Transformed German department expands worldview
October 27, 2009
Bremen’s new Academic Director Janine Ludwig and Program Coordinator Jens Schröder visited Dickinson in September to discuss changes to the program. From left: Nicole Couturiaux ’12, Ludwig, Schröder, Katelyn Monfet ’10 and Sarah Knoedler ’10.
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunified Germany is the largest economy in Europe and fifth largest in the world. Add to that news of Herta Müller’s recent Nobel Prize for literature, and interest in all things German is trending high.
Dickinson also seems to be undergoing a German renaissance, from The Clarke Forum’s series on the Berlin Wall to The Trout Gallery’s exhibit, Prints and Politics in Weimar Germany, opening Nov. 13. Müller, who was writer-in-residence at Dickinson in 1996, is published in the current issue of Sirena, an international journal founded and edited by Jorge Sagastume, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese.
And, in addition to launching a new curriculum this fall, the German department has welcomed two new faculty members: Assistant Professor Kamaal Haque and Instructor Antje Pfannkuchen. A host of senior-faculty retirements in recent years prompted the hirings.
Students studying abroad at Dickinson’s partner program at the University of Bremen also will benefit from changes, including a new academic director, Janine Ludwig, who succeeds longtime director Rainer Stollmann, who has retired. Jens Schröder, a former Bremen exchange student who spent a year at Dickinson, is now a full-time program coordinator.
Sarah McGaughey, assistant professor of German and department chair, said that the changes in curriculum and programming reflect growing interest among non-German majors—especially those in international studies and political science—in Germany and German-speaking cultures.
To meet that need, a new 200-level course, Exploring German Cultures, is taught in English, with a German-language option. “It’s thematic rather than chronological, so students get a glimpse of the major aspects and movements of German-speaking cultures,” McGaughey said. “Students from all across the campus can now take a course that gives them an idea of what German-speaking cultures are like across the globe in terms of contemporary issues as well as historical.”
For students planning to major in German or study at Bremen, first- and second-year curricula focus on what McGaughey calls “content-based language learning,” a more comprehensive approach that addresses how language is created and used on a daily basis.
Instead of spending three semesters on fundamentals, students will have two semesters to finish their basic language requirement. Third and fourth semesters will focus on building student competency in German cultures and literacy in a wide variety of genres and contexts.
McGaughey said that one year may seem like a short time to master the basics, but the new model actually provides students with more real-world skills. “They have this intermediary ground to be introduced to the genres and the topics that they’re going to face when they’re either abroad or in the upper levels,” she said. As a result, “We’re going to be sending students to Bremen with a better linguistic foundation.”
The Bremen program changes include scheduling more culturally enriching opportunities, such as internships, group-study trips, a film series and theatre and music events.
“We want to tailor the program to students’ needs,” said Ludwig. “It’s not just for German majors—Bremen is very strong in sociology, the geosciences and science and engineering in general. We also have a lot to offer in environmental studies. Germany is a global leader in public policy related to the environment.”
McGaughey also plans to expand programs for students returning from Bremen, such as Katelyn Monfet ’10, who studied there her junior year. Monfet hopes to return to Germany after graduating and is applying for a Fulbright teaching assistantship.
“Our next task is to give students the skills and framework to use what they’ve learned abroad,” McGaughey said. “Janine already has worked on building institutional bridges. Jens has been here—he knows what it’s like to be here. We might begin research projects earlier or provide more opportunities for dialogue between sophomores and seniors.”
McGaughey added that all the changes offer a more useful context for students as they navigate a new global reality. “We’re going to be sending students abroad with a more contemporary understanding,” she said. “We’re addressing German culture beyond the boundaries of just literature. We’re addressing a different worldview.”