German Studies

Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 3:13 p.m.


The German section of the Department of German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature offers instruction in the German language and literature aimed at providing access to many aspects of the culture, past and present, of Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland. German has always been one of the prime languages of international scholarship, and the reunification of Germany in 1990 has drawn renewed attention to the European and worldwide importance of that country. German majors have gone on to graduate school in German literature to prepare for a career of teaching and research or to professional schools in law, medicine, or business, entered government work, or found employment with publishing companies or business firms with international connections.

Learning Goals

German Studies draws upon history, music, political science, philosophy, the arts, and literary studies to examine German culture past and present. Students in German Studies learn about German language and literature and become knowledgeable about the cultures of Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland. German Studies prepares students for careers in teaching and research, as well as professions such as law, medicine, business, and government.

Students in German Studies will be familiar with a wide range of methodologies and frameworks for the analysis of German culture, and able to follow current findings and debates within the field. As it engages students with extensive existing research in multiple disciplines, our curriculum is particularly committed to advance students’ understanding in a variety of areas.

Core skills:
Students completing the minor in German studies will be able to:

  • speak and comprehend German to function competently in daily life;
  • read and write German at a level of critical literacy;
  • perform cultural analyses;
  • develop cultural competence: they will understand social norms, behaviors, values, taboos.
Students completing the major in German studies will in addition be able to:
  • write and speak German sufficiently to participate in discussions, write critical essays and research papers, and give oral presentations;
  • read and interpret both primary and secondary texts and/or data from a variety of disciplines, historical periods, and cultures;
  • conceptualize and develop complex research that questions existing assumptions;
  • articulate an understanding of the multiple roles of German culture in history.

Students completing the minor/major in German studies will have a foundational knowledge of the German language and will understand the complexities of:

  • the history of modern German literature and culture, 1750 to the present;
  • cultural developments in modern German-speaking central Europe, such as in the arts, cinema, literature;
  • central issues such as the Nazi era and the Holocaust, the role of gender and minority discourses, and their reflection in German literature, arts, and cinema;

Social Justice:
Since the Holocaust Germany has served as a model of social injustice. The discrimination and subsequent murder of six million Jews in Germany and the exclusion and persecution of many other minorities has left an indelible mark on German culture to this day. Directly and indirectly, our courses shed light on the meaning of the struggle for social justice in various periods of German history. Minority discourses continue to be front and center in German literature and politics today.

Within our courses in German Studies, students are prepared to:

  • analyze systems of power and privilege;
  • examine the causes, manifestations, and consequences of institutional discrimination of every kind;
  • understand and respect a range of cultural perspectives.

Experiential Learning:
To some extent all language study is experiential. Courses in German language are student-centered and interactive. We strongly encourage our students to study abroad for a summer, a semester, or even a year in a German-speaking country to immerse themselves fully.

Upon Graduation:
The German Studies curriculum prepares students for a wide range of careers. Graduates of our program are applying their skills and knowledge to academic and professional pursuits in medicine, law, education, government, social service, public policy, religion, counseling, international relations, journalism, publishing, business, and the arts.

How to Become a Major

The department welcomes all students who wish to become majors in German studies. Nonmajors and majors are offered computer-aided instruction in German, and work in the classroom is supplemented with regular German-speaking events. Majors in German studies are encouraged to spend their junior year in Germany or any other German-speaking country. Students are especially encouraged to participate in the Berlin Summer Program, a six-week intensive program taught in the center of the German capital. See Scott Van Der Meid in the Study Abroad office for more details.

In addition to the major in German studies, the section offers a minor in German studies and participates in the program in European Cultural Studies. (The abbreviation GECS denotes German and European Cultural Studies courses.)


See German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature.

Requirements for the Minor

A. Advanced language study is required by taking either GER 103a or 104a.

B. Advanced literature study is required by taking GER 105b.

C. Students must take 2 additional elective courses from among the following: German courses numbered above 105b, GECS courses and cross-listed courses.

