Globalizing German Studies: A New Border Action

by Jeffrey M. Peck
Globalizing German Studies: A New Border Action
Jeffrey M. Peck
The German Quarterly
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York University (Toronto) and Universite' de Montre'al

Globalizing German Studies: A New Border Action

Why should anyone study German or Germany in the future? And if they are in- deed interested, how should it be taught? These questions, for students in the first case, and for teachers in the second, seem the most pressing (and interesting) as a centuiy has come to a close in which Ger- many has had, to say the least, aprominent role. These last hundred years have seen the vicissitudes of German history and its subsequent place in the European order af- fect the status of German in schools and universities. During World War I German was banned in many American schools, and seventy years later we celebrated with many Germans at the reunification that seemed to be raising our enrollments, as well as our hopes for a successful united Germany. Nothing needs to be said here about what happened in between those major events as to German's popularity in the United States. Still, it is ironic that in the later postwar period-the seventies, eighties, and nineties--courses on the Nazi period, as well as the Holocaust, seem to draw the largest crowds.

My very brief historical excursion is meant here to emphasize that political events, particularly in Germany, do indeed influence interest in "things German," be they literature, culture, politics, history, economics, or language itself. The millen- nium itself may indeed have been prema- turely initiated with the fall of the German Wall. Unfortunately, that peak of excite- ment has waned, and as language enroll- ments fall for all but Spanish, it is obvi- ously important that we ascertain how to maintain the curricular integrity (and the FTEs) in our departments and in a univer- sity that is becoming increasingly corporatized and bureaucratized. The links between academic policy and the market- place are not to be forgotten, especially in the integrated and convergent global mar- kets. In the last few years the answer has been interdisciplinary German Studies, focusing precisely on the various fields I

mention above. Some universities have been fortunate enough, as Georgetown University, to have a "Center of Excel- lence" in German and European Studies that institutionally creates such intellec- tual opportunities for students and for fac- ulty. Even without such formal centers, most other universities and colleges have moved, at least in name, to a German Studies model that draws courses and fac- ulty from multiple departments. The teaching of the German language remains -properly sea central support in such a program. The battles fought for many years against traditional Germanistik have, I hope, been settled, and while Ger- man Studies-ifjob descriptions are to be a gauge of our self-definition-dominate German Departments today, literary crit- ics and cultural studies practitioners have found an alliance in trying to save the study of German and Germany. And even the latter, including myself, have become more critical about the excesses of such ap- proaches.

Today, especially from my vantage

The German Quarterly 73.1 (Winter 2000) 31


point in Canada as the Director of such a Centre of German and European Studies, the landscapes of German Studies in par- ticular and area studies in general have taken on a new contour. Perhaps it is un- avoidably my view of our discipline, area studies, and international academic rela-

tions from a Center in what some would call "the periphery." But in global pro- cesses traditional centers and peripheries rearrange themselves quite quickly, forc- ing us to reevaluate our own angles of vi- sion, how they are constituted, and what they mean. This hermeneutics takes on a new urgency when German language and literature study is situated in interdisci- plinary German Studies, in European Studies, and finally in an international studies that now needs to be globalized it- self. Like Russian dolls that fit neatly one into the next, these multiple parts can ap- pear to glide in and out quite smoothly. But more often today, university policies are shaped by the exigencies of the global mar- ketplace, making parts and wholes fit un- easily together, when they fit at all. While we tend to focus on the status of German Studies, the humanities and the social sci- ences, or the study of "culture," according to the interests and expectations of individ- ual professors, departments, or academic fields, we cannot forget our vulnerability to the university's changing priorities based on external demands that have little to do with our immediate interests. Distinguished by the impact of globalization and technological innovation, the new millen- nium will require German departments (and universities) to understand them- selves quite differently, precisely in terms of the constantly shifting relationship of the local to the global.

What might this millennial discipline look like, and what can we do with it? Let me offer some thoughts. As we all know, German Departments, as they have been handed down to us from 19th century na- tional philological models, are no longer adequate, either intellectually or institu- tionally. We are all familiar enough with the history of Germanistik and the Ger- man influence on the evolution of the mod- ernuniversity. In the terms that I have pre- sented, these models were exclusively lo- cal, in so far as the goal of traditional Germanistik, especially im Ausland, was to preserve and disseminate the high cul- tural tradition of specifically German Bildung and its Biirgertum, whereas the cultural studies model has become in some cases too global by often ignoring the speci- ficity of regional and national differences, even while it celebrates alterity and disad- vantages non-Anglo-American studies. Situating the study of Germany and Ger- man in an interdisciplinary model, as I mentioned above, has been a notable ad- vance on the exclusivity of one or the other of these somewhat exaggerated polarities.

