
The following is a shortened version of the keynote address Rosemarie Peña delivered November 5, 2020, for the annual Women in German Studies in the UK and Ireland Conference.
My interest in transnational adoption and child migration is inspired by my life experience as a German born, transnational adoptee. It is informed by my early career in adolescent mental health treatment and my service as founding member and president of the Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA). I am also honored to serve on the steering committee of Diversity, Decolonialization, and the German Curriculum (DDGC) scholarly collective, and as co-chair of the Executive Committee of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC). As noted on its website, "ASAC promotes understanding of the experience, institution, and cultural representation of domestic and transnational adoption and related practices such as fostering, assisted reproduction, LGBTQ+ families, and innovative kinship formation."
My research focuses on the epigenetic and intergenerational impacts of maternal separation trauma and the complex identity development of persons displaced as children away from their first families and countries of origin. Both my MA thesis and doctoral dissertation are analyses of visual representations of transnational adoption. I approach the multidisciplinary fields in which my work is rooted—Childhood Studies, Adoption Studies, and German Studies—from a social justice perspective. My training in computer networks and web development have proven to be an invaluable asset not only for online community development, but also for my research. I have been an administrator and participant observer in countless adoption-related bulletin boards and virtual forums long before Facebook. Family search resources and genealogy databases preceded the graphical interfaces of the operating systems that are on our computers today. We adoptees have been searching for our first families and origin stories for a very, very long time. In the process, we’ve come to know each other.
Many adoptees reacted viscerally when they learned about the children who were separated from their mothers at the US border. We mourn with the more than five hundred whom we anticipate may never be reunited with their families—at least not during their childhoods. The intensity of the trauma these children are experiencing is irrefutable, and adoptees understand well that no matter the outcome, their lives are forever changed. There will always be a life as it was before and now after separation. It is likely that these Black and Brown children will be funneled through a colorblind adoption process and they will grow up in white families. Adoption is an industry and transnational adoption is lucrative and highly political. The public will certainly demonize the Black and Brown parents and the white adopters will be heralded as saviors. When/if this happens, the children will grow up without racial and cultural mirrors. They will forget their mothers’ faces and voices over time. BUT—their bodies will always remember. When they have lost all cognitive memory of the traumatic separation event, and many will, their limbic systems will never forget.
If adopted, the children will become privileged migrants. They will be naturalized as American citizens and variably assimilate into their adopted families and communities. They will grow up with a rescue narrative rather than their mothers’ recollections of their births and early childhoods. They will learn to be grateful for their adoptive parents and the advantages afforded to them that would not have been possible had they had remained with their genetic kin. The children will adapt differently, depending on how and where they are nurtured in their new families, and in accordance with many other factors including each child’s age, temperament, and emotional constitution. In the best-case scenarios, resilient children will develop healthy attachments within their adoptive families, positive senses of self, and the coping skills necessary to manage the immanent existential shift and their unfathomable grief. They will come to terms with their complex losses. In the worst-case scenarios, the children will develop disorganized attachments. They may suffer physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse in their new families—or, they may simply never feel like they fit in. While the children’s futures have been collectively altered at this moment in history, each child’s experience and response will be unique. Individual cases will inevitably fall somewhere in between the best and worst-case scenarios.
In adolescence, adoptees negotiate their identities differently than their non-adopted peers and many will wrestle with the cognitive dissonance that adoption effectuates and struggle to find their place in the world. Many will long to see themselves reflected in the faces of others who physically resemble them. Though, statistically, adoptees are four times more likely than non-adopted persons to attempt suicide, most fare well by external markers, meaning they will do well in school, go on to live productive lives, and enjoy satisfying social relationships. In adulthood, many will embark on their reunification journeys by searching first for their mothers. When and if they ever reunite with their first families, or return to their countries of origin, they will no longer feel at home there and neither will their children. So much they will have lost is irretrievable.
Though we might quibble about material and contextual distinctions, I argue strongly that the trauma that the children separated from their mothers at the border are enduring is analogous to the Black German or any other adoption context in many important ways. Adoption is not a one-time event, rather it is an ongoing phenomenon with ubiquitous and lifelong implications for the adopted person and their bifurcated family constellations. Today’s adoptees and their families have important advantages over the postwar generation. We understand adoption much better now and contemporary families have the benefit of educational, clinical, and social support services that were unavailable to us and our African American parents during the postwar years. Black German adoptees were early pioneers of transnational adoption and many ideas about what was in children’s best interest in the postwar era are now understood to be harmful. In this regard, the Black German adoptee cohort has been significantly disadvantaged and we are not alone.
Much of the existing literature about transnational adoption, generally, focuses on the Asian contexts, primarily Korean. Kori Graves and Lucy Bland are among if not the first to write about our Black generational peers from the UK and Korea. It is probable that Black Germans have half-siblings in Korea, since the African American GIs were sometimes transferred from Germany to Korea just because they had fathered children. Younger generations of Black adoptees who grew up in the US and Europe, who come from various Asian, Caribbean, and African countries, are also beginning to share their experiences. There are many similarities, especially with respect to how it feels to be Black and adopted with family and cultural roots in other countries.
Most transnational adoptees are social orphans. What this means is that the children had at least one living parent at the time of transfer and possibly siblings. The children were orphaned via juridical processes in the interim between relinquishment and adoption. I am the first to examine the psycho-social aspects of Black German adoption and transcultural reunification through the lens of adoption psychology. I echo Dr. Fatima el Tayeb’s sentiments, as she remarked in her keynote at the 2018 BGHRA Toronto conference that her work is primarily concerned with how it feels to be Black German. My standpoint, however, is that of a Black German American adoptee. So, keeping the postwar cohort’s concerns in mind, in the following I will share my thoughts on:
Why Black German Studies from an International Perspective is Important NOW
Black German Studies, as it emanates from the US, primarily focuses on the life experiences of Black people in Germany. Black German Americans benefit from this knowledge production, and even more so when the books are written by Black people in Germany and are translated into English. Nevertheless, I argue that the burgeoning discipline’s narrow scope is harmful as it perpetuates the myth that Black Germans are fewer in number in diaspora than we are, and it simultaneously erases those living outside of Germany from the discourse. The postwar war generation to which the adoptees belong, comprises not the first, but the largest cohort of dual-heritage children born in the wake of war to German women and Black men on German soil. Many grew up in adoptive families in Denmark, the US, and in the Caribbean. Many non-adopted Black Germans also grew up in the US after the War, and still others immigrated as adults. Black German American children are born every year and adoptees are reconnecting with their families all the time. The Black German diaspora is multicultural, and its members often lead transnational lives. There are Black Germans in the UK, for example, and Black persons with families and cultural roots in the UK who live in Germany. There are Black Germans living elsewhere in Europe, Canada, Africa, and in the Caribbean. We meet local community members at every BGHRA conference in the US, and we met Black Germans in Toronto.
Many people who are socially coded as Black and who are living in the US have recent ancestry and close relatives in Germany. We have no distinctive characteristics or physical attributes, so you may not even recognize those of us who are in your midst. In the US, we are multigenerational and have disparate family backgrounds and cultural roots. We also have children and grandchildren who have interest in their German heritage. Importantly, not all Black Germans living in the US are adopted; and not all of the adoptees were fathered by African American GIs. All Black German Lives Matter to the BGHRA and, for the adoptees, Black German Studies has a special meaning. The field documents a history we were never supposed to know—and one from which we have been effectively and deliberately erased. Yet, here we are, we’re still here. For more than two decades we are collectively in reunion with our first families and in discourse and actuality with Black Germans having a myriad of life experiences in many geographical contexts. The adoptive cohort emerged as a topic of scholarly interest concomitantly with and in response to the transnational community development initiated by Black Germans living in the US. A brief overview of my work thus far will be helpful to explicate further.
In my article published in the journal Genealogy I explain how before WIFI and Facebook William Gage’s archived newsletters offer early insight into the search and reunion activities of German born adoptees, Black and white. Leonie Boehmer, a search consultant and frequent contributor to Gage’s newsletter, warned Black Germans in advance that reunification would not be easy for them. The newsletter also featured stories by and about Black Germans who were adopted or fostered in Germany and who were searching for their fathers in the US.
Dr. Marion Kraft’s edited volume, Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration (2015), which was later translated into English as Children of the Liberation: Transatlantic Experiences and Perspectives of Black Germans of the Post-War Generation (2020), is the first and only transnational anthology devoted solely to the postwar generation. The life narratives coming from the US are few in Kraft’s text and these are neither exemplary nor representative of a collective experience. My chapter, “Stories Matter-Contextualizing Black German American Adoptee Experience(s),” contextualizes Black German adopted childhoods located in Civil Rights era and the Cold War years by contrasting the experiences of the adoptees who grew up on military campuses with those who grew up in civilian communities. My forthcoming essay, “Black Germans: Reunifying in Diaspora,” in Silke Hackenesch’s Making Families Across Race and Nation: The Histories and Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption, brings the discussion forward into the postwar generation’s present. My contribution to Hackenesch’s book chronicles the development of an international Black German counter-public over the past twenty years. It is noteworthy that this highly visible counter-public is virtually absent in the flourishing literary canon and is rarely mentioned in German Studies conferences outside of BGHRA. Non-adopted Black German Americans and those who were born in Germany and later migrated to the US are rendered invisible in the field. Nevertheless, many who teach Black German Studies or contribute to the literature have attended and/or presented at our BGHRA conferences. This is active erasure. The adoptive cohort and their generational peers are indeed living history and our reunification after more than half a century is worthy of acknowledgment.
My friend Maria’s story will help me to further illustrate the urgency with which I advocate for a more inclusive Black German Studies. Maria was born in Auerbach, Bayern, in 1948. Her mother died right after childbirth. Maria and her older brother Hermann were left in the care of their grandparents. Relatives convinced the elderly couple to relinquish Maria for transnational adoption. In 2012, I received an email from her cousin Brenda asking if I would help to locate Maria. Hermann missed his sister and wanted so badly to hear from her.
Brenda and I found Maria on her birthday, May 21, 2012, and it meant the world to her that her German brother was looking for her. She had no idea how to search, so she never tried. We became good friends and when Hermann wrote his first letter to Maria, in German, she asked me to help her translate. Maria’s failing health prevented her from attending our conferences, though she was anxious to meet and learn about other Black Germans. So, I sent her books and journal articles. When Hermann couldn’t wait any longer to see his younger sister, he sent her an airplane ticket. Maria had a bad heart and found navigating all the bureaucracy necessary to obtain a passport to be daunting, so she procrastinated. At the age of seventy-one, in June 2019, Maria passed away without ever meeting Hermann or her cousin Brenda. Brenda was the first to notify me of Maria’s death and according to her, Hermann was inconsolable. Though they had been legally dekinned for more than a half century, in Hermann’s heart Maria never stopped being his sister and Maria felt the same way about him. After she passed away, Maria’s granddaughter Tiffany called me to ask what I knew of Maria’s adoption journey. She is determined to write Maria’s biography, and Maria had already advised me that this was her wish before she died. Tiffany also wants to learn German and hopes to study abroad in graduate school someday. I promised I’d help Tiffany to the best of my ability. As Maria’s unrequited reunion and subsequent death explicitly reveals, time is of the essence; the postwar generation is aging. We and our children deserve to know and to be included in our German history during our lifetimes. We are eager to learn about our Black German siblings and the extended family and heritage we left behind.
