The Future of German Studies

On the occasion of the inauguration of Prof. Henrike Lähnemann as Chair in Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at Oxford University, a round table discussion on “The Future of German Studies” was held on Friday, 22 January 2016. OGN’s coordinator, Nicola, gives her thoughts here…

Arriving for an event about “The Future of German Studies” I was curious as to what awaited me. This title suggested a whole series of questions: “What is the future of German Studies?”; “How do we make German Studies fit for the future?” or even the more provocative “Is there a future for German Studies?”

The panel was chaired by Prof. Ritchie Robertson (Taylor Chair of German Studies) and featured OGN’s Director Prof. Katrin Kohl, alongside Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer (University of Freiburg), Dr Wilhelm Krull (VolkswagenStiftung), Dr Dorothea Rüland (DAAD) and Dr Carsten Dose (FRIAS). It was part of a series of events to mark the Inaugural Lecture of Henrike Lähnemann, Chair in Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at Oxford University. More on these other exciting events in a future post…

Given the credentials of the panel it will come as no surprise, though perhaps still something of a relief, to hear that all of them believe there is a future for German Studies. As to the question of what this future may look like, two broad themes emerged: intercultural learning and exchange, and interdisciplinarity. In a globalised world there is a role for the humanities in helping us to better understand and integrate different cultures, and within the academic sphere there is much to be gained from a transfer of academic cultures through initiatives such as summer schools or joint degree programmes hosted by, for example, German and British universities. Many of the speakers noted that German Studies is by nature interdisciplinary – perhaps explaining why it can prove such a hard term to pin down! – and suggested too that more can be done to strengthen links with other fields and to better articulate these in existing projects.

But for me the future of German Studies is perhaps to do more with the who than the what. This is arguably where the Oxford German Network fits in. Prof. Kohl summed up a key part of OGN’s mission as providing a “dimension to German that goes far beyond what it is in schools”. Generating enthusiasm for German now – whether language and literature or Lebkuchen and Laugenbrezel – is fundamental to the future of German Studies. A former teacher who shared her experiences during the Q&A section summed this up by saying that for German teachers “getting pupils to Germany equals job done” – whether visiting a Christmas market, eating Currywurst or crossing Checkpoint Charlie – pupils are excited and enthralled by what they discover when they are given the chance to really experience German culture.

My reflections on the event, and this topic as a whole, can be summed up in just one word: ‘youth’. A youthful spirit and open-minded approach will ensure that German Studies is fit for the future, and young voices, able not only to speak German but to see the world through someone else’s eyes, are in themselves the future.

                                                                                                                                                Nicola, OGN Coordinator