The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu

Graduate Courses

GSS faculty offer two graduate seminars per semester. Our graduate seminars vary each semester and cover a range of topics, materials, and approaches. See below for a list of recently taught courses.

We also offer two graduate workshops annually: Methods of Teaching German for first-year teaching assistants, and Professional Development.


Annual Graduate Student Workshops

German 583: Methods of Teaching German

Prof. Kerstin Mueller Dembling

This course is concerned with all aspects of foreign language teaching methods, with a focus on Communicative Language Teaching. Participants learn about best practices for instruction, including design of lessons, classroom materials and activities, and assessments. By the end of this two-semester sequence, students independently design their own lessons and employ effective teaching strategies for the student centered, communicative German language classroom.

Professional Development

Professional Development is led by GSS faculty on a rotating basis. The faculty instructor may invite guests such as graduate alumni, staff from the Office of Professional Development or the Writing Center, faculty, and other relevant professionals to help facilitate the workshop. The Professional Development Seminar provides students with an opportunity to build cohort connections and to learn and practice essential skills for career success that may not be covered in regular topics courses. This includes: research and academic writing for a variety of professional genres (articles, dissertation and book chapters, conference presentations, etc.); grant and fellowship application preparation; job application materials and interview preparation for academic and alternative academic careers; professional relations and communication; approaches to teaching different topics and subjects at various levels of the curriculum; etc. In this seminar students will also have the opportunity to workshop their own writing and the writing of their peers. This provides the opportunity to develop an additional skillset for inter-departmental relations in current and future institutions. It also prepares students for peer-review and evaluation for publications and other public formats.


Recently Offered German Studies Graduate Seminars

German 601: Middle High German

Prof. Robert Sullivan

The goal of this course is to develop a thorough knowledge of the Middle High German language and to introduce students to medieval literature, culture, and society and some basis concepts and procedures of linguistics. While an understanding of any language obviously includes familiarity with larger contexts, we will nonetheless always begin with the philological details. Our method will consist of a careful study of basic MHG phonology and especially grammar based on selected texts. From our interpretations of these texts we will try to draw some conclusions about the wider context of the Middle Ages.

German 691B: Exile in L.A.

Prof. Jonathan Skolnik

An interdisciplinary seminar on the aesthetics of antifascist refugees in 1940s Los Angeles, exploring tensions between high modernism, classical tradition, and mass culture. Films by Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Edgar G. Ulmer; music by Schoenberg and Eisler; literature by Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht,; cultural theory by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.

German 695D: Bodies and Law in German Literature and Thought

Prof. Sara Jackson

This course examines how crime and criminals (both real and imagined) have provided material for artists and cultural critics from antiquity to the present day. We will focus on German culture of the 19th and 20th centuries through historiography, literature, philosophy, painting, and film, as well as changing legal codes, texts from the criminal sciences, feminist writing, and other cultural documents related to criminality. Beyond supplying provocative subject matter, criminality has historically presented an avenue by which to affirm or to critique cultural standards and practices, to intervene in legal and political discourse, and to reify or challenge social norms of class, gender, morality, etc. To access this discourse, we will critically examine cultural representations of crime, law, and their relationship to the body, and consider the diverse motives behind these representations. We will thus also more broadly consider relationships between historical, socio-political, and aesthetic productions and developments related to crime, criminality, bodies and law that are applicable within and beyond the German national context.

German 697 Film Adaptations: From Literature to Film

Prof. Mariana Ivanova

This graduate course explores the complex interplay between film and literature. In particular, we will explore the issues and politics of adapting literary texts for the screen. As film theorist Robert Stam points out, “the conventional language of adaptation criticism has often been profoundly moralistic,” implying “that the cinema has somehow done a disservice to literature.” But, he’s quick to note, film adaptations are artworks in themselves. During this course, we will examine film adaptations of texts from literary genres, such as: drama, novels, short fiction, graphic novels, and nonfiction. We will address a number of questions throughout the term: What makes for a successful film adaptation? Why are some texts more readily adaptable than others? Are the screenwriter and director obligated to be faithful to the original work? How are films products of their own cultural moment? What is added and omitted, gained and lost in the translation of a story from the page to the screen? What issues arise in the adaptation of different literary genres? We will read and view an eclectic mix of texts and films in order to address these questions. Conducted in English.

German 697 CE: Central European Film

Prof. Mariana Ivanova

Germany and Central Europe have a long and convoluted history of conflict and exchange as regions that are constructed, multicultural, and heterogeneous. During the Cold War, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary found themselves in the so-called “Eastern bloc” of Soviet influence. From the mandate to produce state art, to the question of the artist in a socialist society and the structure of their respective studios, filmmakers in Central Europe had a lot in common. In this graduate course, we look at the postwar Central European cinemas from a comparative perspective. We trace the development of genres, experimental styles, imposed limitations on free artistic expression and strategies to overcome censorship by entering co-productions. Discussions in this course address contemporary theories and debates, including those on Formalism and Socialist Realism; international influences, such as the Italian Neo-Realism; the New Waves and political turmoil of the 1960s; and the impact on cinema of international peace movements in the 1970s and of perestroika and the Solidarity movement of the 1980s. The second part of the course emphasizes the role of cinema during the Velvet Revolutions and the subsequent collapse of the communist regimes. In addition to discussing films, you will learn to define and apply relevant theoretical concepts such as totalitarianism, nationalism, cultural hybridity, and globalization through the lens of cinematic representation. Conducted in English.