Why Subjectivities and Positionalities Matter
Over the past two decades I have observed and facilitated many family reunions and have worked tirelessly to engage and reunify the Black diaspora that was ruptured in the postwar years by German racism via the juridical processes of transnational adoption. While the BGHRA encourages the ethical study of Black German life, history, and cultural production, we unequivocally privilege Black German voices as experts of our own life experiences. It matters significantly to us who is conveying our stories, and how we, our families, and our ancestors are being portrayed in them. In German studies, as it is also the case in adoption studies, tensions arise because too often those who shape the academic discourses that have the potential to influence public opinion are not the subjects themselves. In this regard, my work and the work of many other Black German scholars is necessarily political.
It is imperative to note here that three generations of dual-heritage Black German children were already the subjects of twentieth century state-sanctioned research projects that defined us as aberrant beings who are innately inferior to white Germans. The social anthropologists concluded that by virtue of our so-called tainted blood, we are genetically predisposed to mental illness, promiscuity, and criminality. We were depicted as a threat to German society and to ourselves. These ideas contributed to the German mindset that led to the sterilization of many after WWI, and later precipitated our adoptions. It makes perfect sense, then, that Black Germans are deeply concerned about the interpretations of our lives put forth by non-Black German scholars, journalists, and filmmakers—even those who may look like us but are not us. Too often, these well-intentioned efforts don’t correspond to what we are interested in learning about one another and only serve to rub salt into festering wounds and reify old stereotypes and stigma. In the end we are left questioning, “what’s really in all this for us?”
One of the primary reasons I pursued my doctorate was that without a PhD, I knew I would only be research subject. I would never be taken seriously as an expert within the academy. The best I could ever do would be to publish my memoir. But, if I had published what I wrote in the early 2000s, I would surely be ashamed and embarrassed today. If you’ve googled me before attending this talk, at least half of what you think you know about me is false. Much of my story challenges the existing narrative of Black German Adoption, and I reiterate with emphasis that each of our origin, adoption, and reunification stories is unique. There is no collective Black German adoption experience.
Adoptees are often emotionally vulnerable, especially when they are searching. Our knowledge about our early lives in Germany and our feelings about our adoptions are subject to change over time. I have considerable regret, for example, about sharing so much of my personal life publicly, and I am thankful that my families are as supportive as they are. Videos and interviews in which I have participated were sometimes edited in ways that distorted what I intended to convey, what I would really want the world to know—or want my grandchildren and nieces and nephews to read someday. But not everyone is able to earn a doctorate, nor has the time and inclination to write their memoirs. Yet many of us do want to share our stories and to hear those of our peers. This presents an ethical dilemma; one that prevents me from taking on an ethnographic project and also why I no longer speak to the press about my personal life. I ignore requests from anyone who writes to the BGHRA asking for referrals to subjects for their projects, because I firmly believe that my fellow adoptees should own their own stories and that we shouldn’t be collectivized.
Too often adoptees’ experiences are sensationalized for public consumption and only the most heart wrenching stories make the news. We call this adoption porn and the narratives often follow the typical orphan tropes. For example, reunion stories often have either a storybook ending or a tragic one. Family reunification is far more complicated than it is generally portrayed in journalism and media. Once a reporter from the Military Times asked me to help her find four or five interviewees from the postwar generation and I complied. I referred her to both adoptees and non-adoptees, who were delighted to share their positive life experiences. Maria was one of them and, at the time, she was in the honeymoon phase of her reunification. She had just received several albums with dozens of photos of her German family and was anticipating her trip to Germany to visit Hermann. The Military Times article was never published, and the journalist never responded to my requests for a status update after the interviews were completed. I’m sure the responses conflicted with the narrative she had in mind. You can’t begin to fathom the number of offensive requests I’ve received from journalists and scholars over the years, who clearly hadn’t read anything I’d written or much else authored by Black Germans, for that matter. In these requests the writers often refer to the adoptees in derogatory ways and their project proposals, in my estimation, would be more harmful than beneficial to Black Germans and our families. Some of the questions that come through our email simply make no sense at all. For example, I was recently contacted through the BGHRA website by a high school German teacher who wanted to feature Black Germans during their classroom celebration for German Unity Day. They thought it appropriate to ask me what Black Germans eat so they could prepare an authentic meal. Obviously, this person has not yet received a response.
As an accidental gatekeeper, and as an adoption scholar, I prefer to err on the side of over-protection when it comes to our adoptive cohort. My concern is not only for the adoptee, but also for the wellbeing of our cohort and international community. Many of us are family after all. My role models have always been the Black scholars and activists from Germany who precede me, not necessarily in age, but in their scholarly activism. When I was contemplating my dissertation proposal, for example, I mentioned to my friend Noah Sow that I was curious about Black German children’s identity development and was planning to apply for funding to do research in Hamburg. Noah asked me if I planned to move to Hamburg and work with the children, and if not, if I could explain to her exactly how the children in Hamburg would benefit from my study. From then on, my research interest has been pointedly focused on adoptees and Black Germans in the US, my own community within our diaspora.
The BGHRA Vision and Restorative Justice
The BGHRA conferences, therefore, intentionally create a space for multilayered conversations among Black Germans and with the scholars whose academic careers are built around analyzing our collective, individual, and often intimate life experiences. Since described as a watershed event, the inaugural BGHRA conference was attended by many who had been virtually acquainted for over decade on the various social networks. As reflected in the conference theme, “Strengthening Transatlantic Connections,” the event symbolically celebrated the rekinning of Black Germans in diaspora. Scholars Priscilla Layne and S. Marina Jones authored the conference report commemorating the auspicious occasion. The report, photographs, and videos of the keynote and presentations are since archived on the BGHRA website.
On the first morning of the three-day event, a delegation of Black Germans representing the US, Germany, Nigeria, and South Africa met with representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus. The multicultural delegation of persons having diverse relationships to Germany was invited to Capitol Hill by Congressman Alcee Hastings of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Policy Advisor Dr. Mischa Thompson facilitated a conversation about earlier interventions into anti-Black racism in Germany. I spoke to the group about the obstacles confronting those seeking original birth and adoption records. Adoptees were hoping for a centralized mechanism for finding families that would mediate for language, economic, and bureaucratic barriers. Though fully aware that this was not the appropriate forum through which we could realistically expect any direct intervention, I noted then that many adoptees had also expressed a desire for an unfettered path to dual citizenship—US and German—without any complicated legal procedures or economic penalties. We were determined to be acknowledged and wanted Germany to apologize, though I doubted that any of us actually planned on uprooting away from our families in the US and moving back to Germany. These first moments on Capitol Hill defined the political ethos within which the diaspora community officially made a unified public debut. Black German scholarship and activism emanating from Germany in the 1980s indeed paved the way for the adoptees’ voices to be included for the first time in such an important forum. The conversation among the delegates and officials affirmed that the social justice concerns of the Black community in Germany and those of the transnational adoptees are inextricably intertwined.
Predictably, my friend Noah Sow, who also happens to be a well-known activist and author, was our first keynote speaker. The title of her talk was Geteilte Geschichte. She explained to the adoptees in the audience that it is our shared history, which also divided us. Sow explained how the mass deportation of Black German children in the 1950s and 1960s contributed to the isolation of our siblings and peers who were challenged in the aftermath with negotiating a collective identity in a hostile white German society. She said:
You were expelled from your own country because Germans cannot be Black, and you just happened to be: Black Germans. Step by step, we are coming to understand that there is a reason, a link to why our older generations in Germany grew up isolated, alienated from other Black people—with the same pain and the key question that could not and cannot be safely enunciated, ‘You all do not identify with me. Where can I find somebody who does? And whom I can identify with?’ We are coming to understand why this has been so. Why most of the Black German kids in the 1970s and 1980s didn't have anybody to turn to. Because they had taken you away. You would have been our sisters, our mothers, our aunts. Our teachers, our deans, our doctors, our librarians, our social workers, our judges, our pilots, our nurses, our neighbors. We've been missing you a great deal.
Many of us still wonder what Germany would be like today had we not been sent away—if family preservation was prioritized and Germany could have imagined itself as a multicultural nation after the War.
Our most recent conference planned for April 2020 at my home institution, Rutgers University–Camden, was postponed due to the pandemic, but we hope to convene in person when it is safe to travel. It is essential for us to be together in person. Locally, many of our fathers retired from the military at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base and purchased their homes in the surrounding area in Southern New Jersey. We were so looking forward to introducing our local community to our friends who always travel to be with us. Several of us adoptees attended high school here in New Jersey together, but the secrecy and shame surrounding our adoptions prevented us from sharing our stories when we were teenagers, when we were grappling with our identities. Today we are happily sharing our reunion experiences. I hope they will be present with their newly found siblings so they will be able to share their stories with us and learn more about our history and cultural production when we are again able to convene.
Our plan is also to honor Retired Sgt. 1st Class James Thompson, the 24th Infantry Regiment Association National President, Buffalo Soldiers, and his wife Maria Thompson. This week the couple are celebrating their sixty-fourth anniversary. Mr. Thompson has devoted his professional career to protecting and serving the people of the United States. A proud Buffalo Soldier, he has earned many honors including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his 21 years of military service. The Thompsons and my daughter’s godparents, Mr. and Mrs. Milton and Charlotte Johnson, were featured in Dag Freyer’s Documentary, Breath of Freedom, upon my introduction. These two met in Absam, Tyrol, Austria after the War, where Charlotte was born and raised. Sadly, Oma, as we affectionately call her, passed away shortly after the filming, and Opa is in poor health now, so it is doubtful that he will ever be able to attend our conference. However, we are also inviting Cathy Thompson to share her testimony about growing up Black German and the experience of participating with her family in Freyer’s film. We now look forward to honoring her for her service on the front lines as a nurse during Covid-19. As a dedicated public servant, she is following her father’s footsteps. In one segment in the documentary, the two families, the Thompsons and the Johnsons, appear together around the pool in Thompson’s back yard. Cathy and Patricia, the Johnson’s daughter, are present in the documentary but are never actually interviewed. They are only part of the mise-en-scène: clearly visible but ignored, like so many of us in German Studies. The BGHRA wants to change this.
We, who are institutionally based in the US, are fully aware that we are privileged to do this work in ways that our brothers and sisters in Germany are not and that Black German Studies in the US is yet problematic. The flourishing field is dominated by voices not our own that speak for us and about us. They decide which stories matter and which aspects of our lives are worthy of exploration. Our invisibility suggests that location, and the juridical processes of transnational adoption and migration have magically stripped away our Black German identities. Reclaiming our first families and our erased German heritage is just one of the ways in which US adoptees are now demanding restorative justice. There is much more to come—stay tuned. It is not we who are confused about our identities; it is they who are in denial, who refuse to acknowledge us for who we are, in all our cultural and experiential diversity.
