A dynamic site for intellectual pursuit, the department has contributed importantly in the last two decades to redrawing the boundaries of the discipline, making it more open to modern media studies, related fields, and new methodologies. The Berkeley DAAD Interdisciplinary Summer Seminar, held annually between 1978 and 1995, was the first of its kind. It has exerted a major impact on the field by training a large number of junior professors and doctoral students, from across the nation and from different fields, in approaches to culture studies in German. The inclusion of film and popular media, literary theory, and issues pertaining to cultural identity and ethnic diversity was a hallmark of the seminar. This practice has now become generally accepted in interdisciplinary and intercultural German studies.
During this exciting period of experimentation several colleagues insisted on keeping alive the dialogue between the new and the old, and the program profited from this. Recognizing the mutually enriching influences of literature and cultural studies, we have insisted on maintaining the essential role of German literature in German Studies. We have chosen not to divorce the study of literature from the larger study of culture because in our view aesthetics and history illuminate each other. In general, we seek to mediate between the analysis of literature as cultural evidence and the appreciation of literary language in its own terms, between close textual analysis and theory-driven inquiries, between high culture and popular media, between scholarship and social concerns.
The strength of the faculty is their diversity, both in their areas of research and in their methodologies. We do not advocate any single approach, nor do we have a homogeneous vision of the department’s mission beyond the shared concern that our students gain a heightened sensitivity to language and representation, theory and methodology, translation and cultural transfer, and the power as well as the critical potential of discourse.