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).

2020-2021 Courses


Advanced German: Postwar German Literature and Film

Advanced, Small Lecture—Fall

This course is taught in English.

In our lecture, we will explore postwar German literature and film from 1945 to the present. As we read plays, short stories, and novels (including one graphic novel) by Wolfgang Borchert, Heinrich Böll, Gunther Grass, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch, Peter Weiss, Jurek Becker, Bernhard Schlink, Nora Krug, Helga Mueller, and others, we will give special attention to the question of how German writers have dealt with the lasting legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism (in East Germany from 1945 to 1989). Other topics might include German reunification, immigration, and the question of national identity. The films that will enhance our understanding of postwar German history and culture will include Murderer Among Us, Germany Pale Mother, The Lives of Others, and Good-Bye Lenin. Students will be required to read an entire play or novel per week. During an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing. 


Advanced German: Home, Exile, and Emigration: Case Studies From the Bible to Contemporary German Literature

Advanced, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is taught in English.

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of groups of people or individuals. In this small lecture, we will analyze stories, novels, and some theoretical texts about the dialectical relationship between the concepts of “home” and “exile.” While our principal focus will lie on the interpretation of German literary texts from the 18th century until today, this lecture will begin with selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) in order to illustrate what, perhaps, can be called “the archetypal dimension of exile”; i.e., the fact that “being in exile”—no longer “at home”—seems to be the existential and psychological norm and NOT the exception of our human existence. This lecture is not a historical overview of literary representations of “home” and “exile” but, rather, will explore (through some case studies) the various meanings that writers such as Goethe, Tieck, Hesse, Seghers, Sebald, and other contemporary German writers have attributed to the relationship of being “in exile” and being “at home.” Theoretical essays by Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, and others will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about this topic. During an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German: reading, speaking, and writing. 


Beginning German

Open, Seminar—Year

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 an introduction, classroom activities and the production of short compositions promote oral and written communication. This class will meet three times (90 minutes) per week, twice with Dr. Dollinger 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 (8th 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

Prerequisite: Beginning German at Sarah Lawrence College or another institution of higher learning or at least four semesters of German in high school.

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.


Economic Policy and the 2020 General Elections: Money, Trade, Industrial Policy, and Inequality

Open, Lecture—Year

We live in unprecedented, turbulent times in which a pandemic crisis has combined with a major economic crisis and plunged the world into chaos. How should we, as economists, understand the nature and roots of this crisis, and how do we think of a way forward for humanity beyond these dark times? Needless to say, the general elections of November 2020 loom large in our collective consciousness. While we can speculate or worry about the effects on political institutions as the new administration takes office in January 2021, we also need to pay crucial attention to key economic issues pertaining to jobs, inequality, health care, climate change, and industrial policy. In fact, it will be argued that the nature of political institutions, including any society’s legal foundations, cannot be divorced from economic outcomes. This course will focus on the above key themes by not only looking ahead but also by looking behind at recent history to understand the roots of our current turmoil. At every step of the way, students will be exposed to rival theoretical and methodological perspectives in economics.


First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open, FYS—Year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, life in cities, including European ones, has changed dramatically. For weeks, almost all of urban life came to a halt. As European cities, both small and large, slowly emerge from the lockdown, the pandemic effects on urban life are difficult to predict. While the current moment is certainly historic, it is not without precedent. Urban life from its outset was also a history of pandemics and illness. Even the period of rapid urbanization on which this course will focus has been shaped by disease, from cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, to the “Spanish” flu in the wake of World War I, to the coronavirus today. And yet, amidst those diseases, Europe became increasingly more urban and its cities produced, adopted, and promoted many of the things, both positive and negative, that we consider hallmarks of modernity. In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, that number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of the cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. In Germany, for example, by 1910, 21 percent lived in cities over the size of 100,000 inhabitants—up from only five percent in 1871. Berlin, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna all had several million citizens. This urbanization shaped, and was shaped by, European history. Industrialization and advances in agriculture, sanitation, and transportation played a vital role in that process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders shaped cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities, which often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring 20s” or the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet, precisely for that reason, cities also inspired vitriol and opposition—from nationalist back-to-nature advocates afraid of the negative consequences of their “cosmopolitan nature” to health care professionals worried by the detrimental effects on their inhabitants’ health. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, railed against “Jewish Berlin.” To this day, conservative French politicians extol “la France profonde,” the true France to be found in its provincial towns rather than in Paris, Lyon, or Marseille. Through the lens of the city, this course investigates major developments in modern European history: from the birth of mass politics and the modern welfare state that included sanitation and public health, across the effects of World War I and World War II, to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will not only be introduced to European history but also to the historian’s craft. Making use of online archives and tools, we will work with a variety of primary sources—from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. We will tour cities virtually and model urban landscapes. In addition, students will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments. During the fall semester, students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills; but we will also, on occasion, use the time for movie screenings related to the course or other shared and, if need be, virtual activities.


Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open, Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.


Postwar German Literature and Film

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course is taught in English. German language skills are not required. Advanced German students have the option of taking this small lecture for five credits; during an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing—by analyzing and discussing (in German) the same postwar German texts and/or others not covered in this lecture.

We will study short stories about the war by Heinrich Böll; plays about a German soldier coming home from the war and having no home anymore (by Wolfgang Borchert); Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit; Max Frisch’s parable about anti-Semitism; Peter Weiss’ play about the Auschwitz trials in Germany; Schlink’s famous and problematic novel, The Reader; Eugen Ruge’s In Times of Fading Light, a family novel covering East German history; Christoph Hein’s novel, Tango Player, about a man who was jailed in East Germany for playing a tango; creative nonfiction by Anna Funders, about a young girl who wanted to get across the Berlin Wall; Sebald’s haunting novel, Austerlitz, about a man dealing with the trauma of his Kindertransport; and the graphic novel Belonging, by Nora Krug, about a German woman who is exploring her family’s history. The list of films includes Murderer Among Us, The Tin Drum, Germany Pale Mother, and The Lives of Others. Thematically, all these texts and movies are tied together by one common theme: the question of how German writers and film makers were dealing with the legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism in East Germany.


Home, Exile, and Emigration: Case Studies From the Bible to Contemporary German Literature

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is taught in English. German language skills are not required. Advanced German students may take this course for five credits; during an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing—by analyzing and discussing (in German) the same and/or other postwar German texts not covered in this lecture.

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of individuals or groups of people. In this lecture, we will analyze stories, novels, and some theoretical texts about the dialectical relationship between the concepts of “home” and “exile." While our principal focus will lie on the study of German literary texts from the 20th century—a century whose historical upheavals have led to different waves of voluntary or forced migration—this lecture will begin with a reading of selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) in order to illustrate the relationship between a life in “exile” and a “home” that is located either in the past, in the future, or both. Theoretical essays by Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, Hannah Arendt, and others will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about the interconnectedness of concepts such as home, flight, exile, migrants, and refugees. The lecture then moves on to an exploration of some 20th-century German novels and/or autobiographies about the flight of intellectuals and writers from National Socialism and emigrants from European and non-European countries into today’s Germany.