If you followed the German Studies conference season this year, in the US and the UK, which was mostly virtual, you might have noticed that there were several events about Black Germans and Black Germany in the time of Black Lives Matter. Many academic organizations in the US posted statements in support of Black Lives on websites. The BGHRA did not. We exist because Black Lives Matter, so for us it is implicit in our founding. We felt it more appropriate to hold weekly meetings to support Black Scholars in German Studies, whom we were concerned may be struggling after the heinous murder of George Floyd. We plan to reconvene these meetings soon. If you attended these German conferences, you might have also wondered why Black German scholars are so in the minority at these events. My response would be to ask if German Studies is or has ever been a safe intellectual space for us to thrive? We at the BGHRA hope one that day it will be, and that our young people, our children and grandchildren will feel like they belong in your classrooms—wherever you teach. We hope they will soon be learning about our Geteilte Geschichte, our shared and divided history. In closing, however, I implore those of you who do not identify as Black Germans and who are already publishing and teaching about us to thoughtfully consider whether your work is complementing or complicating our reunification in diaspora.
Bland, Lucy. Britain’s “Brown Babies”: The Stories of Children Born to Black GIs and White Women in the Second World War. Manchester University Press, 2019.
Campt, Tina M. “Converging Spectres of an Other within: Race and Gender in Prewar Afro-German History.” Callaloo, vol. 26, no. 2, 2003, pp. 322–41.
El-Tayeb, Fatima. Beyond the Black Paradigm? Afro-Diasporic Strategies in the Age of Neo-Nationalism. Black German Heritage and Research Association, University of Toronto.
Graves, Kori A. A War Born Family: African American Adoption in the Wake of the Korean War. NYU Press, 2020.
Kraft, Marion, editor. Children of the Liberation: Transatlantic Experiences and Perspectives of Black Germans of the Post-War Generation. Peter Lang, 2020.
---, editor. Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration. Unrast, 2015.
Lemke Muniz de Faria, Yara-Colette. “Black German ‘Occupation’ Children: Objects of Study in the Continuity of German Race Anthropology.” Children of World War II the Hidden Enemy Legacy, edited by Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen. Berg, 2005.
Lemke Muniz de Faria, Yara-Collette. Zwischen Fürsorge und Ausgrenzung: afrodeutsche “Besatzungskinder” im Nachkriegsdeutschland. Metropol, 2002.
Lemke Muniz deFaria, Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de. “‘Germany’s “Brown Babies” Must Be Helped! Will You?’: U.S. Adoption Plans for Afro-German Children, 1950-1955.” Callaloo, vol. 26, no. 2, Apr. 2003, pp. 342–62.
Peña, Rosemarie. “Bedeutsame Geschichten: Kontextualisierung Der Erfahrung(En) Schwarzer Deutsch-Amerikanischer Adoptierter.” Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration, edited by Marion Kraft. Unrast Verlag, 2015, pp. 223–60.
---. “Black Germans, Reunification and Belonging in Diaspora.” Black Anthology: Adult Adoptees Claim Their Space, edited by Susan Harris O’Connor MSW et al. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
---. “Black Germans: Reunification and Belonging in Diaspora.” Adoption & Culture: The Interdisciplinary Journal of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture, vol. 6, no. 1, 2018, pp. 26–30.
---. “Black Germans: Reunifying in Diaspora.” Making Families Across Race and Nation: The Histories and Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption, edited by Silke Hackenesch. Ohio State University Press, 2021.
---. “From Both Sides of the Atlantic: Black German Adoptee Searches in William Gage’s Geborener Deutscher (Born German).” Genealogy, vol. 2, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 13–20.
---. “Stories Matter- Contextualizing Black German American Adoptee Experience(s).” International Adoption in North American Literature and Culture, edited by Mark Shackleton. Palgrave, 2017.
Sow, Noah. Deutschland Schwarz Weiß. Der alltägliche Rassismus. C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2008.
---. Geteilte Geschichte. Conference, Black German Heritage & Research Association, 21 Aug. 2011.
On October 4th, 2020 as part of the closing of the 44th annual conference of the German Studies Association, Lydia Tang and Patrizia McBride, hosted a roundtable discussion on The Future of German Studies. All panelists were invited to share brief initial remarks to kick-off the larger discussion. In an effort to extend this discussion beyond the conference and those able to participate live, we are sharing below the opening statements of each of the panelists in the order they were given.
We will not try to summarize the at large discussion of that day, but hope that publishing these statements here will initiate a continuation of the exchange, a further probing of the ideas presented below as well as create additional room to explore with a larger audience what the future of German Studies might hold and how we may achieve it.
Assistant Director of Programs, MLA (all views expressed here are my own)
Formerly Lecturer in German at Carleton College and Visiting Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University
In the ninety minutes allotted to our roundtable, we cannot hope to scratch the surface of the issues our discipline is facing this year, as well as those likely to arise in upcoming years. What we hope to accomplish is to create awareness of the different institutional frameworks in which the work of reimagining the discipline is situated. In doing so, this session builds on the 2019 conference “Re-Imagining the Discipline: German Studies, the Humanities, and the University,” organized by Patrizia McBride and Paul Fleming at Cornell University, which brought into sharp focus the extent to which our institutional affiliations shape our perspective on German studies. I am grateful to Patrizia and Paul for the opportunity to build on these conversations, and I am particularly indebted to Patrizia for her willingness to co-organize and co-moderate this GSA session with me.
In addition to the range of institutional perspectives that roundtable participants bring to this discussion, it is important to note that all currently serve or have served in leadership roles in professional organizations, such as GSA, WiG, DDGC, MLA, and ADFL. What can professional organizations do to support vulnerable faculty members and graduate students in this moment of crisis? How can established scholarly organizations collaborate with smaller forums to create lasting change?
Throughout our conversation, we will return to the question of graduate program reform and our responsibilities toward doctoral students—quite literally, the future of German studies. In doing so, we hope to join other colleagues in making the case for the GSA conference as a space not only for research presentations but also for conversations about the profession. The emphasis on graduate education is not meant to suggest German undergraduate programs are unworthy of our attention; quite on the contrary, it recognizes most faculty positions in our field focus primarily, if not exclusively, on teaching undergraduate students, often while shouldering a substantial administrative load as the director of a small language program. The “prestige economy” of doctoral education privileges research and perpetuates the bifurcated curricular and governance models first critiqued thirteen years ago in Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World. As a result, their training leaves graduates ill prepared for the realities of teaching German outside the ivory tower—not to mention positions outside the academy.
As we embark on these conversations, I would like to end by pointing to the voices who are missing from our roundtable so that we can be aware of our own blind spots and prioritize questions from members of these groups: adjunct instructors, including part-time faculty members; language program directors and other colleagues whose work focuses primarily on language teaching and pedagogy; German PhDs who, like myself, have left the profession; and current graduate students.
 The conference website documents many of these contributions: https://futurehumanities.wixsite.com/re-imagining/contributors-essays. An expanded version of my own remarks can be found here: https://profession.mla.org/against-smallness-how-successful-language-programs-reimagine-the-humanities/.
 Cf. Leonard Cassuto, “Why We Need a Yelp for Doctoral Programs,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 December 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/article/why-we-need-a-yelp-for-doctoral-programs/
Frank and Roberta Furbush Scholar in German Studies
Associate Professor and Chair of German Studies at Grinnell College
A More Comprehensive Approach to German Studies
I cannot predict what the future holds for the interdisciplinary field of German Studies. I doubt we will return to the conditions I enjoyed when I received my undergraduate degree, attended graduate school, and then went on the job market and secured a tenure-track position. Rather than look to the future, I can say that many two- and four-year educational institutions in the United States are in the midst of an existential crisis right now, much earlier than anticipated. There was a drop in undergraduate enrollment across the board in September 2020, and it is particularly troubling that the enrollment of first-time students at two-year institutions dropped by 22.7% at the start of this academic term. This matters because two-year institutions are the pathway to opportunity for students from low-income and diverse backgrounds. Many people would not have earned a doctorate and enjoyed the benefits of increased employment stability, health insurance, and benefits if they hadn’t enrolled in a two-year college first. The wealthy institutions that can survive demographic shifts and the pandemic will probably be okay; those who serve students from more diverse families will have a much tougher time of it. What can the German Studies Association do in light of the dire circumstances today and such a bleak future?
I want to make a couple of simple suggestions: Every time we, as an Association, want to address issues primarily facing graduate education at research institutions, let us say or write “undergraduate and graduate education,” instead. When we frame discussions around research, let us make sure that we also include pedagogy scholarship and ethical mentorship in our deliberations. By shifting the conversation in this small way, the German Studies Association acknowledges our responsibility and investment in the success of all of the students at our institutions, that they thrive and complete their degrees and find meaningful ways of living inside and outside our field. I believe that looking outward and not only inward to our specializations and scholarship could help us go a long way to push for broader participation in higher education and advance racial and economic equality in the United States.
Most students do not enter our classrooms because they want to publish books about canonical writers, political movements, art, or philosophy. Many enroll because they want to speak a new language and only discover how transformational learning German can be in retrospect. It certainly changed my life’s trajectory. Students continue taking our classes because many of the members of the Association teach in smaller departments and foster a nurturing environment for intellectual and personal growth. We care about the whole student. We listen to what they are going through at college and help them navigate the challenges they face in higher education. Our members can be indispensable advocates for the people on our campuses who never enter our classrooms, too. We work to enhance student experience so that all the students on our campus—not just the ones who enroll in German—succeed. It is key in this shared endeavor that many members of the German Studies Association hold leadership roles at our institutions and, more broadly, in the profession. We should push to establish better administrative policy that mitigates bias in recruitment, hiring, and reviews. We should persuade others that supporting local K-12 teachers, as well as the recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students from all backgrounds matters a lot even if it doesn’t improve the numbers in our own campus units. We should ask about the conditions of staff and show perhaps as much concern for the communities that border our campuses as for those living thousands of miles away.
There are some changes I would love to see. Why hasn’t there been more space for scholarship on teaching and for other career pathways at German Studies Association meetings? Could we look to the American Historical Association, for example, as a model for how the German Studies Association might transform itself into a hub for teaching scholarship and practice, advocacy, career preparation, and public engagement? The AHA includes receptions and sessions for undergraduates, graduate students, two-year faculty, K-12 teachers, public historians, and invites back people who completed degrees in history to give talks on their careers at two-year institutions, non-profits, libraries and archives, in government, business, museum education, and higher education administration. The AHA holds sessions on pedagogical best practices, assessment, and experiential learning. How could such a change at future GSA conferences help sustain a conversation about career options for our undergraduates and graduate students so that our teaching and mentorship skills benefit the profession and society broadly? How can social practice and activism be a regular part of our professional conversations as well as undergraduate and graduate teaching and research, which is the case in Art History, Black Studies, or in American Studies?
I cannot predict whether there will be a German Studies Association in twenty-five or fifty years. What will our membership numbers look like if the demographic trends progress in the ways we are witnessing today? I know that we are already working in a field transformed. It is up to the members of the German Studies Association to address the needs of the entire community today.
Assistant Professor of German, Emory University
Co-chair of the MLA Committee on the Status of Grad Students in the Humanities
With three months left to go, it is safe to say that 2020 will be remembered as a time of unprecedented crisis. We are dealing with four pandemics simultaneously: 1) COVID-19; 2) anti-Black racism, police brutality, and white supremacist violence; 3) climate change; and 4) widespread unemployment and economic hardship. These have resulted in huge challenges within academia, from funding shortfalls to radical changes in modes of instruction and campus life, though the most urgent crises within academia, such as graduate education and the systemic exclusion of scholars of color, did not arise as a result of this year but have rather been further exacerbated. In this brief impulse statement, I would like to relay some of the issues of graduate education from my position as a recent graduate, recent job seeker, member of the steering committees of WiG and DDGC, and co-chair of the MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities.
