A Long Tradition


Cabaret has a long tradition at Berkeley, as the photos above attest. The seven photos in the series are from 1900, and they depict a Berkeley student of German acting in a departmental cabaret -- caricaturing one of his professors. That professor, Albin Putzker, is shown in the portrait at the far left of the series. More than 100 years later, the department hosts a student cabaret every spring.

German at Berkeley: Past, Present, and Future

The study of German language and literature has been a key part of the university's curriculum from its start in 1869. Initially, only four Western European languages—including German—were taught by just one professor, Paul Pioda. In 1874, Albin Putzker became the first official professor of German Language, and ten years later a separate German Department, consisting of two members, was established. During its first twenty years, the department offered only limited courses and lacked a cohesive graduate program. Teaching loads were heavy at about twelve to fourteen hours per week, and one person would typically be responsible for teaching elementary German, Middle High German, Gothic, and Schiller—all in one semester. Because German was required for many science majors, it was studied by about approximately one third of the student body. Yet there were few German majors.

The turn of the century saw a marked advancement in German Studies at Berkeley. Following the appointment of President Wheeler in 1899 and of German Professor Hugo Schilling in 1901, the department began to flourish. By 1907, the German Department boasted eight full-time faculty members, student enrollment increased, and undergraduate and graduate course options expanded. In 1906, twenty-five students received the BA degree with a German major and two took the MA Degree. The first dissertation on a German topic at Berkeley was completed in 1908.

The decade beginning in 1910 was a period of transition for the department as new appointments were made in the wake of several deaths and retirements. During and after World War I, student enrollment dropped sharply and the department was criticized for the supposed pro-German sentiments of some of its faculty. Yet there was a steady increase in student numbers in the late 1920s and 1930s, reaching a total of about 1,600 students on the eve of World War II. The decline during the war years was more than offset immediately after the war; in 1946, no fewer than 2,172 students enrolled in German courses.

After WWII, the German Department continued to expand and soon became the largest in the United States. In the middle 1960s, there were twenty-three full-time staff members, sixty-five to seventy teaching assistants, and three non-academic employees. This faculty served a student population which in 1963 numbered 1,893 students in the lower division and 438 students in the upper division; 121 students enrolled in graduate courses. The department continued to provide a liberal arts education to some ninety to one-hundred undergraduate majors and a professional training as scholars and teachers to some eighty or ninety graduate students.

The department's most influential faculty members include: Albin Putzker (1874-1906; head of department, 1874-1900); Hugo K. Schilling (1901-1930; chairman, 1901-1924); Clarence Paschall (1902-1943; chairman, 1924-1937); Lawrence M. Price (1914-1951); Clair Hayden Bell (1909-1954); Edward V. Brewer (1921-1954; chairman, 1945-1954); Archer Taylor (1939-1958; chairman, 1940-1945); C. Grant Loomis (1941-1963; chairman, 1957-1962); and Hans M. Wolff (1946-1958.)


Today, more than 120 years later, the German Department at Berkeley has a dozen faculty members, several lecturers, and more than thirty graduate students in German literature and Germanic linguistics. We offer a full-fledged lower- and upper-division German language program, and teach courses in German literature on subjects ranging from the Middle Ages to the present. We also study larger issues such as national identity, modernity, historicity, subjectivity, translation, gender, and multiculturalism from a comparative perspective that is informed by contemporary theory and cultural studies. We examine issues in stylistics and discourse analysis, and we interrogate the nexus of language, power, and identity. We try to think in crossdisciplinary terms and examine ways in which our study of things German relates to our cultural moment here and now.

In Germanic linguistics we use the most recent theoretical methods to analyze the sounds, forms, and vocabulary of the German language, its development over time, and its ever-changing sociocultural role as a world language. Our graduate students get in-depth training in language teaching methodology and become familiar with issues of second language acquisition.

Both the size and diversity of our program allow us to balance thorough coverage of the basics with innovative thinking aimed at crossing borders. We have the critical mass to let our students explore interests outside the department and study with established experts. In these courses, our graduate students interact with students from across campus for an experience of maximum benefit. We currently offer Designated Emphases in Dutch Studies, Critical Theory, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, Film & Media Studies, New Media Studies, and Women, Gender & Sexuality. These amount to subject minors at the PhD level.

For the last half century, the Berkeley German Department has consistently been recognized as one of the premier programs in the United States. The National Research Council's most recent survey of graduate programs ranked our department number one among German Departments in the country.