D. Successful completion of GER 30a or a departmental language exemption exam is a pre-requisite for the minor.

E. No course with a final grade below C-, and no course taken pass/fail, can count toward fulfilling the requirements for the minor in German Studies.

Requirements for the Major

A. ECS 100a (European Cultural Studies: Proseminar/Modernism) to be completed no later than the junior year.

B. Advanced language and literature study: Required are: GER 103a, GER 104a, and GER 105a, plus any five German literature/culture courses above GER 105b, at least two of which must be conducted in German.

C. Majors wishing to graduate with departmental honors must enroll in and complete GER 99d (Senior Thesis), a full-year course or GER 99b (Senior Essay), a one-semester course. Before enrolling, students should consult with the coordinator. Candidates for departmental honors must have a 3.50 GPA in German courses previous to the senior year. Honors are awarded on the basis of cumulative excellence in all courses taken in the major and the grade on the honors thesis or essay. One semester of the senior thesis or the honors essay may be counted toward the six required upper-level courses.

A major in German may obtain the Massachusetts teaching certificate at the high school level by additionally completing requirements of the Education Program. Interested students should meet with the program director.

D. No course with a final grade below C-, and no course taken pass/fail, can count toward fulfilling the requirements for the major in German Studies.

Courses of Instruction

(1-99) Primarily for Undergraduate Students

GER 10a Beginning German
Four class hours per week.
Intended for students with little or no previous knowledge of German. Emphasis is placed on comprehending, reading, writing, and conversing in German and the presentation of basic grammar. Class work is enhanced by various interactive classroom activities and is supplemented by extensive language lab, video, and computer-aided exercises. Usually offered every year in the fall.
Ms. Seidl

GER 20b Continuing German
Prerequisite: A grade of C- or higher in GER 10a or the equivalent. Four class hours per week.
Continuation of comprehending, reading, writing, and conversing in German, with an emphasis on basic grammar concepts. Special attention is paid to the development of speaking skills in the context of cultural topics of the German-speaking countries. Extensive language lab, video, and computer-aided exercises supplement this course. Usually offered every year in the spring.
Ms. Seidl

GER 30a Intermediate German
[ fl ]
Prerequisite: A grade of C- or higher in GER 20b or the equivalent. Four class hours per week.
In concluding the development of the four language speaking skills--comprehending, writing, reading, and speaking--this course focuses on finishing up the solid grammar foundation that was laid in GER 10a and GER 20b. It also presents additional audio and video material, films, radio plays, and newspaper and magazine articles, as well as a variety of extensive interactive classroom activities. Usually offered every year in the fall.
Ms. von Mering

GER 98a Independent Study
May be taken only with the permission of the chair or the advising head.
Readings and reports under faculty supervision. Usually offered every year.

GER 98b Independent Study
May be taken only with the permission of the chair or the advising head.
Readings and reports under faculty supervision. Usually offered every year.

GER 99b Senior Honors Essay
Students should consult Undergraduate Advising Head.
Usually offered every year.

GER 99d Senior Thesis
Students should consult Undergraduate Advising Head.
Usually offered every year.

(100-199) For Both Undergraduate and Graduate Students

The abbreviation GECS denotes German and European cultural studies courses which are taught in English.

GECS 130b The Princess and the Golem: Fairy Tales
[ hum wi ]
Open to all students. Conducted in English.
An introduction to the genre of fairy tale in German literature, focusing especially on the narratives collected by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, but also exploring Disney movies and feminist re-readings of the classic tales in various cultural contexts. Usually offered every third year.
Ms. von Mering

GECS 167a German Cinema: Vamps and Angels
[ hum wi ]
Open to all students. Conducted in English with readings in English translation.
From silent film to Leni Riefenstahl and Nazi cinema, from postwar cinema in the East and West to new German film after unification, this course traces aesthetic strategies, reflections on history, memory, subjectivity, and political, cultural, and film-historical contexts with an emphasis on gender issues. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. von Mering