Graduate education in the humanities has been in crisis ever since the annual number of doctorates granted began to greatly exceed the number of stable academic jobs. The financial collapse in 2008 created a vacuum of tenure track jobs that has never been recovered. It already seemed grim over the last few years when the market consisted of about 25 tenure track, 15-20 renewable non-tenure track, and 20-30 visiting positions. This year, as of early October, there is only one tenure track job in German, two tenure track jobs for which German is one of the possible areas of focus, and one limited term teaching position. Graduate students have long called for support to pivot to alt-ac or post-ac careers. While some programs offer extensive additional training and professionalization opportunities, students in other programs can only discuss their non-tenure track aspirations in hushed tones.
It is understandable that graduate faculty feel they are not equipped to support graduate students to pursue careers in which they themselves do not have training while also making sure the students reach benchmarks in their programs and academic professionalization. But graduate programs need not look far to provide opportunities for their students to gain important skills and experience to support their future career plans; connect students to opportunities at the university press, library, museum, writing center, center for teaching and learning, undergraduate advising office, study abroad office, or other relevant arenas. Invite alumni from your program to speak with students about how they pursued their career paths. Encourage students to attend (virtual) career fairs and partner with career services to run workshops for how to revise an academic CV into a resume. Draw on networked mentorship structures to assure that students have access to multiple sets of expertise on which to draw when applying to a range of positions.
Even programs that focus solely on training future academics are often outdated and plagued by magical thinking, urging students not to professionalize, despite the incredible expectations they will face on the academic job market. I vividly remember a conversation I had as a graduate student with a high-ranking administrator in the School of Arts and Sciences who told me that “graduate students shouldn’t be worrying about publishing or attending conferences” because a top-tier Ph.D. would be “enough” to obtain a tenure track position. We know that this is simply not true and that graduate students are under increasing pressure to prove their merit as mature academics before ever depositing their dissertations. Whenever possible, revise graduate curricula to allow students to reach benchmarks in the program while also meeting professional goals. For example, can the comprehensive exam requirement be fulfilled by students producing a polished article draft ready to submit for peer review, with the mentorship support to achieve that aim? Think creatively about how to make requirements work for the students rather than the other way around.
The problems sadly go far beyond job training and support. A recent report by the MLA Task Force on Ethics in Graduate Education revealed that graduate education is overwhelmingly characterized by “precarity and sexual harassment but also issues such as mental health challenges, lack of transparency, favoritism and bias, and emotional and material exploitation.” As graduate programs look to adapt to the new set of administrative austerity measures in a continuing and, eventually, a post-COVID landscape, they should make sure that their decisions are made transparently and that they are holding themselves accountable first and foremost to their current students and recent graduates. Furthermore, as our field adapts to this reality, we must boldly prioritize striving toward racial justice, decolonization, and ethical recruitment and hiring within our field.
Associate Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Languages & Literatures, University of North Carolina Asheville
Co-Founder of the Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum scholarly collective
I am arriving at the conversation as someone who 7 years ago was hired on a Visiting Assistant Position with the task to renew and revive the two-person German department at a Small Public Liberal Arts College and as someone who is since July of this year the tenured Department Chair. I am not sharing this as a success story, but working in a small German program has convinced me that the future of German Studies will depend on such small programs and how well we prepare our Graduate Students to work in them and how well we support these programs.
The Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum scholarly collective was born because Dr. Ervin Malakaj and I found ourselves in very similar situations at our first positions out of graduate school. And despite the strong graduate programs we both came from and the significant pedagogical training we received, we were not prepared to create a curriculum for the diverse student body we were seeking to attract to our departments. We were also not trained in how to teach Adjective endings at 9:30am, a special topics course at 3pm and a class for the general education requirement in between and how to continue to publish with a 4/4 teaching load and alongside the high-level of student mentoring expected in small programs. And we figured all this out not through the GSA, MLA, or AATG, but because of connections with colleagues and friends in similar positions.
Of course the future of German Studies will depend not only on addressing those issues, but on a large scale envisioning of our discipline and what our role in the academy at large should be. It will depend on our response to the contingency crisis in our field and how it impacts especially those of our colleagues already pushed to the margins.
Based on the participation I have seen at conferences and seminars on this subject, based on who is involved in the scholarly collective it seems that the envisioning of German Studies is not a shared interest across ranks and gender. The future of German Studies, however, will depend on those who hold significant institutional power to get on board or to get out of the way.
George M. Roth Professor of German, Georgetown University
Editor, Gegenwartsliteratur: A German Studies Yearbook
The role of PhD programs in German Studies, i.e., the education of the new generation of German studies scholars and teachers, goes to the heart of the Roundtable’s focus on “The Future of German Studies.” In my initial statement, I therefore addressed the significance of teacher education -- a dimension of graduate programs that despite many interventions from individuals and reports from our professional organizations often does not receive adequate attention and recognition.
Arguably, in the current precarious situation with so many open questions regarding higher education in general and the future of modern language programs in particular, reaffirming the central role of teacher education has become even more important. While it might seem obvious to directors of language programs and scholars of SLA (second language acquisition), I would call on all members of the profession, but especially on scholars of literature and culture, to think about teacher education as intricate part of the intellectual mission of graduate programs and not merely as a necessary ‘add-on’ to scholarly pursuits.
What does this mean on the ground? Close and consistent mentorship throughout a graduate student’s teaching career; exposure to relevant research in SLA in required coursework that goes beyond an introduction to teaching methods; and, perhaps most importantly, opportunities for graduate students to become familiar with thinking about individual courses as part of an articulated four-year undergraduate curriculum. In addition to excellent teaching abilities, the familiarity with curricular design is central for preparing PhD students for the job market as the majority of positions are likely to be located in small German programs that often require a rethinking of the undergraduate curriculum or parts thereof.
Furthermore, approaching a four-year German studies curriculum as dynamic and ever evolving will enable a new generation of German studies scholars to not only envision thematic changes but to implement these changes in meaningful ways. This has gained special relevance with recent concerted efforts to diversify and de-colonize the curriculum in German programs.
Against this backdrop, I want to conclude with two examples of how course and curricular design can be integrated into a graduate program: As final task in the required course “Literacy and Foreign Language Teaching” at Georgetown University, graduate students redesign a course unit at the introductory or intermediate course level by focusing on the integration of language learning and content. For instance, a recent course unit designed by a PhD student focused on public spaces in German cities from a disabilities studies perspective. The second example is a dissertation by one of our PhD students who straddles SLA and cultural studies and who explores how to give adequate attention to the role of Black Germans in German society especially in teaching materials at the lower levels of the curriculum. Both projects exemplify the powerful synergy between SLA research, Cultural and Literary studies, and curriculum innovation.
Johannes von Moltke
President The German Studies Association
Vice President, American Friends of Marbach
This is a discussion that draws on many voices, including those of my co-panelists represented here, but also at GSA events such as the Forum on Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice, or the Queer and Trans German Studies roundtable; at the Cornell conference last year on “Re-imagining the Discipline;” or in op eds and articles, including Lydia Tang’s great piece “Against Smallness.” In adding my perspective, I speak from my experience both at Michigan but also as president of the GSA over the past two years. But bear in mind that a bird’s eye view can also obscure and gloss over important details of the landscape. I should also note that I do not speak on behalf of the GSA and that all opinions are my own.
This session’s title – the future of German Studies – obviously begs the question of our field’s past and present. I won’t go into the former, but I do think it behooves us to take stock of where we find ourselves today if we want our talk about tomorrow, let alone the future, to have any purchase.
By one measure at least, like many other fields, German Studies is presently defunct and has no future. If you look at the jobs wiki, you’ll look in vain for positions in German, Austrian, or even Central European history; under German Studies, as Didem Uca also noted in her remarks, you’ll find three positions, one of them with an “applicant beware” notice in the comments section. In fact, for all the warnings about comments sections, this one should be required reading, if only for the line that this year, you’d have better chances at winning the lottery than landing a job in German Studies. Coupled with the state of the world in every other respect, the feeling of rage that one panelist at the Queer and Trans German Studies roundtable expressed yesterday seems like a most rational response. Others I’ve heard include: worry, depression, anger, despair. These responses come from the people who are the future of the field, if it is to have one. And if we want to talk about that future, we must listen to them.
But what does it mean to listen, let alone to act upon what we’re hearing? Listening and hearing require fora for exchange, places and platforms where people can be heard – and not just comments sections on job wikis. We need institutions that facilitate such listening and that can act. Existing institutions such as the GSA are admittedly sluggish – there’s an inertia built into them, and often for good reasons that I’d be ready to defend (reasons having to do with the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy). That said, I see the GSA as a collaborative project that is invested in creating space for envisioning the future of the discipline not only through conference papers, but also through the interdisciplinary networks, through advocacy, through the creation of support structures such as our Community Fund, through town halls and forums and roundtables or collective blogs such as this one.
Curiously and somewhat counter-intuitively, then, when I look at the present of German Studies through the lens of the GSA, I hear not only rage, anxiety, or worry but also see innovation, collaboration, opportunity. And I see exhilarating, important work being done, as evidenced not only in the award winning books and articles, and the invigorating sessions even at a virtual GSA but also in our members’ public-facing work (for examples, think only of the important contributions on how BLM resonates across the Atlantic, but also on how and to what extent we should turn to the history of Fascism for understanding our global present). More generally speaking, I’ve always been struck by the fact that the GSA has remained stable, and has even grown, over the past few years and in the face of institutional shrinkage, economic pressures, and countervailing experiences in other scholarly associations.
If this picture sounds a bit too rosy against the backdrop of the current job situation and the neoliberal disinvestment from academic learning more generally, I would hope that we’re able to embrace this contradiction rather than whisk it away in favor of either doom and gloom or Panglossian optimism. For both can be true at once: the situation is dire and many of the initiatives I’m seeing are heartening. One doesn’t cancel out the other.
By the same token, I am deeply concerned by institutional responses that involve putting graduate programs on hold. This seems to me short-sighted, and it does the bidding of administrations and legislatures that treat higher education as a zero-sum game, pitting German departments against other language departments, the language departments against other humanities departments, the humanities against STEM fields, always with the unspoken assumption that I can only get my share of the pie if I take it away from you.
Now, I’m not naïve. I understand that we operate under material constraints. I also understand that advocating for maintaining our graduate programs requires a willingness to rethink them, and it requires clear communication with applicants and prospective students about what prospects these programs can and cannot offer.
But let me close by countering the zero-sum model of higher ed with an emphasis on collaboration. As anyone who has been involved in meaningful collaborative projects knows, these are processes in which the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. As such, they form an inherent challenge to any reductionist models of labor and institutional organization. So let’s champion and pursue collaboration, by which I mean some very concrete things: working together across generational lines (I very much hope that we’ll have a graduate caucus in the GSA again in the near future; and I could certainly imagine the same for contingent faculty). I also mean valuing collaborative work in hiring, tenuring, and promotion; creating new collaborative platforms, as modelled by the DDGC or the German Studies Collaboratory. I would include collaboration across tiers of institutions, and emphatically second Vance’s call for turning towards 2-year colleges. And I mean joining forces among existing groups. What I called “sluggish” institutions like the GSA (or the AATG) must constantly reinvent themselves by working together not just with the requisite governmental partners such as the DAAD or the ACF, but also with various and possibly more nimble groups such as our friends at WiG, DDGC, the BGHRA – and others, yet to be created.