However, I would like to suggest some of the benefits of further extending the in- ternationalization of German Studies by framing it in more contemporary global terms. International studies, as a formal academic field, has existed in North Amer- ica since the end of the Second World War. While global exchange has always been a significant aspect of internationalization, "globalization" is now a much broader, more encompassing category that is identi- fied more precisely with the hegemony of free market capitalism, the creation of multinational corporations, the transna- tional movement of capital, and the influ- ence of the mass media and computer tech- nology. The term "international" does not adequately capture the simultaneous depth and breadth of the global environ- ment, nor does it capture the new kind of anxiety that emerges when a boundaried nation-state is replaced by what seems to be a nebulous conglomerate of market forces with no center. Indeed, "interna- tional" presumes the stability and bound- aries of nation-states, a world order, be it Cold War or not, more likely associated with modernist notions of Enlightenment progress and secure notions of the "sub-

PECK:Globalizing German Studies 33

ject," be it a citizen or an object of study. The "global" is based rather in postmod- ernist notions of the postnational elimina- tion of boundaries heralding speedy ex- change, but also insecurity, disorientation, and a dispersed subject position or identity. For us in the university, "international" may be maintained as a category for the study of world regions, comparatively or otherwise, but should be linked today with an awareness of global concerns in political economy, transnationalism, mass media, and technology, and on specific topics, such as migration, health, identity, security, ecology. and urban and techno culture, but to name a few. It is not surprising that prominent US funding agencies such as Ford, Mellon, and SSRC have transferred their priorities to these functional rather than regional areas that are better-suited to such intercultural flows.

In such a global model, "Germany," even a unified one, has less currency as a coherent totality than it did in the 1970s, even though at that time the country was divided into two. At that time many of us began to see cultural studies as an al- ternative for creating a new German Studies that deconstructed a place called "Germany" and its cultural products cre- ated prominently by white, heterosexual, Christian males and usually from the West. Looking towards the future, we may need to extend our vision beyond topics that, while they are oppositional within a specif- ically German purview, remain sometimes too narrow without the benefits of compar- ison and extension to concerns that pay more attention to the constant transmuta- tions of wholes and parts, centers and pe- ripheries, or insiders and outsiders. For ex- ample, the word Auslander, in neither its literal nor metaphorical sense, adequately connotes the status of "non- Germans" in the country, since many people who are "Inlander" also feel alien. The political boundary represented by the Wall that has now disappeared no longer distinguishes "friends" from "enemies," nor, as is well-known, does its absence mean its divi- sive power has disappeared. Global ex- change and technological transfer shift our secure relationships in time and space by erasing boundaries of all kinds, be they na- tions (postnationalist), identities (postmodern), or disciplines (transdisciplina- ry), and simultaneously drawing our at- tention to their presence and absence. The significance of borders and their constant transgressions-literally (wars, migration, trade), metaphorically (translation and in- terpretation,) and virtually (knowledge transfer, websites, listserves, MOOS)- represents a primary critical site for study- ing Germany in Europe. In German Studies, more work needs to be done on diasporas, migrations, and identities in a global context; on literature and theory as part of hypertextualized discourses and communication theories; and on redefin- ing national, continental, and global re- lations themselves, such as Germany's role in European integration when seen against the less obvious regroupings on the North American continent because of global trade policies, such as NAFTA, and their dramatic cultural effects.

While these somewhat grandiose and abstract suggestions may not change the nitty-gritty of German 101 (although the new Georgetown undergraduate German language curriculum is a good example of innovation), interdisciplinary German studies may need to recognize these kinds of subjects and perspectives from the lan- guage classroom to the graduate seminar. German Studies practitioners might be- come more attuned to the ways that uni- versity policies can be taken advantage of and even changed to produce more creative innovation and efficient convergence by linking with programs that are not tradi- tionally thought of as German or even Eu- ropean. I am thinking here of, for example, programs that are linking the study of cul- ture, communication, and technology, or the collaboration of foreign language de- partments in coordinating teaching and


resources in second language acquisition. History departments are changing as well. Traditionally subdivided by national boundaries, they are increasingly includ- ingcourses in what they call world or global history, focusing on decisive border regions, rather than on the nationally cir- cumscribed territories themselves, such as the Sino-Russian boundary, or on trans- continental intellectual or cultural migra- tions such as that between Africa and Latin America. Even in the university, we do not have to remain passive consumers of mar- ket-driven bottom lines and pre-packaged programs. "German professors" can have many institutional and intellectual identi- ties beyond the exclusively local or global.

While I wish that I could be more spe- cific and concrete in this millennial spirit, I too am trying to understand this new ter- rain and these very different reconfig- urations instigated by globalization and technology, terms that themselves are still far too slippery and too readily invoked to explain very complicated processes in a few pages. Nevertheless, becoming cognizant of the bigger picture that I sketch so briefly here helps, I think, to fit-as easily or un- easily as those Russian dolls-new kinds of knowledge and information created by shifting territories and boundaries that are (re)definingour intellectual practices. Iam talking about attitudes and perspectives as much as subject areas. World regions are being configured and our institutional and administrative structures should remain flexible enough to accommodate the

fast-changingscenarios that are now based

on more than just political rationales.

However, we too must be agile and obser-

vant, keeping our eyes on the local. and the

global simultaneously, always using the

one to temper and critique the other, as

these scenarios transmogrify in front of

our very eyes. Our students, as well, need

to be taught strategies on how to navigate these uncharted regions, since secure van- tage points or guidebooks are scarce or non-existent for the beginner. However, these processes do not have to mean alien- ation and disorientation. Globalizing Ger- man studies can link us to other disciplines and to the university in ways that can cre- ate fresh and exciting venues for knowl- edge production, and anchor us in different sorts of collaborations and exchanges than we are accustomed to under older models. Such a further redefining of our field also can help us to understand the ways in which dominant technological, mass-media, and communications systems are shaping intellectual territories called Ger- many, Europe, or the globe. While such nebulous global processes may indeed be beyond our control, we need not accept that our discipline is to be subsumed at any cost. It is time to consider how some new border actions might give us the tools and perspectives for accommodating the rapid innovations awaiting us in the new cen- tury.

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