German 697J: Jews and German Culture

Prof. Jonathan Skolnik

An in-depth exploration of German-Jewish writers, thinkers, and filmmakers (including Freud, Heine, Kafka, Lasker-Schueler, Zweig) and the representation of Jews in German-language culture from the Enlightenment to the post-Holocaust present. Topics include assimilation, dissimilation, anti-Semitism, Zionism, exile, Holocaust, and Jews in post-Holocaust Germany and Austria.

German 697K: Debates and Issues in Modern German History

Prof. Andrew Donson

This historiography seminar introduces students to the various interpretations of modern Germany’s troubled past, with an emphasis on the controversies and competing historical approaches. Topics include conformity and dissent in the German Democratic Republic; Vergangenheitsbewältigungen (coming to terms with the Nazi past), the intentionalist vs. the structural-functionalist interpretations of the Nazi state; the place of victims, bystanders, collaborators, and perpetrators in the Holocaust; the crisis of classical modernity during the Weimar Republic; debates over the Sonderweg, or Germans alleged peculiar development in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the assimilation and identity issues of German Jews; and the comparability of German colonial experiences. Discussion is in English. All readings are available in English but students are encouraged to read the original German. Papers may be written in English or German. Crosslisted with History 609.

German 697LM Literatur und Migration: Texte und Kontexte

Prof. Ela Gezen

Focusing on a variety of literary genres this course will explore aesthetic representations of and engagements with migration, as well as texts “born of migration.” Proceeding chronologically literary texts (by Aras Ören, Herta Müller, Yoko Tawada, Galal Alahmadi, and Sasha Marianna Salzmann among others) will be read in tandem with authors’ poetics. In addition to primary sources, course materials include scholarship on the labeling, classification and positioning of these texts, their public-political interventions and literary (re)conceptualizations of home, belonging, refuge, citizenship, exile, and migration. Conducted in German.

German 697SV: Schrift und Volk: Literature and the Naton in 19th-Century Germany

Prof. Jonathan Skolnik

This course explores German literature in the age of modern nationalism, investigating intersections of culture and ideology while we read key works by Berthold Auerbach, Theodor Fontane, Georg Foster, Goethe, Heine, Hölderlin, Kleist and others.

German 697X: 19th Century German Thought

Prof. Andrew Donson

The course is a survey of the great German thinkers of the long nineteenth century (1789-1914). The readings are selections of original writings by Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, supplemented with secondary sources chosen for their clarity and aid in reading these mostly difficult texts. The course does not require any previous knowledge. The approach to these thinkers is analytic in the tradition of Anglo-American philosophyóthat is, students will evaluate the coherence of the arguments. The central concerns of these thinkers were the Enlightenment and its critique, especially the role and proper place in human affairs of rationality, labor, history, freedom, religion, and economic and political liberalism. Conducted in English.

German 716: Courtly Lyric Poetry

Prof. Robert Sullivan

A general introduction to some of the canonical works of medieval German literature, that is those works an educated German-speaker is encouraged, sometimes assumed, to have read and assimilated. The notion of any canon is highly problematic, a medieval one particularly so. What we now think of as important and essential to understanding the Middle Ages is usually strongly mediated by the seminal studies produced by German nationalist scholars, beginning in the early 19th century, and of course by contemporary concerns and values. In short, some of the works we will read are part of a modern canon that does not necessarily reflect medieval judgments and values. In this class we will read and discuss some of these important works, attempting to see them in their medieval historical and social context, but at the same time continually reflecting on the history of their interpretations and use and abuse in modern German cultural and political discourse.

German 717: The Courtly Epic

Prof. Robert Sullivan

A general introduction to some of the canonical works of medieval German literature, that is those works an educated German-speaker is encouraged, sometimes assumed, to have read and assimilated. The notion of any canon is highly problematic, a medieval one particularly so. What we now think of as important and essential to understanding the Middle Ages is usually strongly mediated by the seminal studies produced by German nationalist scholars, beginning in the early 19th century, and of course by contemporary concerns and values. In short, some of the works we will read are part of a modern canon that does not necessarily reflect medieval judgments and values. In this class we will read and discuss some of these important works, attempting to see them in their medieval historical and social context, but at the same time continually reflecting on the history of their interpretations and use and abuse in modern German cultural and political discourse. Conducted in English.