Recent discussions at scholarly conferences, on listservs, on various social media platforms, and beyond have yielded important insights about four areas of consideration that should inform our engagement patterns as we continue to think about German studies, its pasts, its present, and its futures. These are:
We invite submissions for the DDGC Blog that touch upon the four areas above. We especially hope to amplify the research and perspectives of graduate students, contingent faculty, and faculty at any stage of their career who belong to a historically and structurally marginalized community in the academy. If you are inspired to write a blog post but don’t feel it aligns with the themes above, not a problem! Reach out and let's chat.
For more info about submissions and contact info: https://diversityingermancurriculum.weebly.com/ddgc-blog-submission-info.html.
Sharing this on behalf of our comrades at the Multicultural Germany Project at UC Berkeley
Building on existing synergies in the Department of German at the University of California, Berkeley discussed at a recent workshop based on Annika Orich's recent article "Archival Resistance: Reading the New Right." (German Politics & Society. Summer 2020, Vol. 38, Issue 2: 1-34) and Th. W. Adorno's 1967 lecture "Aspekte des neuen Rechtsradikalismus," the Multicultural Germany Project (MGP) cordially invites you to submit brief takes responding to the question "Why German Studies Today?"
These short and spiffy takes of approx. 600 words length can be posted as a comment to the Forum page of the Multicultural Germany Project website (mgp.berkeley.edu) or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org to ultimately be published on our mainBlog.
We would also like to invite you to join us in our critical news digest efforts toward the MGP Chronology, posting links to important news and op-ed articles with source information and a very brief commentary to mgp.berkeley.edu/forum.
Looking forward to collaborating with you all!
Deniz Göktürk, Coordinator
Kumars Salehi, Managing Researcher
Friday, September 25, 2020, 3:30-5:00pm (Pacific)
Event Moderators: Emily Frazier-Rath, Gizem Arslan, Andrea Bryant, Sean Toland. Event Organizers: Didem Uca, Priscilla Layne, Beverly Weber, and Ervin Malakaj. Summary by David Gramling and Andrea Bryant.
Attendees: 50 people in US and Canadian German Studies and related fields (15 doctoral students, 4 recent doctoral graduates without employment, 8 contingent or non-tenure track, 9 tenure track, 9 tenured, 5 unspecified)
Experiences and Insights Shared
Faculty fatalism doesn’t help, but neither does mere reassurance. In the US and Canada, many faculty members openly give the “we’re on a sinking ship” message, which makes it hard for students to believe in the purpose of their projects.
The promise of interdisciplinarity has often failed us. Having a certificate or other interdisciplinary training does not help us get jobs outside of German Studies Departments, for instance in Gender and Women’s Studies or in Judaic Studies. With a German Studies PhD, one most often has to stay in German Studies for positions. The voices who used to advocate for interdisciplinary approaches have faded. Language departments’ work still doesn’t translate well enough to colleagues across the institution, particularly in English and sciences. Meanwhile, our own promotion / review committees still don’t adequately support early career scholars’ publishing / presenting in neighboring fields, like African Diasporic Studies, for instance.
Recruiting BIPOC early career researchers in German Studies is irresponsible, if we’re recruiting people into precarity. Consider focus on supporting local teachers and organizations of Color, instead of just trying to attract people into your programs. Institutional diversity efforts are often flawed and are still often run by people who don’t look like the people they’re trying to recruit.
Many of us still treasure a culture of knowledge, not entrepreneurship. Graduate Students often don’t want to go out and become atomized entrepreneurs; they/we want to do what research-teaching faculty do. Despite the bad signs, many graduate students often feel their/our lot is cast with faculty mentors, because we often pursue a similar set of values and visions about free thought, liberation, and discovery.
It’s a mistake to close or shrink graduate programs. Graduate education is a lifeboat for free thought, creative collaboration, activism, knowledge-making, cultural production, and alternative political visions. It doesn’t all come down to the academic or non-academic job market. The most dangerous thing right now would be for us to dismantle our own departments’ graduate programs. The grass is not necessarily greener in other industries, which can be significantly more toxic than humanities graduate programs.
Graduate advising is currently contradictory, fractured, and out of touch. The imperative to pursue alt-ac and ac modes simultaneously ends up splitting attention and doubling doctoral students’ work. Some faculty are still trying to protect students from publishing, presenting, and service work, even though this approach hasn’t made sense since the 20th century. Faculty simply don’t know enough about what good jobs there are outside of academia with a PhD, even despite the MLA’s efforts over the past ten years.
The job market is not going to rebound adequately in the coming two to five years. We need to focus on the long game, especially since we were still reeling from the 2008 Great Recession and the subsequent mass closures.
Language learning is being devalued more broadly, beyond our individual programs and institutions. It’s a period of wrenching structural change in this regard.
Ideas and Desires:
by Oliver Niels Völkel (Free University of Berlin)
At the Free University of Berlin, German courses at the level B2 (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) are usually taught with a content-oriented component generally connected to the city of Berlin. This gives students the opportunity to choose their language course based on thematic criteria. In fall 2017, I started to focus one of my classes on Berlin as a queer city from 1900 to the present. A central part of this course is dedicated to a project in which students research queer persons from the city’s history and subsequently introduce them to the class. For the purpose of the class, I follow bell hook’s definition of queerness: “queer not as being about who you’re having sex with – that can be a dimension of it – but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.” This definition speaks to varied lived experiences of people minoritized because of their sexual, romantic, and gender identities. I am drawn to this definition, because it creates a bridge between the people we study and queer students in the class. This definition can also serve to build solidarity among queer people and members of other minoritized groups constantly at odds with a society defining itself as white, cis-heterosexual, able-bodied, and monolingual.
For this assignment, I provide the students with a selection of LGBTIQA+ people associated with Berlin’s history from which they may choose one for their project. Students are also encouraged to focus their work on an additional figure from Berlin’s queer history if they like. As queer people, these historical figures not only help to deconstruct the image of a cis-heterosexual Germany as it is presented in their other textbooks, but, as I will show, also do other political work. Including this (or a similar) assignment contributes to the diversification and decolonization of the German language course. In recent years there has been a change in the discourse of German as a Foreign Language (GFL) about the role of cultural studies within the German language classroom. This shift in discourse is at least partially in line with the goals of diversifying and decolonizing German Studies. It addresses how GFL materials and the classroom essentialize images of clearly defined (national) cultures within intercultural language studies. Such reductionist approaches to culture have given way to the so-called “Diskursive Landeskunde” (Altmayer 2017), which aims instead to offer students opportunities to partake in German and multilingual discourses and thereby position themselves in relation to language learning—as opposed to being positioned by forceful and simplified narratives about “culture.”
Acknowledging the plurality of discourses circulating in the classroom and those shaping cultural history aligns with Adrienne Merritt’s reflections on diversity and decolonization in the German language classroom. Merritt notes, “Instructors face the gargantuan task of generating and sustaining a classroom culture that enables, empowers, and includes as many students as they can reach. Culture, it seems, does truly lie in the heart of the issues we encounter within the classroom” (2020, 184). Whereas she focuses on students of Color, I would like to extend her insights to speak about the experiences of queer students. When instructors create a learning environment, which empowers queer students to reflect on issues of LGBTIAQ+ in both the context of their own communities as well as those in the “target” culture, they will be well positioned to question and dismantle the homogenized representation of culture(s). Furthermore, through their learning they will be able to make visible the diverse social interrelationships of groups within our societies.
Whereas my entire course was dedicated to queer life, this assignment might also be implemented in language courses that have limited space for content-related work. Before considering to implement this assignment in your own course, consider if you have sufficient space to do these historical figures justice. It is important to actually provide a range of positions and perspectives in such an assignment. If the number of historical figures is too small, the effect could otherwise be that they only serve as a tokenistic cypher on the basis of which only the status quo is reinforced (see Merritt 2020, 193. Merritt outlines this with regard to representations on Afro-Germans who, when only introduced as an add-on, preserve the imagination of a white Germany; see also Gunther Schmidt 2004, who shows this effect on the representation of queer figures in the media to reinforce cis-heteronormativity).
Before turning to specifics about the assignment, I would like to address a couple of aspects that make the work on queer historical figures valuable for a language course. In what follows, I will discuss how learners enhance their understanding of language pragmatics by studying queer life. I will consider the benefits for students who become acquainted with select theoretical concepts that are connected with the queer personalities they study. Finally, I will consider how learners’ exposure to activist and identity issues related to the lives of the people they study offers learners important insight about how marginalized peoples navigate life in Berlin.
Working with presentations on queer personalities places a great emphasis on sociolinguistic and sociocultural competencies and enables the students to learn and develop their own linguistic precision and sensitivity. Students not only learn terminology for various sub-groups constituting the broad spectrum of LGBTIAQ+ life, but they also see that there may be different individual self-referencing and description cultures within each community, all of which are valid means to use language to self-fashion and describe. By working with various historical figures, students are made aware of the specifics of (queer) language and learn that the development of their designations is a common element in many emancipation movements and that these processes are often lengthy and contested. For instance, in one lesson, students work in groups on a term (schwul, lesbisch, trans/ transsexuell/ transgender/ transident, and queer in the German context) and its history in the German-speaking LGBTIAQ+ communities in order to present it to their fellow students using a wall newspaper. We reserve one wall in the classroom for this assignment. Each working group is given one section of the “newspaper space” to curate with information about the term they worked on. For the exercise, I provide them with different materials such as excerpts of journals, blogs, and videoclips. Especially the latter two are important because they are often made by members of the respective subgroups and therefore give a real insight into what is (un)disputed within the subgroup.
Although some aspects about this work are global in nature, students learn about queer terminology in a German-speaking context, which they can compare with their other languages. They learn that select terms or naming conventions have numerous similarities as well as clear differences across languages. In comparison with their other languages, they can also reflect on the fact that the respective languages have different requirements for how to linguistically serve certain groups. Furthermore, the students learn that German has been influenced by English, especially in recent years, but that it also shows deviating developments of terminology. The latter is particularly pronounced in the negotiation process about the naming of hostilities directed against queer people. For instance, recent years have seen a clear shift away from the internationally used terms homophobia, transphobia, etc., to terms integrating the German word feindlich, as in homofeindlich, transfeindlich, queerfeindlich or schwulenfeindlich. It seems that this change has been promoted in particular by the trans community, which has close ties to both the disabled community, which criticizes the ending -phobic as ableist, and the women’s movement, in which the term frauenfeindlich was used alongside misogyn.
An example in which the students themselves have to deal with the intricacies of language is the choice of personal pronouns in their presentation, which often requires careful consideration. Students will be challenged with the fact that there are no or many equivalents for the English they in singular use. None, because in German the uniformity of singular sie and plural sie do not make available a pronoun of the “classical grammar” for non-binary use. Many, because a number of new pronouns have been developed due to this deficiency, from which it remains to be seen whether and if one will prevail as a general non-binary pronoun. This point also leads to another important issue: in order to maintain the integrity of the featured historical figure it is not only important to think about the pronouns but also to consider how we talk about their queerness. Some persons can be described as gay, lesbian, bi, or trans because there are relevant testimonials. But there are also a number of people in history for whom this is not possible, especially in the case of gender non-conforming people. Furthermore, it is also important to look at the sources closely and critically. Some sources, particularly those related to victims of National Socialism and men convicted under Paragraph 175, contain homomisic or transmisic descriptions. Therefore, it is important not to adopt these descriptions and any attendant misgendering in the presentation. Here, the help of the instructor is often required to identify such negative framing.