GECS 187b Seeking Justice: Jews and Germans
[ hum ]
Since WWII the relationship between Jews and Germans has been defined by the Holocaust. How could a modern civilized nation like Germany perpetrate the Nazi crimes? What led to the Nazi regime and how have Jews and Germans tried to overcome a history of injustice since 1945? We will investigate the past two hundred years of this relationship by looking at some of the most influential texts and films that address the question of seeking justice. Usually offered every third year.
Ms. von Mering

GECS 188b Human/Nature: European Perspectives on Climate Change
[ hum ]
Open to all students.
Introduces European attitudes towards climate change as reflected in policy, literature, film, and art, with a focus on workable future-oriented alternatives to fossil-fueled capitalism. Usually offered every other year.Usually offered every second year.
Ms. von Mering

GER 103a German Culture Through Film
[ fl hum oc ]
Prerequisite: GER 30a.
Approaches an understanding of contemporary German culture through film by focusing on one of the most fascinating and turbulent of national cinemas. Landmark films from the 1920s to the present and pertinent essays, articles and studies will provide a historical perspective on decisive social and cultural phenomena. Major themes include Vergangenheitsbewältigung, multi-ethnic societies, terrorism, life in the GDR, and cultural trends at the beginning of the 21st century. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Seidl

GER 104a Let's Talk! Shall We?
[ fl hum oc ]
Prerequisite: GER 30a.
Designed to focus on fostering students' oral skills. Numerous mock situations and roleplaying exercises provide students with the opportunity to develop and polish oral competency in the German language. Various mock social gatherings like student outings and parties, festive family events, romantic dates, academic and professional interview situations offer the know-how for interns to be successful and gain the most out of their experience abroad, travel and restaurant "language," and also a certain amount of business German. All this and more are practiced in this course. Usually offered every year.

GER 105a Writing on the Wall: Literature, the Arts, and the Fall of the Wall
[ fl hum wi ]
Prerequisite: GER 30a or the equivalent.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 drastically changed Germany’s geographical and political landscape. This course focuses on the role of literature, music and the arts in this historical process, and on changes in conceptual frameworks for the perception of borders, language, space and tradition. Students expand their vocabulary, improve their oral/written use of idiomatic German, and hone reading strategies and analytical skills. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Seidl

GER 109b Meisterwerke Deutscher Kurzprosa
[ fl hum ]
Conducted in German.
Tailored to suit the needs of advanced intermediate students, this course explores in detail several short prose masterworks by writers including Martin Buber, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Arthur Schnitzler. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Dowden

GER 110a Goethe
[ hum ]
Intensive study of many of Goethe's dramatic, lyric, and prose works, including Goetz, Werther, Faust I, and a comprehensive selection of poetry. Usually offered every third year.
Ms. von Mering

GER 121a Der Eros und das Wort: Lyrik, Prosa, Drama
[ hum ]
Focuses on the prose, poetry, and drama of love in German literature since Goethe. Workes by Goethe, Kleist, Novalis, Tieck, Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, Treichel, and others. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Dowden

GER 140a Bertolt Brecht und das Theater des 20.Jahrhunderts
[ fl hum ]
Prerequisite: GER 103a or equivalent. Conducted in German.
Examines the role of theater and drama as "moral institution" and entertainment. How does theater hold postwar Germans accountable for remembering the past and promoting social justice? Students will also work collaboratively on a performance project. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. von Mering

GER 181a Franz Kafka's Erzählungen
[ fl hum ]
Prerequisites: GER 105a is recommended.
A detailed exploration of Kafka's works, life, and thought. Emphasis will be given to his place in the larger scheme of literary modernism. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Dowden

Cross-Listed in German Studies

COML 100a Comparing Literatures and Cultures: Theory and Practice
[ hum wi ]
Core course for COML major and minor.
What is common and what is different in literatures of different cultures and times? How do literary ideas move from one culture to another? In this course students read theoretical texts, as well as literary works from around the world. Usually offered every year.

