Transatlantic German Studies: Personal Experiences

A Symposium in Memory of Egon Schwarz

The symposium was an initiative of the American Friends of Marbach, and Paul Michael Lüzeler prepared it as their president. It was supported by the German Department and the John M. Olin Library at Washington University, as well as by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) office in New York and the Max Kade Foundation in New York.  The speakers were colleagues from American universities and colleges: Russell Berman (Stanford), Leslie Adelson (Cornell), Mark Roche (Notre Dame), Robert Holub (Ohio State), Jane K. Brown (University of Washington), Leroy T. Hopkins (Millerville), Azade Seyhan (Bryn Mawr College), Liliane Weissberg (University of Pennsylvania), Claire Kramsch (Berkeley), Judith Ryan (Harvard), Andreas Huyssen (Columbia), Hans Adler (University of Wisconsin) and Walter Hinderer (Princeton). In addition two speakers from Washington University read papers (Paul Michael Lützeler and Lynne Tatlock). They all reported about their personal experiences with the changes in the profession that they themselves contributed to. In 30 minute lectures they spoke about how they got involved in the profession as young scholars, how they reacted to the given status of Germanistik at the time when they entered our field of study, what they believed was particularly important in respect to new directions, and how they were able to contribute over the decades to changes regarding the role of literature, interdisciplinarity, gender roles, pluralism, diversity and inclusion, contacts to Germany and other countries. Of particular interest were the transatlantic dialogues. Years like 1968 and 1989 played an important role in these retrospective summaries.

The symposium was meant to profile the individual contributions to the profession. As such it complemented the historical surveys in form of books, editions and articles about the general trends and turns in Germanistik/German Studies in the U.S. that have been published in recent years. The symposium focused on the people, the actors, less on general structures although interferences of personal goals and overarching paradigm shifts played a role in the recollections. The lectures were not delivered in the form of objectifying historical narratives but as histories from the inside, from the subjective point of view of colleagues who have had an impact in forming our field in the United States. 

Half of the scholars invited were born as U.S. citizens, half of them immigrated from other countries or continents and started their careers in American Germanistik as young scholars. The colleagues who had emigrated to the United States from other countries/continents remembered the first experiences in the American scholarly world, the attractions it had, the impressions it left, the chances it offered and what it meant for their careers. Those born and raised in the United States went back in their memories and wrote about the first contacts – as students or as young scholars – with German or continental Germanistik, about their surprises, the interest in German literature or culture that was supported (or weakened) by getting acquainted with the different areas, forms and trends of Germanstik in the German speaking countries or in other parts of the world. What was of interest were the scholarly inspirations that the foreigners got in America and the Americans abroad. The symposium was well attended: There was a constant group of some fifty colleagues and students present to listen to the lectures. They got involved in lively discussions that were an important part of the event.

In addition to the lectures by scholars from American academic institutions. the German Consul General from Chicago, Dr. Herbert Quelle, had been invited. He talked about “German Harmonica and African American Blues Culture”. Wilhelm Krull, Head of the Volkswagen Foundation in Hannover/Germany, delivered the banquet speech with the title “The Usefulness of Useless Studies.” Furthermore, Brian Vetruba from Olin Library prepared two exhibitions that the speakers and guests visited: one on the Distinctive Contemporary German Literature Collection that was started by Paul Michael Lützeler over three decades ago; the other on the treasures within the German Collection at Olin Library in general (from Goethe to Thomas Mann). In this connection Magdalena Schanz from the DLA (German Literary Archives) in Marbach/Germany delivered a short lecture about the plans for the Thomas Mann  Exhibition at the DLA in 2018. 

At the moment Paul Michael Lützeler and his colleague Peter Höyng from Emory University are  preparing the publication of  the proceedings of this conference.

Click here for a PDF of the schedule.

For more information about this event, please contact Prof. Paul Michael Lützeler at