The queer historical figures assignment provides an excellent starting point to introduce key concepts in gender and sexuality studies. For example, by studying the life and work of Audrey Lorde, students are positioned to learn about theories of intersectional feminism of central importance for the Afro-German (Women’s) Movement, which she helped form. Although the presentation focuses on individual figures, their surroundings become visible as well. In Lorde’s case students speak about Black German thinkers and writers like May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye. Here, I take time to help students understand that all historical figures require careful consideration of various aspects informing their lived experience and that their presentation should reflect this care. At times, this care reaches beyond the confines of the language course itself, for it leads students to additional self-directed learning.
Karl M. Baer, an intersex person who was assigned as girl by birth and who only learned as a young adult during a general medical examination that he was intersex, offers an example of the above-mentioned need for a scholarship of care. In 1907 he published his autobiographical book Aus eines Mannes Mädchenjahren under the pseudonym N.O. Body. Baer is one of the very few historical intersex people who are relatively well known. Even more so, it is important that he does not serve as a pure token for the inclusion of intersex, but that he is introduced to learn more about intersex people, a lesson upon which I expand throughout the unit (see below). I ask students to consider the great diversity among intersex people. In particular, I ask students to reflect on the struggle for physical integrity in childhood, which is still the most important point for intersex activists, especially in the so-called western world, where operational alignments to the binary sex model increased significantly since the 1950s. Here, students learn that it is a relatively recent phenomenon that strict binarity has been enforced on human bodies. Historically, there are examples of the opposite. For instance, the Allgemeines Landrecht für die Preußischen Staaten (General State Laws for the Prussian States) from 1792 dictated that people who could not be assigned to the man-woman paradigm were allowed to choose one of the binary sexes at the age of 18.
My course provided students the opportunity to go into depth and work more extensively on the subject of intersex. In order to present students with various accounts by intersex people, I showed short clips and videos from the television programs Quarks (2018) and Planet Schule (2018), in which intersex people reported on their diverse experiences. In principle, it also seems possible to make these materials available as extra material if there is no time in the classroom for this issue. This could ensure that intersex people are not only talked about, but that they can speak for themselves and, furthermore, that the students learn that there is a wide range of experiences defining life for members of one subgroup of the LGBTIAQ+.
Queer historical figures related to Berlin and Germany are highly diverse in other respects. They belong to different social classes and educational contexts. In addition to white Germans (e.g., Anita Berber, Rosa von Praunheim), there are Jewish Germans (e.g., Eric Charell, Karl M. Baer, Gertrude Sandmann), migrants who lived in Berlin temporarily (e.g., Christopher Isherwood, Audre Lorde) or permanently (e.g., Romy Haag, Fereidoun Ettehad) and of course Black Germans (e.g. Peggy Piesche, Katharina Oguntoye) and Persons of Color (e.g., İpek İpekçioğlu, Nasser EL-Ahmad). Many of these are integrated into the assignment.
It is instructive for students that they learn to grasp history through the perspective of a marginalized group. For example, the course does not foreground the Nazi Era in order to then consider how queer people experienced and survived this period; rather, the positioning, possibilities, and conditions defining queer life in this period become clear on the basis of individual biographies. To a certain extent, this consideration follows Klaus Bergemann’s didactic principles of personalization and multiperspectivity, which propose to conceive of the acquisition of historical knowledge as a bottom-up process that enables many perspectives on an issue. To this end, the research assignment and the subsequent presentations do not include only queer heroines*heroes but also persons whose actions need to be viewed critically. Such a series not only reveals intersectional queer experiences (e.g., Jewish-German queers), but also confronts the learners with having to endure ambivalences and shows that lives rarely follow straightforward paths.
For instance, Gustaf Gründgens served the Nazi regime. After the so-called Röhm Putsch, which led to a wider persecution of gay men, he fled to Switzerland. Eventually he returned to Nazi Germany after Goebbels personally granted him security – quite contrary to the wishes of other members of the Nazi party. Gründgens even entered into a fictitious marriage, even though his homosexuality was an open secret at the time. He willingly chose his career and enjoyed marginal fame during the Nazi Era. On an individual level, he did help some Jewish or queer artists to survive, for example by helping them leave the country. Such gestures made it easier for him to get the so-called Persilschein, which certified denazification after the end of the war. Ultimately, however, he went along with and supported the NS system.
Another example of an ambivalent life path is Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was a teenager during the Nazi era and worked for a junk dealer in household clearances. After the war, she saved the abandoned Gutshaus Mahlsdorf from vandalism and set up a Wilhelminian style museum with objects she had collected. The provenance of these objects is not entirely clear; it can be assumed that at least some came from households of Jewish Berliners who either had to flee Germany leaving behind most of their possessions or who were murdered in the Shoah. When the museum was being built, von Mahlsdorf began to wear almost exclusively women's clothing and called herself Lotte, a name derived from her male birth name. For a long time, the Gutshaus Mahlsdorf was one of the very few meeting places for queer people in East Berlin and the GDR. Nonetheless, von Mahlsdorf’s role has to be questioned, too: she may have secured herself the opportunity to run queer festivals and the museum in Mahlsdorf by collaborating with the Stasi (Staatssicherheit, the GDR Secret Service) and naming participants of her queer parties, which might have given the Stasi leverage to blackmail them. Even though homosexuality was no longer punishable in the GDR (earlier than in West Germany), it was strongly taboo in society. By researching the life and work of von Mahlsdorf students work almost exclusively with self-testimonials and autobiographical texts. By doing so, they are positioned to learn how to deal with, evaluate, classify, and contextualize sources.
I believe that this type of work in class can stimulate empathy for the lived experiences of marginalized peoples. The language classroom becomes an important venue in which students learn that non-cis-heteronormative structures of desire and gender models exist(ed) across history. The historical figures often show how important community building is for marginalized people: many of the figures introduced in the class influenced each other and helped each other live life in Berlin. For me it was important to show such community-building in my class with the hope queer students feel more included when studying German. Queer students expressed in surveys how much they were empowered by this class and our assignment in particular. One of the questions of this survey is why they chose this course with LGBTIAQ+ topics. Most note that being queer themselves is often the reason for the enrollment. For example, one student noted, “I am a member of the LGBTI community and I am interested in history. At my home university, I have no opportunities to learn about LGBTI topics.” Another student noted, “I am gay, but I never had the opportunity to deal with the topic, especially on the academic side. Thank you so much for offering the course.” Yet another student noted, “It was important to me that I could feel safe in a new room and I thought in a queer course the people are for sure nice.” Some students were more driven by learning new things. To this end, one student noted, “It used to be brand new for me and I don't have access to LGBTIQ knowledge. In my home country there are still many prejudices about it. That is why I want to acquire more information to remove these bad prejudices, at least among my family members.” Another student noted, “I knew that Berlin is a gay capital and I wanted to know more about it.” As this small sample of responses shows, including queer topics can have an positive impact on student experiences in language classrooms. It has had a very affirmative impact on me as a queer teacher as well.
Altmayer, Claus. “Landeskunde im Globalisierungskontext: Wozu noch Kultur im DaF-Unterricht?” Kulturelles Lernen im DaF/DaZ-Unterricht: Paradigmenwechsel in der Landeskunde, eds. Peter Haase and Michaela Möller. Göttingen: Unversitätsdrucke Göttingen, 2017.
“bell hooks - Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body | Eugene Lang College.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, May 7, 2014. www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJk0hNROvzs.
Bergmann, Klaus. Multiperspektivität: Geschichte selber denken. Schwalbach am Taunus: Wochenschau-Verlag, 2000.
“Frag Intersexuelle.” Quarks, WDR-Mediathek, uploaded by WDR, April 4, 2018, www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video-frag-intersexuelle-100.html.
“Intersexuell - Raus aus der Tabuzone.” Planet Schule. WDR-Mediathek, uploaded by WDR, November 20, 2018, https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/sendungen/planet-schule/video-intersex---raus-aus-der-tabuzone-100.html.
N.O. Body. Aus eines Mannes Mädchenjahren. Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1993.
Blubacher, Thomas. Gustaf Gründgens. Biografie. Leipzig: Henschel, 2013.
Gerund, Katharina. “Sisterly (Inter)Actions: Audre Lorde and the Development of Afro-German Women’s Communities.” Gender Forum: An Internet Journal for Gender Studies 22 (2008): 56–73.
Merritt, Adrienne. “A Question of Inclusion: Intercultural Competence, Systematic Racism, and the North American German Classroom.” Diversity and Decolonization in German Studies, eds. Regine Criser and Ervin Malakaj. New York: Palgrave, 2020: 177–196.
Schmidt, Gunther. “Zur Sozialgeschichte jugendlichen Sexualverhaltens in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts.” Von Lust und Schmerz: Ein historische Anthropologie der Sexualität. Böhlau: Köln, 2004: 313–324.
von Mahlsdorf, Charlotte. Ich bin meine eigene Frau. Berlin: Edition diá, 1992.
Völkel, Oliver Niels. “Berlin unterm Regenbogen – LGBTI als Thema eines inhaltsorientierten Sprachkurses der Stufe B2.1.” ÖDaF-Mitteilungen. Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2020: 167–178.
Nicole Coleman (Wayne State University)
I spent the last week of July 2020 at the Digital Pedagogy Lab (@DigPedLab, #digped on twitter). DigPedLab is a meeting of faculty, students, instructional designers, and librarians from all over the world who are interested in Critical Digital Pedagogy—500 participants from 20 different time zones this year. As the Lab went virtual, all interaction happened in two virtual environments. The main site was hosted on Ghost and can be found at dpl.online; the discussion forums ran on Discourse. While Discourse was private to the participants of specific courses and workshops, the main platform is open and will be available indefinitely. At dpl.online, anyone interested can find blog posts for each course and each workshop as well as relevant resources. I recommend browsing through each. I took a course called “Critical Digital Pedagogy” as well as four workshops and can thus only offer a glimpse of the issues addressed. Other courses included “Decolonization and Education,” “Digital Identity,” and “Community and Connectedness in a Digital World.” Additional workshops were offered with titles such as “Blackademics,” “Culturally Intelligent Design,” and Creating a Virtual, Liberatory Feedback-Driven Classroom.”
In this post, I would like to share insights I gained at the Digital Pedagogy Lab. First, I explain what Critical Digital Pedagogy means and why it matters for us here at DDGC. Then, I address one main area of our work at DigPedLab: technology. I end with reflections about small changes to our teaching that are inspired by DigPedLab and aimed at increasing equity and inclusion.
Critical Digital Pedagogy and Its Relevance for Diversity and Decolonization
Critical Digital Pedagogy is an approach to learning that builds on the work of scholars like bell hooks and Paulo Freire and extends their insights into the digital realm. Critical pedagogy believes in student-centered, discursive learning. It opposes what Freire calls the “banking model” of education, in which instructors deposit knowledge into the minds of our students. The critical pedagogy of bell hooks sees pedagogy as “a practice of freedom.” The classroom for hooks is a site of liberation from racial, gender, and class boundaries that students transgress. For our current moment, critical digital pedagogy asks how we can translate these practices for our online teaching.