COML 121b Tragedy and the Tragic
[ hum ]
Explores the genre of tragedy and the concept of the tragic in Western literature. Readings from Aristotle, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe, Büchner, Nietzsche, Nelly Sachs, Celan and others. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Dowden

ECS 100a European Cultural Studies Proseminar: Modernism
[ hum wi ]
Explores the interrelationship of literature, music, painting, philosophy, and other arts in the era of high modernism. Works by Artaud, Baudelaire, Benjamin, Mann, Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Kandinsky, Schiele, Beckett, Brecht, Adorno, Sartre, Heidegger, and others. Usually offered every fall semester.
Mr. Dowden

FA 47b Renaissance Art in Northern Europe
[ ca ]
May not be taken for credit by students who took FA 54b in prior years.
A survey of the art of the Netherlands, Germany, and France in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cultural developments such as the invention of printing, the Protestant Reformation, and the practices of alchemy and witchcraft will be considered through the work of major artists. Usually offered every fourth year.
Mr. Unglaub

HIST 123b Reformation Europe (1400-1600)
[ ss wi ]
Survey of Protestant and Catholic efforts to reform religion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Topics include scholastic theology, popular piety and anticlericalism, Luther's break with Rome, the rise of Calvinism, Henry VIII and the English Reformation, the Catholic resurgence, and the impact of reform efforts on the lives of common people. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Sreenivasan

HIST 126a Early Modern Europe (1500-1700)
[ qr ss ]
Survey of politics, ideas, and society in Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Focuses on the changing relationship between the emerging modern state and its subjects. Topics include the development of ideologies of resistance and conformity, regional loyalties and the problems of empire, changing technologies of war and repression, and the social foundations of order and disorder. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Sreenivasan

HIST 131a Hitler's Europe in Film
[ ss wi ]
Takes a critical look as how Hitler's Europe has been represented and misrepresented since its time by documentary and entertainment films of different countries beginning with Germany itself. Movies, individual reports, discussions, and a littler reading. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Kelikian

HIST 137b World War I
[ ss wi ]
Examines the opening global conflict of the twentieth century. Topics include the destruction of the old European order, the origins of total war, the cultural and social crisis it provoked, and the long-term consequences for Europe and the world. Usually offered every second year.
Mr. Jankowski

HIST 139b Fascism East and West
[ ss ]
Traces the origins of authoritarianism in Europe, Asia, and Latin America during the twentieth century. It first looks at Germany and Italy. Additionally, it examines right-wing regimes in Japan, China, and Indonesia and their non-western political traditions. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Pieragastini

HIST 146b Hitler, Germany, and Europe
[ ss wi ]
Hitler's personality and politics in their German and European context, 1889-1945. Usually offered every second year.

HIST 177b Modern Germany: Rise of a Global Power
[ ss wi ]
Offers a systematic examination of modern Germany from 1815 to the present, with particular attention to Germany's role in globalization. Usually offered every second year.
Mr. Freeze

HIST 183b Community and Alienation: Social Theory from Hegel to Freud
[ ss ]
The rise of social theory understood as a response to the trauma of industrialization. Topics include Marx's concept of "alienation," Tönnies's distinction between "community" and "society," Durkheim's notion of "anomie," Weber's account of "disenchantment," and Nietzsche's repudiation of modernity. Usually offered every fourth year.
Mr. Hulliung

HOID 100a Introduction to Critical Theory
[ hum ]
How should we understand the cultural contradictions of modern society? This course will explore the evolution of Critical Theory as developed by the early Frankfurt School, with a specific focus on the works of Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Marcuse. Special one-time offering, fall 2014.
Mr. Gamsby

MUS 45a Beethoven
[ ca ]
Open to music majors and non-majors.
A study of the most influential musician in the history of Western civilization. Although attention is given to his place in society, emphasis falls on an examination of representative works drawn from the symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and solo piano works. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Keiler

