As the official language of the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and portions of several other European countries—and with linguistic enclaves in the Americas and Africa—German is today the native tongue of close to 120 million people. For advanced-degree programs in fields such as art history, music history, philosophy, and European history, German is still a required language. And whether the motivation for study is business, culture, travel, friendship, or heritage, a knowledge of German can add inestimable depth to a student’s landscape of thought and feeling.

Students should ideally plan to study German for at least two years. First- and second-year German courses aim to teach students how to communicate in German and acquire grammatical competency through exercises that demand accuracy and also encourage free expression. While conference work in Beginning German consists of intensive grammar work with the German assistant (both group and individual conferences), intermediate-level students work on their cultural competency by reading German literature (fairy tales, novellas, poems) and working on class, group, or individual research projects (e.g., writing a short story or screenplay in German, exploring German cities online, reading newspaper articles on current events). Advanced German is a cultural-studies seminar. Students solidify their cultural competency by studying German history and culture from the late 18th century to the present. A special emphasis is placed on 20th-century German history and culture, including contemporary German literature and film.

Many students of German spend a semester or year studying in Germany. Students have the opportunity to take a five-week summer seminar in Berlin (six credits), where they will take a German cultural-studies seminar with an emphasis on the history and culture of Berlin and a class in art/architecture, dance, or the German language (taught at Neue Schule in Berlin).

German 2023-2024 Courses

Beginning German

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This course concentrates on the study of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation in order to secure the basic tools of the German language. In addition to offering that introduction, classroom activities and the production of short compositions promote oral and written communication. This class will meet three times per week (90 minutes), twice with the main teacher and once with Ms. Mizelle, who will also meet with students individually or in small groups for an extra conference. Course materials include the textbook, Neue Horizonte (eighth edition), along with the workbook and a graded German reader. We will cover about 10 chapters from the textbook—all of the basic grammar and vocabulary that students will need to know in order to advance to the next level. There will be short written tests at the end of each chapter. Students will also be introduced to contemporary German culture through authentic materials from newspapers, television, radio, or the internet.


Intermediate German

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Prerequisite: Beginning German or two years of high-school German

This course places strong emphasis on expanding vocabulary and thoroughly reviewing grammar, as well as on developing oral and written expression. The aim of the course is to give students more fluency and to prepare them for a possible junior year in Germany. Readings in the fall will consist of short stories, fairy tales, and a graphic novel called Heimat​ (Home). In the spring semester, we will focus on 20th-century stories, historical essays, and some films in order to learn about the major phases of German history and culture between 1871 and today. All materials are linguistically accessible and promote an understanding of the culture’s fundamental values and way of looking at the world. A solid grammar review, based on the book German Grammar in Review, will help students further improve their speaking and writing skills. Regular conferences with Ms. Mizelle will supplement class work, help improve fluency and pronunciation, and emphasize conversational conventions for expressing opinions and leading discussions.


The Movie Musical

Open, Lecture—Spring

Long dismissed as shallow mass entertainment, the movie musical remains an understudied genre despite its century-long popularity, global scope, and recurring role in film history. This lecture course offers a layered cultural history of the movie musical from the 1920s to the present, approaching it as a uniquely intermedial, transnational perspective from which to study film. Students will learn to read movie musicals through a mixture of formal analysis and material history. We will read canonical scholars, as well as more recent multidisciplinary work on the movie musical as a site for ideological contestation; performance politics; and aesthetic, narrative, and technological experimentation. In particular, we will highlight the genre’s power for hiding labor behind spectacles of seemingly spontaneous mass performance and rehearsing modern social conflicts through heterosexual couple-driven, dual-focus plots (Jets vs. Sharks, town vs. city, etc.). Other topics include: the roots of the movie musical in vaudeville, minstrelsy, opera, and ballet; the musical’s relationship to new cinematic technologies, labor forms, and industrial practices; the musical’s relationship to questions of gender, sexuality, and race; and the musical as a globally circulating and mutating “mass” cultural form. While much of our focus will be on classical Hollywood (1920s-1960s), we will also watch films from France, the Soviet Union, England, East Germany, Mexico, India, and Australia.


