In the German Department at King’s, we are pleased to offer a wide range of expert-led second- and final-year teaching, allowing you to follow your developing interests under specialist academic guidance. The choice of modules on offer varies from year to year, as it reflects the shifting research interests of staff, as well as our efforts to provide a broad and diverse curriculum. To give you a sense of what provision we offer, current lecturers were asked about the modules they are currently offering, what these involve in terms of intellectual content, and the deeper questions they ask about German society and culture. Most modules are taught bilingually, drawing on German and English source material, and they relate to research that is actively ongoing in the German Department. We have compiled a sample below – you will see that there is huge breadth to the subjects that you will be able to study in detail, alongside your core language modules. You will also find some suggestions for further reading, watching, or listening if you would like to start looking into any particular topic!
This blog was produced in July 2020 specifically for students joining the course in September 2020. Although it was up-to-date at the time it was produced, some changes to modules, courses and teaching staff may occur. Please make sure you check our website (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/german/undergraduate/undergraduate) or contact us directly for the very latest information before you commit yourself to any of our courses.
Society and Popular Culture in Germany since 1870
Throughout the last century, Germany has experienced an extraordinary transformation of the role of popular culture, technology and the media in politics as well as people’s day to day lives. This second-year module will examine the role of media and popular culture in German society after 1870 with a particular focus on the emergence of industries based on mass media and mass entertainment. By contextualising the study of popular culture within a historical framework, this course will also investigate how German identity is ‘read’, what it means to be or to be seen to be ‘German’, and how popular culture plays a role in shaping national identity. While the first two classes will help you to develop your awareness of the theoretical framework of popular culture, the rest of the course will explore such topics as the rise of German language cinema and music industries, the professionalisation of sport, the influence of other nations on developments in Germany as well as the ways in which popular culture has been instrumentalised by different ideological movements.
Want to delve into this topic? Try: New Thinking: Rubble Culture to Techno in Post-War Germany (BBC podcast).
Talking Back: Voices of Protest in German Culture
As seen in recent popular uprisings, outbreaks of civil disobedience, mass-marches, and online campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp, diverse forms of public protest are currently undergoing a global resurgence. Under neoliberalism, the question of how to devise meaningful forms of resistance in an era of ‘fake news’ and competitive hyper-individualism is of urgent political concern, particularly in Western democracies. This second-year module examines examples of German-language literature and film to consider how modern writers, film-makers and performance artists have responded to hostile socio-historical circumstances and sought to contest the political status quo during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The course will be organized through selected topics that focus on particular issues, such as engagements with the legacy of fascism in post-war Austria. Other topics might include highly contemporary issues such as mass-displacement and rising xenophobia, where artists respond to a Europe caught between loudly proclaimed humanitarian tradition on the one hand, and the rush to protect its borders on the other. A further unit treats satiric portrayals of the consequences of neo-liberalism on the individual.
Want to find out more about this topic? Try: Ruth Beckermann’s documentary film The Waldheim Waltz (2018). You can watch the trailer for this here.
The Weimar Republic: Culture and Crisis
The Weimar Republic, Germany’s first democracy, spanned just fifteen years from the collapse of the German Empire in 1918 to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. It was a period marked by political crises, economic instability, rapid modernisation and social change. Yet it was also a period of prolific cultural activity, which saw the development of exciting new modes of artistic expression.
This second-year module aims to introduce you to the history of the Weimar Republic through an exploration of its literature, film, art, performance and music. How is Weimar culture shaped by political and economic influences? How does it respond to periods of crisis and uncertainty? And what sort of space does it provide for articulating new, alternative visions of society? In addressing questions such as these, we will consider the ways in which competing ideas about modern Germany and its place in the world are reflected in and shaped by the culture of the period. Classes are highly interactive and are designed to prompt creative responses to the material.
Want to delve more into this topic? Try: The Weimar Years (BBC podcasts).