MUS 54b Music and Poetry in the German Art Song During the Nineteenth Century
[ ca ]
Surveys the interaction of poetry and music in major masterpieces of the German art song (Lied) for voice and piano from the time of Beethoven and Schubert (c. 1815) to that of Strauss, Wolf and Mahler (c. 1900). All the major composers of Lieder will be covered. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Chafe

NEJS 137a The Destruction of European Jewry
[ hum ]
Open to all students.
Why did the Jews become the subject of genocidal hatred? A systematic examination of the anti-Jewish genocide planned and executed by Nazi Germany and the Jewish and general responses to it. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Polonsky

PHIL 107b Kant's Moral Theory
[ hum ]
An examination of the main philosophical issues addressed in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason from the perspective of their relation to works specifically belonging to his ethical theory: the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Metaphysics of Morals. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Moran

PHIL 149a Leibniz, Hume, and Kant on Necessity
[ hum ]
Prerequisite: PHIL 1a or a course in the history of modern philosophy or analytic philosophy.
An investigation into the views of three historical philosophers -- Leibniz, Hume, and Kant -- on the concept of necessity, with limited reference to contemporary treatment of the concept by W. V. Quine and early David Kaplan. Related concept of a priori and analyticity are also discussed. Usually offered every fourth year.
Mr. Greenberg

PHIL 167a Hegel: Self-Consciousness and Freedom in the Phenomenology of Spirit
[ hum ]
Prerequisite: PHIL 1a or equivalent.
Offers a close reading of Hegal and pays special attention to his analyses of the changing patterns of understand and self-understanding and the way in which he opens up these transformations for the reader to experience. In his modern paradigm, the Subject and the Object of thought necessarily affect one another's potential, essence, and fate. And through a rational comprehension of role of Spirit (Geist) in thought and the world, we can see how they become inextricably bound together. Indeed, for Hegel, the dialectic between subject and object provides the very ground for the self-aware and free subject to participate in modern life. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Sheppard

PHIL 168a Kant
[ hum ]
Prerequisite: PHIL 1a or permission of the instructor.
An attempt to understand and evaluate the main ideas of the Critique of Pure Reason, the subjectivity of space and time, the nature of consciousness, and the objectivity of the concepts of substance and causality. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Greenberg

PHIL 179a God, Man, and World: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz
[ hum ]
Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.
The subject of this course is Rationalism, the seventeenth-century European philosophical movement that maintains the supremacy of "pure reason" as a means of obtaining substantial truths about the world. This course analyzes key writings of the three most influential rationalist thinkers of this period, attempting to elucidate several themes that not only characterize these writers as rationalists, but which continue to inspire philosophers and others who attempt to come to terms with the nature of the world and human existence. Students will read substantial portions of historically significant original works are, dissect and criticize them, consider some of the respected secondary literature, and also consider their relevance to contemporary philosophy. Usually offered every third year.
Mr. Samet

PHIL 182a Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations
[ hum ]
An intensive study of Ludwig Wittgenstein's seminal work, Philosophical Investigations. This course should be of interest to philosophy and literature students who want to learn about this great philosopher's influential views on the nature of language and interpretation. Usually offered every second year.
Mr. Flesch and Mr. Hirsch

POL 189a Marx, Nietzsche, and Twentieth-Century Radicalism
[ ss ]
Comparison of two powerful and influential critiques of modern politics and society. Explanation of Marx's work, both for its own insights and as a model for radical theorists; and of Nietzsche's work as an alternative conception of radical social criticism. Usually offered every second year.
Mr. Yack

SOC 141a Marx and Freud
[ ss ]
Examines Marxian and Freudian analyses of human nature, human potential, social stability, conflict, consciousness, social class, and change. Includes attempts to combine the two approaches. Usually offered every second year.
Mr. Fellman