Feminist Film History

Open, Seminar—Fall

What happened to women in the silent-film industry? Why are there so few female voiceovers and so many plucky secretaries in classical Hollywood films? Should dead starlets be revived as feminist icons? Can dominant aesthetic regimes be dismantled through “feminine” or feminist filmmaking techniques? How do you uncover invisible or suppressed histories? This seminar offers an overview of the main questions and methods of feminist film studies by retracing film history through the lens of female- and feminist-identifying filmmakers, workers, critics, and historians. While our focus will be on US and European films and scholarship from the Silent Era to the end of the 20th century, students are encouraged to pursue conference projects on feminist movements, films, and film theory from any era or any part of the world. Screenings will highlight a mixture of obscure and canonical films, and readings will cover a multidisciplinary range of feminist film scholarship—from psychoanalytic film theory to media archaeology and cyberfeminism. Topics to be discussed include women at the origins of film, women’s work onscreen and on the studio lot, the male gaze and spectacular female stars of classical cinema, fan culture and gendered genres, second-wave feminism and the French New Wave, race and Technicolor, lesbian representability, and feminist authorship as political practice.


The Jewish Century: European Jewish History From Emancipation to Destruction

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Europe during the 19th century witnessed the legal and social emancipation of Jews. But it also witnessed the emergence of modern racial antisemitism, which eventually underpinned the ideology leading to European Jewry’s near destruction during the Holocaust. Neither of those two developments was preordained. Moreover, European Jews were active in shaping their own history as advocates for their own rights, as makers of European and Jewish culture, and as resistors to their persecution and murder. In this course, we will try to make sense of this European story of Jewish emancipation and near destruction. In the lecture part, we will go over the broad developments and events in European Jewish history from the beginning of the 19th century to 1945. The focus will be on the years between 1848 and 1933. While we will also cover the Holocaust, this is not primarily a course about the murder of European Jews but rather about the lives of European Jews. In the weekly group conferences—with help from secondary and primary sources such as diaries, letters, photo albums, short stories, and movies—we will dive deeper into these lives. For example, we will discuss the experience of middle-class Jewish women in Germany, the Jewish working class in Poland, the emergence of distinctly Jewish politics between Zionism and non-Zionist Bundism, or Jews’ presence among their countries’ nationalists. During the semester, students will also engage in two group research projects exploring Jewish lives in the 1880s and the 1930s.


Kant’s Political Philosophy

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone is a book about religion, but it is also a book about Enlightenment—or how to build a rational society; for this purpose, religion, in Kant’s view, is indispensable. We shall study how Kant seeks to reform Christianity to make it compatible with a rational society and what the limits are on this enterprise. The topic is of interest nowadays, when the attempt of Kant and others to make religion compatible with Enlightenment is under challenge, and religion has once again come into some tension with science and the hope for progress founded on collective rationality.


Concepts of the Mind: How Language and Culture Challenge Cognitive Science

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does the human mind represent the world? And how do these representations vary across people? Could knowing a different language change how we experience time or even how we see color? Even seemingly simple concepts like “in” vs. “on” mean different things in different cultures, and words like “one” and “two” may not be linguistically universal. Indeed, the very course description that you are reading makes culturally-specific assumptions about psychology and implicitly assumes objectivity. At the same time, humans seem to share certain core experiences, such as perceiving events, creating categories, and recalling the past. Which aspects are shared, and which are unique? In this course, we will draw on research from psycholinguistics, cognitive development, and cultural psychology to learn cognitive science in a larger context. Critically, we will consider how each of those fields have been severely constrained by an emphasis on white, Western, industrialized experiences. We will investigate the broader social and ethical consequences of these assumptions and explore insights and challenges that emerge when we step out of this limited perspective. We’ll draw on primary and secondary sources, including research articles, literature, videos, raw experimental data, and audio recordings. Students will develop projects in conference work that combine their interests with the course content, such as designing an experiment to test cross-linguistic differences in visual attention, analyzing vocabulary from languages other than English, or replicating and reinterpreting an existing experiment using culturally-responsive practices.


Creative Nonfiction

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This is a course for creative writers who are interested in exploring nonfiction as an art form. We will focus on reading and interpreting outside work—essays, articles, and journalism by some of our best writers—in order to understand what good nonfiction is and how it is created. During the first part of the semester, writing will be comprised mostly of exercises and short pieces aimed at putting into practice what is being illuminated in the readings; in the second half of the semester, students will create longer, formal essays to be presented in workshop.