German 783: Classical Reception in German Culture & Thought

Prof. Sara Jackson

From Winckelmann’s influential 1756 Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture to the present day, in art and architecture, theater, literature, philosophy, and science, an active engagement with Greek Antiquity has been a defining element of Germany’s cultural and political development. Indeed, the “Winckelmania” of the 18th century would be the starting point for what has become a distinct legacy of Greek reception deeply imbricated in the evolution of German national and individual identities and institutions. In this course we will examine the many ways in which Germans and Austrians have established and negotiated relationships to ancient Greece since the late 18th century. We will consider how for various reasons, and to various ends artists, intellectuals, and political figures positioned their work, their ideals and ideologies alongside and/or against Antiquity. We will survey a variety of cultural productions from the 18th century to the present to investigate the presence and influence of classical reception in German literature and thought. Examining the privileged status of ancient Greece in particular, we will explore what purposes ancient Greek literature, art, and philosophy have served for German and Austrian artists and intellectuals.

German 797A: Viennese Modernism

Prof. Sara Jackson

At the turn of the century (1890-1914) Vienna was home to some of the most innovative and exciting European thinkers and artists. Pioneers of Modernism in art and architecture, music, and literature emerged from this time and place, and they were joined by scientists and philosophers who would forever change understandings of the human mind and the world we occupy. Alongside the explosion of creativity and innovation in the worlds of art, philosophy, and science, strong currents of conservativism, nationalism, anti-feminism and anti-Semitism carried Vienna and all of Europe toward one of the most destructive periods in world history. This interdisciplinary graduate seminar will examine developments in art, music, literature, science, philosophy and culture, exploring the concurrent and competing veins of thought that made fin-de-siècle Vienna such a fascinating and contradictory time and place.

German 797G: Theater, Nation, and Self in the 18th-19th Century

Prof. Sara Jackson

This course focuses on the significance to theater and drama for national identity and subject formation in German territories in the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries. Through a range of texts from and about the theater, we will consider connections to the evolving liberal and humanist ideals of individuality, education, and politics that proliferated in (post-)enlightenment thought. In addition to canonical German authors we will study how women maintained central positions in the theater as performers and producers from mid-18th century on, authored dramatic texts and, as recent feminist scholarship has shown, challenged both the thematic and formal parameters of German drama. Through these materials and contexts we will examine how theater and drama served as an important platforms for attempts to both solidify and contest socio-cultural ideals of nationhood, gender, race, and class in modern German history.

German 797T: Transnationalizing German Culture

Prof. Ela Gezen

This seminar will focus on the transnational in German culture. We will engage with literary texts published in the last three decades, and investigate literature as site of cultural exchange and transnational encounter. On the one hand, we will focus on texts that create connections to literary texts outside of the German literary canon through implicit and explicit intertextual references. On the other hand, we will discuss literary texts that cross national borders through the trope of travel, as well as texts that reimagine Germany transnationally within and outside of German literature. Questions we will address throughout this course are: How does literature stage border crossings, geographical, ideological, canonical, and cultural? How do the literary texts restructure debates about the constitution of the canon in a global age, the effects of migration on literature, and literature’s ability to transgress national boundaries? In addition to the primary sources, course materials include theoretical texts on concepts of Orientalism, World Literature, Transnationalism, and Cosmopolitanism. Conducted in English.

German 797T Finding Refuge

Prof. Ela Gezen

This course seeks to examine the ways in which refugees are addressed, constructed and mobilized by writers and dramatists in their works. We will primarily focus on novels, poems, short stories, essays, and performances (by and about refugees) from the past decade and engage in contextualized close readings. Questions central to our discussions are: How do literary texts intervene into public-political discourses and possibly provide counter-narratives (especially in light of election results from 2017)? How do artists construct cultural means of accessing, challenging and corroborating public debates on migration, human rights, refuge, and asylum? Are there recurring themes, tropes, narrative structures, settings etc.? What are similarities and/or differences between texts and genres? And ultimately, what should the ethics of our scholarly practices look like? Conducted in English.

German 797W Minorities and Minority Discourses in Germany since 1990

Prof. Ela Gezen

The fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification promised a new historical beginning, yet it stirred deep discussions about contemporary Germany’s relation to the genocidal Nazi past and about ideas of citizenship and belonging in a changing Europe. Migration to Germany (including people of color from around the world as well as Jews and ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union) suggested the economic and cultural attraction of a changing society, while a wave of murderous attacks on new migrants and Turkish Germans (who had resided in Germany for more than a generation) stoked fears. In “blues in schwarz weiss” (1990), the poet May Ayim writes “a reunited germany celebrates itself in 1990, without its immigrants, refugees, jewish and black people.” In this poem Ayim forges a collective “we” out of immigrants, refugees, Jewish and black people, united in their experience of exclusion, here in the context of German/German unification. 

Taking Ayim’s poem as its departure, this seminar seeks to address and explore the following questions: What are possible intersections (and divergences) between Black German, Turkish German and German Jewish experiences and aesthetic interventions into German public and political discourses on memory, racism, citizenship, immigration, and history? How do collaborations between artists from various backgrounds like Esther Dischereit’s and DJ Ipek’s multimedial bilingual performance of Blumen für Otello (2014), the anthologies Talking Home (1999) and aus dem Inneren der Sprache (1995), the repertoire of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, the rap songs by Advanced Chemistry and projects of the transethnic activist network Kanak Attack reveal, emphasize and/or communicate similarities, differences, and overlap in their cultural, social, and political positioning? Conducted in English.