In their work, Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris (the co-founders of DigPedLab, co-editors of Hybrid Pedagogy, and authors of An Urgency of Teachers) amplify diverse voices in the field to create liberatory, student-centered, online and offline environments. The scholars writing for Hybrid Pedagogy (see also the volume Critical Digital Pedagogy) and An Urgency of Teachers, as well as Stommel’s and Morris’s contributions published on their respective blogs, ask us:
For us interested in diversity and decolonization, critical (digital) pedagogy is relevant because it openly acknowledges that education is always political. Stommel and Morris note that “Education has misrepresented itself as objective, quantifiable, apolitical” (n.p.). For them, critical pedagogy resists such a model of education, for it is “an approach to teaching and learning predicated on fostering agency and empowering learners (implicitly and explicitly critiquing oppressive power structures)” (n.p.). Many of the tenants motivating Stommel and Morris’s work drive that of the DDGC collective: we know that all of our teaching is political; we critique and challenge power structures that oppress voices; and we empower our learners to engage critically with material and content to expose the structural racism at work in the academy at large and German Studies in particular.
The questions Stommel and Morris raise regarding the digital space show a clear relationship to the work we are invested in at DDGC as well: “Can the necessary reflective dialogue flourish within Web-based tools, within social media platforms, within learning management systems, within MOOCs? What is digital agency? To what extent can social media function as a space of democratic participation? How can we build platforms that support learning across age, race, culture, ability, geography? What are the specific affordances and limitations of technology toward these ends?” (n.p.). As many of us go remote for at least the next semester if not longer, these questions become more pertinent for our work than ever. For instance, we would do well to learn how tools are programmed and that the norms that underlie algorithms can perpetuate structural inequities. The marginalization of diverse voices in online spaces challenges us to look at our tools and practices from an angle that productively combines our goals of diversity and decolonization with those of critical digital pedagogy.
Technology in Critical Digital Pedagogy
In the DigPedLab, we reflected on how tech tools are biased. If we think of airport security, we know that officers are likely to touch and search Black women’s hair and to scrutinize Sikh men with dastaars and Muslim women with hijabs. Beyond that explicit bias, the airport scanners have been programmed according to a binary understanding of gender, flagging trans men and women because their bodies do not fit into the programmed norm, as Sasha Costanza-Chock recounts in Digital Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. In other areas of our technological era, facial recognition software supports racial profiling and makes the use of sensor technology more difficult for People of Color. Predictive algorithms used by, for example, banks and credit institutions, discriminate according to class, which includes racial marginalization. Costanza-Chock explains that while most designers of tech tools “do not intend to systematically exclude marginalized groups of people” (40), “most of the time designers unintentionally reproduce the matrix of domination (white supremacist heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism)” (41). To be intentionally aware about these biases and to reduce their impact in our teaching was one of the main threads at DigPedLab.
These issues directly translate into our contexts when we consider proctoring technology such as Turnitin that uses facial recognition to catch cheating. These services have many problems. Stommel and Morris make “The Case Against Turnitin” and show how the service collects and owns student data. Additionally, proctoring technologies support a white supremacist, ableist academy. They work with facial recognition that may not recognize a Black student who is then asked to provide extra lighting. They are also programmed for neurotypical and able-bodied learners so that those whose eye movement or body language do not correspond to the program will be flagged as cheating. Shea Swauger explains the potential harms and the groups that may experience these harms in detail in “Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education.” These tools, thus, set a norm for behavior and code student bodies who diverge from these norms as unsafe and a threat.
In addition to these obvious discriminatory tools, we thought about how our use of certain tools can discriminate against students. One issue, for example, is our seeming need to see our students’ faces during our virtual sessions. Maha Bali writes “About That Webcam Obsession You’re Having” and lists reasons why students may not want to be on camera. She offers suggestions of what we can do instead if we are worried that our students may not be engaged if we cannot see them. In a way, this is a similar problem to the one above: We may not need to use Turnitin or cameras if we trust students and our material enough to think that they will not cheat or disengage.
In general, the different speakers and instructors at DigPedLab favor asynchronous formats, possibly with optional synchronous meetings. Bali and Bard Meier suggest that when first prompted to teach online, we attempt to replicate f2f-teaching by shifting it online in synchronous meetings: “The (problematic) assumptions behind this include a belief that text is less personal, that immediacy is inherently more valuable, and that approximating face-to-face is beneficial” (n.p.). They then continue to explain in what ways synchronous meetings are biased against time zones, families, and working folx; that they may be culturally unaware (e.g. scheduling a meeting for Friday, which for some students is not a workday); and that they may put those with unreliable internet connections at a disadvantage.
The preference for asynchronous learning as well as the emphasis on open access material poses difficulties for our discipline that I did not have a chance to resolve during the week. In language learning, we have a specific need for communication; our literature courses often do not work fully with open access sources, especially if we teach contemporary literature. Therefore, I am not suggesting that we take each of these recommendations to completely redesign how we teach. I don’t think that we should teach language asynchronously only—in fact, I believe we can’t. Still, their points warrant caution for when we plan to remodel our f2f classes in remote settings for the next semester(s). For instance, we should offer additional asynchronous activities and allow for flexibility for students who cannot participate in virtual meetings.
When we think of our classes, we can take some of the insights from DigPedLab as a guide. Morris suggests to only use very few tools and be intentional about them. Sukaina Walji emphasizes low tech remote teaching principles, such as keeping it simple and low tech, which may be helpful to consider when planning asynchronous opportunities for students. Stommel offers some questions that we can use to think of the ethics behind a certain tool, and that can help us ensure that our remote classrooms become more equitable. These include: “What assumptions does the tool make about its users? What kind of relationships does it set up between teachers / students? School / the world? Humans / technology?,” “What data must we provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthday, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous? Who owns the data?,” “Does the tool leave students agency or choice in how they use it? Does the tool offer a way that (in the words of bell hooks) ‘learning can most deeply and intimately begin’?,” “How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a student with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc.” (Stommel, “Thursday: Critical Edtech”). These questions allow us to evaluate tools for teaching in terms of student privacy, accessibility, and a critical learning that we prioritize. The last questions in particular also prompt us to think of diversity along many different lines that would permit us to, for example, include introverts and extroverts. While the analysis of each tool may seem overwhelming, we can take these points as reminders to:
“Tiny Maneuvers” for Equity and Inclusion
I want to end with four observations. Each of these reflections prompts what Rebecca Weaver calls a “tiny maneuver,” a small change to our teaching with hopefully large impact.
First observation in our many synchronous meetings: Canadian participants almost always will start their intros by saying on whose occupied land they reside; no US participant, in my groups at least, did this. There are more and more land acknowledgements at conferences in the US and I will finally include one in my syllabus. In “A guide to Indigenous land acknowledgement,” the Native Governance Center offers important elements and questions about such land acknowledgments. Particularly poignant is the reminder to consider our intentions. My reason for including such a syllabus statement is to unsettle linear and Eurocentric historiography and to make my and many of my students’ positionality within settler colonialism explicit.
A second observation from synchronous meetings: Few people have gender pronouns in their zoom name. Including one creates a model for students to do the same, so that everyone can be addressed with their preferred pronoun.
A third observation is the focus on care. In general, people are eager to show their care for students through the language of their syllabi and assignments, through resources and basic needs statements (see Sara Goldrick-Rab). One of the workshops I took was appropriately called “Syllabus of Care” and thought in particular about access and inclusion from a disability studies angle. I highly recommend the readings of that workshop. Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory” rattles us to think about chronic illness, as well as visible and invisible disabilities in new ways. Kate Bowles’s “On, On, On” reflects on the academic culture of overwork, and Tiana Clark’s “This is What Black Burnout Feels Like” foregrounds the racial implications of stress inside and outside of the academy.
And lastly: Studying online is exhausting. There were so many discussions to keep track of, so much interesting material. I had to prioritize what I could read and leave some texts for later so that I could engage in discussions in real-time. Students face the same decisions this upcoming semester. In contrast to my usual online teaching, my students will now take all of their classes online, which increases their time spent in front of a screen and also the likely number of readings and discussion boards. I will try to reduce content and different means of interaction as a result. My main take-away is: Be gentle with your students.
Bali, Maha. “About that Webcam Obsession You’re Having.” Reflecting Allowed. June 22, 2020. https://blog.mahabali.me/educational-technology-2/about-that-webcam-obsession-youre-having/.
Bali, Maha and Bard Meier. “An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning.” Hybrid Pedagogy. March 04, 2014. https://hybridpedagogy.org/affinity-asynchronous-learning/.
Bowles, Kate. “On, On, On.” Hybrid Pedagogy. July 27, 2014. https://hybridpedagogy.org/on-on-on/.
Clark, Tiana. “This is What Black Burnout Feels Like.” Buzzfeed.News. January 11, 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tianaclarkpoet/millennial-burnout-black-women-self-care-anxiety-depression.
Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020.
Denial, Catherine. “A Pedagogy of Kindness.” An Urgency of Teachers. Edited by S.M. Morris and J. Stommel. https://cdpcollection.pressbooks.com/chapter/a-pedagogy-of-kindness/.
Digital Pedagogy Lab 2020. https://dpl.online/tag/auditorium/.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1993.
Goldrick-Rab, Sara. “Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus.” Medium. August 7, 2017. https://medium.com/@saragoldrickrab/basic-needs-security-and-the-syllabus-d24cc7afe8c9.
Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask Magazine. http://www.maskmagazine.com/not-again/struggle/sick-woman-theory.
hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York:
Morris, Sean Michael, and Jesse Stommel. “A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin.” Hybrid Pedagoy. June 15, 2017. https://hybridpedagogy.org/resisting-edtech/.
Morris, Sean Michael, and Jesse Stommel. “Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Definiton.” An Urgency of Teachers. Edited by S.M. Morris and J. Stommel. https://criticaldigitalpedagogy.pressbooks.com/chapter/chapter-1/.
Native Governance Center. “A guide to Indigenous land acknowledgement.” https://nativegov.org/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/.
Stommel, Jesse. “How to Ungrade.” https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/.
---. “Thursday: Critical EdTech.” https://cdp.dpl.online/day-five/.
Swauger, Shea. “Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education.” Hybrid Pedagogy. April 02, 2020. https://hybridpedagogy.org/our-bodies-encoded-algorithmic-test-proctoring-in-higher-education/.
“University of Cape Town: Low Tech Remote Teaching Principles.” https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zPN7XUitOCw75FW6UeqrYAcWl41UqgKoZ_HRoYTKFZI/edit.
Watters, Audrey. Hack Education. https://hackeducation.com/.
Weaver, Rebecca. “Tiny Maneuvers: On Changing our Instincts as Teachers.” Hybrid Pedagogy. April 28, 2020.https://hybridpedagogy.org/tiny-maneuvers-on-changing-our-instincts-as-teachers/.
Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
German thinkers play crucial roles in the development of notions of “self” that view identity as unique, internal, and fairly immutable (though subject—pun intended—to various forms of development). This notion of self is also related to the establishment of scientized biological racism, to religious belief as internal and personal (a matter of “the heart” as much as to institutions and practices), and to conceptions of gender as ‘natural’ and inherent rather than acquired and performed. While these latter paradigms have been historicized (and thus also largely debunked in intellectual discourse), Western societies still tend to adhere to a view of selfhood not too far from these eighteenth-century origins—although scholars at least since the 1960s have critiqued this model of selfhood as complicit in naturalizing systems of oppression to the point of invisibility in the daily lives of ordinary human beings. These post-deconstructionist critiques of selfhood are important and useful, but they often do not do much more than upend value systems, making the establishment of modern individualism a story of decline rather than triumph. They do very little to decenter the entire idea of a unique, interior self. New approaches to eighteenth-century studies can illuminate the extent to which individual identities are, and always have been, socially constructed and relationally situated—in much the same way that modern social and critical movements currently push us to understand them. This understanding of identity insists on the acknowledgment of the empirical qualities that make up the self, but without giving up on the notion of some space for agency within those frameworks and influences.
My research asks specifically what attending to the kinds of selves that appear in eighteenth-century literature—especially non-canonical literature, which has received hardly any scholarly attention at all, still less of it positive—can tell us about the emergence of models of selfhood. It contends that doing so opens up new possibilities for both reading literature and thinking about ethical engagements in our own, twenty-first-century lives. In the German-speaking context, a conscious sense of belatedness and lack of political unity gives rise to discourses of an emerging “modern” self that are especially highly theorized and frequently self-reflexive. Both in broader Enlightenment discourse (philosophy, linguistics, political theory) and in the emerging literary discourse around the novel, eighteenth-century German thinkers observed developments in states around them (especially France and England) and used these observations to conceive of models of selfhood, and of linguistic and cultural unity, that were applicable to a German context. These reflections combined with a scientific paradigm shift in models of generation to arrive, by the turn of the nineteenth century, at a concept of identity as organic, natural, and autopoietic; this model was canonized, on the literary scene, in the genre of the Bildungsroman.
At the same time, however, the literary market and the reading public were expanding rapidly, and so-called trivial literature remained a messy, complex hybrid of old and new ideas. Twenty-first century readers, returning to German novels of the early-to-mid-eighteenth century, encounter a strange and unfamiliar reading experience. As Wolfram Malte Fues writes in one of the only recent studies to explore non-canonical eighteenth-century novels in detail:
"The narrative styles and the perspectives on self and world that express themselves in them spring forward and backward, outward, sideways, as if the narrators, on the developmental path of their narration, were worried about losing something which likewise only remains in their reach if they continue to pursue it. […] Economics, morals, law, politics, art, science/knowledge, sexuality, the core areas of the self-forming bourgeois society, stand immediately next to each other in these mostly biographically or autobiographically plotted narratives, and follow one another so purely and recklessly that it is as if the moral subject forgot the economic one and the sexual subject forgot the moral one. […] The more the texts fragment according to their external and internal form, the more rhizomatically they proliferate into each other" (74).
These narratives thus make the composite nature of eighteenth-century selves highly visible, including the occasional incompatibility of their relational elements. The protagonists of courtly and political novels express themselves by means of their external effects, whether in politics or in gallant love, with the odd outcome that the measure of morality is success. The journeying subjects of imitations of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe establish their anthropological status as European colonizers over and against the native inhabitants, women, Muslims, and Jews that populate the world of eighteenth-century adventure. From these novels in all their weirdness it emerges that, far from being a “universal subject,” the white, straight, cisgender, upper-middle class or upper-class male individual is socially shaped, relationally embedded, and as and empirically located as the rest of us.
Beyond simply historicizing the emergence of conceptions of self from prior models of identity, examining literary texts in detail can show us how the “modern self,” described in terms of depth, uniqueness, and relative unchangeability, is itself a social construct. That is, we, as modern subjects, have been trained and socialized to grasp our own selves in this way—but this conception is neither natural nor necessary. If we attend to the ways Western culture since the Enlightenment has taught us to believe that we are beings with an essential, individual core, we can also attend to the facets of society and culture, of education and socialization, of indoctrination and resistance, that in fact make up our composite selves.
Here, the ethical stakes of eighteenth-century German studies come into play: we can acknowledge what has shaped us (for good and ill), and reflect on what sources we choose to engage with and allow to form our own socially-turned selves. We can also read and understand those sources differently. One might, for example, read Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship with less attention to paths of individual development and more attention to forms of mutual care and affiliation. Or one might choose to uncover and analyze numbers of the increasingly popular entertaining novels to ask, with curiosity and without condescension, why they resonated with eighteenth-century readers—and to ask which of these resonances ought to be discarded and which might still be relevant and carry ethical weight today. On this model, it matters deeply what communities—of literary works, scholarship, and in non-academic life—we surround ourselves with, and how we act within them.
A very short and very lightly annotated bibliography:
Birkhold, Matthew. Characters Before Copyright: The Rise and Regulation of Fan Fiction in Eighteenth-Century Germany. Oxford 2019. –Interdisciplinary history of the German book market and norms around intellectual property and fictional characters that helps challenge old models of authorship.
Eldridge, Sarah Vandegrift. “Narrative Direction: Novel Form and the Experience of Contingency in Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship,” in: Eldridge and C. Allen Speight, eds. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Philosophy. Oxford 2020, pp. 54-77. –Attempt to re-empiricize the “aesthetic subject” of Goethe’s Bildungsroman and ask questions about contingency in human life.
Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi. “The Color of Reason: The Idea of ‘Race’ in Kant’s Anthropology,” in: Katherine M. Faull, ed. Anthropology and the German Enlightenment: Perspectives on Humanity. Lewisburg, 1995, pp. 201-41. –Re-examination of the formative role of racist thought in Kant’s thought broadly conceived.
Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi. Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader. Malden/Oxford, 1997. –Important collection and situation of key European texts on race from the long eighteenth century.
Fues, Wolfram Malte. Die annullierte Literatur: Nachrichten aus der Romanlücke der deutschen Aufklärung.Cologne/Weimar/Vienna 2017. –Detailed study of non-canonical German literature from 1680-70.
Kittler, Friedrich. “Über die Sozialisation Wilhelm Meisters,” in: Gerhard Kaiser und Friedrich A. Kittler, eds. Dichtung als Sozialisationspiel. Studien zu Goethe und Gottfried Keller. Göttingen 1978. S. 13-124. –Classic deconstructionist critique of the subject and its formation, although unfortunately attached to an Oedipal framework.
Müller-Sievers, Helmut. Self-Generation: Biology, Philosophy, and Literature Around 1800. Stanford 1997. –Reading of epigenetic/organicist turn across German discourses at the end of the eighteenth century.
Saine, Thomas P. The Problem of Being Modern: Or The German Pursuit of Enlightenment from Leibniz to the French Revolution. Detroit 1997. –Account of the ripple effect of seventeenth-century scientific developments in eighteenth-century philosophy and religion.
Tautz, Birgit. Reading and Seeing Ethnic Differences in the Enlightenment: From China to Africa. New York 2007. –Important global account of European conceptions of and relationships to non-European cultures.
Wahrman, Dror. The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven 2006. –Thorough history of eighteenth-century models of selfhood and paradigm shift in the 1770s-80s; specifically about the Anglo-American tradition but with some insights that apply in other national contexts.
Zantop, Susanne. Colonial Fantasies: Conquest, Family, and Nation in Precolonial Germany, 1770-1870. Chapel Hill, 1997. –Important debunking of the false notion that because Germany was late to acquire colonies, it lacked a racist, imperialist “colonial imagination.”
Zhang, Chunjie. Transculturality and German Discourse in the Age of European Colonialism. Evanston 2017. –Exploration of non-European agency and contributions to and in German thought from 1756-1835.
A promise of solidarity from DDGC, WiG, the GSA, BGHRA, and the CAUTG Social Justice Committee,
15 July 2020
Today we, teachers and researchers in German Studies, share the relief our students and friends feel at seeing the new restrictions on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), issued by the United States Department of State and ICE on July 6, 2020, rescinded without further delay. We recognize that this rescindment would not have been forthcoming from the federal government, were it not for a timely and expensive suit supported by over 200 colleges and universities across the country. We are grateful for everyone—aides, researchers, lawyers, plaintiffs, food delivery workers, officers of the court, and family members—who unexpectedly sacrificed a week of summer, during this pandemic, to head off a punitive policy that ought never have been conceived in the first place.
We further recognize that such punitive policies will likely continue to be introduced and implemented, damaging our schools’, students’, and communities’ well-being over the coming months, and that we will soon need to rely again on these colleagues’ unflinching and courageous work to defeat the next such policy. We see clearly that the federal government is engaged in a chaotic shock strategy, designed to distract and divide us in a moment already marred by fear, pain, impoverishment, and hopelessness. We will not fall for it, if you won’t. We will never leave our students and friends defenseless and isolated, whether or not they hold US citizenship, permanent resident status, one kind of visa versus another, or documentation of any kind. We will stand by them today and permanently—in our institutional actions, teaching, and public work.
The Diversity, Decolonization and the German Curriculum collective, the Coalition of Women in German, the German Studies Association Committee for the Initiative on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, the Black German Heritage and Research Association, and the Social Justice Committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German join with one another in rejecting the spirit of punishment and intimidation that these recent policies represented. We also endorse the statement issued by our colleagues at the Modern Language Association, the statement by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the letter by the American Historical Association outlining the damage and harm that these types of proposed restrictions cause.
We will learn from this moment, and we will not forget it, even as it brings us and our fellows, friends, and students momentary relief. We know that more and more judges are currently being confirmed by the US Senate who would gladly support policies that instill fear in students and sow enmity for generations to come. The intent and effect of the attempted SEVP restrictions (together with the recent restrictions on J and HB-1 visas) were always a xenophobic exclusion of international students from college and university life in the United States, as well as increased coercive strategy to force our colleges and universities into in-person courses despite the public health train wreck this would ensure.
Despite the rescindment, many of the schools in which we teach are already feeling the devastating effects of these clustered and disruptive decisions, as our international students make the difficult choice to defer or cancel their participation in our programs, given the uncertainty they face both in terms of visas and in terms of US responses to Covid-19. Our international scholars and students play central, courageous roles as teachers and researchers in our communities. They provide integral contributions to intellectual life at all levels and in all areas of our academic communities. As a consequence of recent visa restrictions, institutions of higher education face significant barriers to fulfilling their research and teaching missions. Meanwhile, students in locations with insecure internet access or who are in insecure living conditions find themselves excluded from participation in college and university courses if they cannot travel to the US. Furthermore, any action that potentially leads to spikes in Covid-19 (such as in-person classes held when it is unsafe to do so) will disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities in the United States. The evidence continues to pile up showing the ways in which Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people are more severely affected by the spread of the virus (recently summarized in this New York Times article) - Black and Latinx people are three times more likely to become infected and twice as likely to die.
In other words, these visa restrictions and other recent changes in immigration policy mobilize bald-faced xenophobic ideas about who legitimately belongs in our intellectual and research communities, and perpetuate racist inequities that once again target the lives of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. They impugn the invaluable contributions made to our research (and, of course, overall society) by international scholars and students. They threaten to decimate the standing of US colleges and universities in the world.
In the coming weeks and months, we call on all of our institutions of learning to reject such restrictions as these outright, and instead to work to honor and defend the vital international intellectual exchange which our institutions have fostered over the decades to uplift research, teaching, innovation, and transnational collaboration.
Conference CfP and applications is open until October 7, 2020. Click here for more info.