In Good Times and Bad: What Is German Studies Today?

Friday, January 3, 2020: 3:30 PM
Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton)
David E. Barclay, Kalamazoo College
In 2017 the German Foreign Office announced that it would sponsor a Deutschlandjahr(Year of Germany) in the US beginning in October 2018. Under the hashtag #WunderbarTogether, it was intended to draw the American public’s attention to the “special relationship” between our two countries. I will argue that it expressed an underlying anxiety about the present and future of those ties. The countries are in fact drifting further apart, a tendency that is unlikely to change; and that reality is reflected in the current state of German Studies.

My remarks will first consider the evolution of German Studies in the US after 1945. The establishment of the German Studies Association in 1976 represented a pioneering effort to encourage innovative inter- and multidisciplinary approaches to the German-speaking world. Recently it has enjoyed record conference attendances and continues to encourage intellectual innovation, from gender studies to transnational understandings of German-speaking Central Europe. More Americans are spending research time in Central Europe than at any time in the past, and their scholarly productivity has been enviable. My remarks will include several examples, as well as a discussion of related organizations, all of which demonstrates that the study of German-speaking Central Europe has retained its intellectual vibrancy.

At the same time, scholars in German Studies have had to face grim realities, such as declining financial support, program cuts, non-replacement of retired colleagues, and increasing reliance on contingent faculty. My remarks will include data on enrollments, hiring patterns, and program cuts, and some focused comments on the state of German history in the US today. As the old Cold War relationship between Germany and the US has frayed, and Cold War-era area studies have lost much of their policy salience, the present and future of German Studies remain ambiguous, despite Deutschlandjahr.

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