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Language Of Instruction

Courses offered in the department of German are sometimes taught in English and sometimes in German. Graduate students are expected to have near native fluency in English and advanced knowledge of German in addition to a third language relevant for their research area.


There are a total of 15 courses required for the Ph.D.

Core Courses (8 courses)

The following courses are taught on a regular rotating basis with changing topics. Course numbers may be taken more than once with different topics; at least 8 credits from the list below are required for the Ph.D. in German.

GERMAN 401 German Literature and Critical Thought, 1750-1832

GERMAN 402 German Literature and Critical Thought, 1832-1900

GERMAN 403 German Literature, Critical Thought, and New Media, 1900-45

GERMAN 404 German Literature, Critical Thought, and New Media since 1945

GERMAN 405 Basic Issues in Foreign Language Teaching

This course focuses on basic principles of second language acquisition and language teaching methodology. It introduces students to the major trends and theories in language teaching. The critical reflection of pedagogical practices is emphasized.

GERMAN 407 Proseminar

The proseminar is a spring quarter theory and methodologies course in which students develop a research-level paper in conjunction with previous work in other courses. Students are required to present their work in a proseminar during the course of their coursework.

GERMAN 408 Critical Theory and Religion


Electives (7 courses)

Students will choose seven electives appropriate to their research interests: these may be either further graduate-level courses in the Department of German, or graduate seminars in other related departments.



About Teaching As A Graduate Student

Teaching is an essential element of the education and training experience of graduate students at Northwestern in general and the German Department specifically. At least one year is required by the Graduate School. We engage in active discussions with students at the end of each year concerning teaching possibilities and assign courses with a view toward creating the best teaching portfolio as possible.



The Construction of the Aesthetic: Kant, Goethe, Kierkegaard, and Benjamin

The aim of this seminar is to reflect on two opposing constructions of aesthetics: the first, developed by Kant, makes aesthetic judgment into the final element of the enterprise of critical self-reflection on which a solid philosophical system can be built; the second, developed by Kierkegaard, presents aesthetics as a mode of life lived in the perpetual avoidance of decision, which constitutes the first, altogether fallen “sphere of existence.” The seminar begins with an analysis of Kant’s Critique of Taste (in the Critique of Judgment); in the second part, it turns to certain sections of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and Concept of Anxiety; and it concludes with an examination of the long essay Benjamin wrote in the early 1920s on Goethe’s novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities, 1807). In addition to Benjamin's essay, we read some of his related earlier writings, where he stage critical confrontations with Kant and Kierkegaard. The final part of the seminar will also consider, time permitting, the “inaugural dissertation” Adorno wrote under Benjamin's influence in the early 1930s (after an earlier, failed “inaugural dissertation” on Kant), Kierkegaard: The Construction of the Aesthetic.


Writing the Revolution

The flyer for a recent conference on the poetics of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe notes: “Research on Goethe’s late style continues to be a desideratum.” The aim of this seminar is to fill this gap by analyzing some of the most canonical texts of Goethe’s late works: The Elective Affinities, The Italian Journey, Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, Faust II, The West Eastern Divan, On Morphology, among others. Guiding questions for the investigation are: What is a “late style” as discussed by Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Hans Blumenberg, and Edward Said? How does Goethe fit into the changing cultural understanding of time structures around 1800? Was he naïve or sentimental? How did the notion of “World Literature” emerge? What is Goethean science? All these questions can only properly addressed by looking at Goethe’s writings through the lens of his intense philosophical reception in the early 20th century (Simmel, Rosenzweig, Cassirer, Kommerell).


Theories of Realism

This course looks at the notion of realism as both historical literary movement and epistemological/aesthetic problem. We will read classic theories of realism by Hegel, Auerbach, Barthes, Lukács, Blumenberg, and others, as well as significant new work by contemporary critics and theorists, together with exemplary texts of nineteenth-century European realist prose fiction. The temporal focus of the class will be mid- to late-nineteenth-century Europe and the particular literary form that dominated at this time; however, we will also go beyond this to look at the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of the notion of “realism” itself. Special attention will be devoted to the following questions: the purpose of genre, the place of the human, the relationship between realism and reality (or the real), the elevation of the ordinary, and the possibilities and limits of representation.


Affective Passages

What is “affect theory”? What is “the history of emotions”? This course charts seminal critical theoretical approaches to literary and cultural analysis through the lens of emotion and affect theory. Beginning with post-Freudian psychoanalysis, the class considers how (or even if) subjectivity and attachment are staged in theory, literature, and film. Is affect merely an expression of contained, individual inner states? How do emotions form and mediate the subject’s relationship to the world? In response to questions such as these, the class will consider connections between emotion and politics and the ways in which this relationship is staged in different media from emotions-on-the-couch to post cinematic affect.


Hannah Arendt: Poetry, Politics, and Thought

This course takes its point of departure from a careful reading of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt’s massive study of Nazi totalitarianism and its origins in anti-Semitism and European imperialism. For the first three weeks of the class, we will read the three sections of the Origins along with a selection of Arendt's contemporaneous writings on issues at the heart of her study: wide-scale statelessness and forced migration; racism and imperial expansion; totalitarian propaganda and the “holes of oblivion.” Arendt recognized that the Origins posed a question that remained unanswered in that work: faced with the manufacture of living corpses, what preserves our humanity and redeems our actions? Arendt's next major work, The Human Condition, thus moves toward an analysis of the conditions and modes of human activity: from the biological life process, to the world-creating capacity of homo faber, to the urgency and fragility of human action. As we read The Human Condition, which seeks to answer the question posed by the Origins by accounting for what European philosophy has generally failed to analyze with sufficient clarity — namely, the dimensions of the “active life” — we examine Arendt’s attempt in the same period to review and, in her own way, deconstruct the concepts of thinking around which the ideal of a “contemplative life” concretized. This prepares us for a reading in the final weeks of the seminar of Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she re-conceptualizes evil as a certain implementation of systematic thoughtlessness. As we examine these three major works, each of which is a reflection on the relation between language and politics, we will continually attend to the varying ways in which Arendt sought to understand where poetry stands in relation to human “conditionality,” and we will use her often-neglected suggestions in this regard to develop an Arendtian poetics.


Basic Issues in Foreign Language Teaching

“Theory and Practical Applications: Basic Issues in Foreign Language teaching” provides students with a theoretical and practical knowledge base for teaching a foreign language within a college-level American educational context by focusing on basic principles of second language acquisition and language teaching methodology. Throughout the quarter, we will be reading and discussing texts that address theoretical issues pertaining to language learning, pedagogy, and curriculum and we will examine these issues from the practical context of the language classroom and draw explicit linkage between theory and practice. In that sense, German 405 is neither a basic “how to” course for teaching methods, nor a pure Second Language Acquisition course. Rather, by engaging in a discussion of major questions and issues important for a number of interrelated fields such as linguistics, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, education and language pedagogy, students will be introduced to the practice of self-directed and reflective teaching. This means that students are expected to evaluate theories and research, as well as their own assumptions concerning language learning and teaching.