Politics and Culture in Cold War Germany
After its total defeat in World War II, a divided Germany developed differing forms of socio-political organisations in an attempt to find a sustainable response to the challenges posed by modern industrial society. While the East experimented with state socialism, the West implemented a liberal democracy. Yet despite their political division, the two German states remained deeply interconnected through economic linkages, a shared cultural heritage, and similar ambitions to redefine their nationhood and global position. This second-year module explores their special relationship against the backdrop of the global Cold War. Topics include political consolidation, East and West European integration, consumption and identity, the role of the Churches, social movements and dissent, immigration, Holocaust memory and foreign policy, and reunification. Over the course of the module, we will discuss primary sources and secondary historical accounts that trace Germany’s evolution from a pawn in Soviet-American relations to a major player of European political and economic integration at the end of the Cold War.
Gender and Identity in Arthurian Romance
In this second-year module, we will look at two of the earliest and most famous German Arthurian romances, Hartmann von Aue’s Erec and Iwein. Written around 1200, these lively tales of adventure and love will provide a focal point for an exploration of the often problematic constructions of gender and identity in a medieval context.
The fate of both Erec and Iwein is inextricably bound up with that of their wives, so we will investigate the role of love, marriage and ‘feminism’ in the texts and in the Middle Ages more generally. We will also consider the way in which masculinities are constructed and problematized and think more broadly about the identity of the knight. How, for example, does the knight’s personal identity interact with his social and marital responsibilities? How should we understand character and identity in medieval literature? We will consider the function of courtly behaviour and ethics; of violence; of madness; of animals; of adventure. Hartmann’s French sources – the romances of Chrétien de Troyes – will also be brought into consideration and we will ask what it meant to ‘author’ or ‘adapt’ in the Middle Ages. Finally, we will consider the manuscript transmission and reception of the texts, as well as the depiction of Iwein in the visual arts.
Want to find out more about this module? Try: Aysha Strachan, ‘Modern Theories, Medieval Worlds: Teaching Gender and Identity in Medieval Literary Studies’ (blog post).
The German Reformation
If you look on the history shelves in a bookshop under German history, you will find plenty on the twentieth century. But the sixteenth century was also a time of great upheaval in German lands, and the developments there also had repercussions which shaped the history and development of Western Europe and beyond. We look at this in the second-year module on the German Reformation. We consider the seismic events of Martin Luther’s life and thinking, taking in not only his doctrines, but also his political views, and setting him in the context of his contemporaries, including Calvin and Zwingli. We consider his ground-breaking Bible translations into German, look at the role played by hymns in the development of the Reformation, think about how women responded to events, consider the repercussions on the theology and practice of death and dying, and, perhaps most fun of all, investigate the often scurrilous and shocking visual propaganda from both sides of the Reformation divide: the Pope as the Antichrist and monstrous seven-headed Luther, the Pope as an ass and Luther languishing at the bottom of a latrine. We often manage to fit in a trip to the British Library to look at the history of printing and see some original sixteenth-century material. The module, taught bilingually with both English and German sources, aims to give a broad view of the first half of the sixteenth century, and serves as good grounding for anyone wanting to go on to work on further early modern topics in their final year or beyond.
Want to engage with this topic further? Try: Renaissance and Reformation. German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach (online exhibition), or Neil MacGregor, Luther and a Language (BBC podcast).
The Art and Culture of European Integration
From the European song contest to the European Capital of Culture programme, the arts have been put to use in creating a sense of shared cultural identity to accompany the integration of monetary, trade and legal systems in the transformation of the EEC to the EU. Drawing on the idea that ‘nobody falls in love with a common market’, this second-year module will focus on the role which cultural policy, funding, and cross-European artistic projects have had to play in attempts to create a sense of European identity. In addition to top-down projects initiated by EU bodies, the module will also explore grassroots engagements with imagining Europe in literature, film, and performance.
An increasing body of work in European Studies points to the cultural dimensions of European identity and integration, which play a significant role in shaping popular imaginations of what Europe is and should be. At the same time substantial research exists on how to read cultural production and practice in national contexts across Europe in Modern Languages. This module will draw on expertise from both Modern Languages and European Studies to enable us to explore these intersections between politics and the arts. Case studies will change from year to year to reflect new developments and expertise but may include Eurovision, the European Capitals of Culture programme, the EU-level initiatives on cultural heritage, and literary representations of Brexit.
Want to go deeper into this topic? Try: Chiara Bottici and Benoît Challand, Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, and Identity.
18th-Century German Thought: The Education of Humanity
The tradition of philosophy in the eighteenth century is one of the glories of German culture, and its leading figures are acknowledged as some of the founding fathers of modern European thought. This second-year module examines the distinctive forms which philosophical, historical, theological, psychological and aesthetic speculation took in eighteenth-century Germany, by analysing works by five of the century’s pre-eminent thinkers: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), and Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805). It traces the rise of German intellectual culture from the final throes of seventeenth-century European Rationalism to the beginnings of German Idealism, a period during which Germany emerged from relative obscurity to become the dominant force in European philosophy.
Want to learn more? Try: In Our Time – Kant’s Categorical Imperative (BBC podcast).
Marketing the Margins: Case Studies in the Cultural Marketplace
In this second-year module we draw on approaches from Cultural Studies to examine the relationship between literature as a creative industry and literature as aesthetic practice. Focusing on twentieth and twenty-first century works by authors traditionally situated at ‘the margins’ of nation-based literary systems, we will ask what role marketing and the literary industry might have to play in how a writer’s voice becomes heard.
Each fortnight we will take a different prize or publishing model and related literary text as a case study and will explore the following key questions: 1) How are marginality and exoticism dealt with within the text? 2) What does attention to the publishing history, marketing, and institutional reception of the author and their work reveal about the workings of the literary industry? 3) What is the relationship between the aesthetics employed in a literary text and its status as a product or commodity for sale? In particular, we will address the role which publishing houses and literary prizes have to play in the circulation of these cultural products, and will reflect on the ways in which migrant and minority authors negotiate the literary marketplace, issues of cultural capital, and exoticism, both within and beyond their literary works.
Want to look a bit deeper into this? Try: Heide Kunzelmann, Come In, We’re Broken (blog post)
Contemporary German Politics
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political order of the Federal Republic has continued to evolve as major social and economic shifts have transformed the lives of Germans in both East and West. After 1990, long term social trends such as the impact of mass immigration, the growing strength of the environmental movement and the reconfiguration of the economy and the welfare state became intertwined with the sudden impact of German reunification and the wider transformation of the international state system which had helped to bring it about.
This final-year module will explore this dynamic interaction between deep structural shifts in German society and the day-to-day debate and deal-making which defines the politics of the Berlin Republic twenty-one years after reunification. Each section of the module will explore a major economic, social or cultural theme at the centre of modern German politics by examining how long-term structural trends have affected current political developments. Through the use of a wide range of archival, press and audio-visual sources, you will have the chance to develop a better understanding of the underlying socio-economic factors shaping current events in German politics.
Want to delve more into this? Try: From the Reichstag to the Bundestag (online exhibition about German parliamentary democracy).
Writing in Tongues: Literature and Migration in the Modern German Context
This final-year module will appeal to students with interests in modern culture and politics. It focuses on recent works of German-language literature written by multilingual authors and examines issues of migration, displacement, cultural and linguistic identity. It introduces you to a significant body of writing with its roots in mass-migration and labour recruitment after World War Two that, in recent years, has become increasingly diverse in the context of a globalized age of transnational migration, heightened mobility and new communication technologies, where languages co-exist and interact in new constellations. By focusing on multilingual German-language writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the module permits in-depth understanding of ways in which their texts challenge, deconstruct and develop our understanding of forms of language and discourse, against a background of shifting national boundaries and transnational movement. By writing of life in different places and between different languages, these authors explore the subjective implications of physical displacement in a world of globalized experience, mass movement and instant communication.
Aspects of Post-1945 Culture
How is it possible to represent the tumultuous history of the German-speaking peoples in culture? What challenges do authors face when dealing with issues of history, memory and identity in fiction? This final-year module explores these and related questions by focusing on a selection of the most significant post-war and contemporary texts that engage with these issues. It considers how major authors have responded to events such as the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust; the division of Germany into East and West and its Reunification in 1989/1990; life and politics under Socialism in the GDR; and experiences of oppression, dictatorship and exile in German-speaking communities beyond Germany, as well as migrant communities within. Exploring a range of literary forms, the course assesses the different ways and to what effect aesthetic depictions relate the present to the past. In doing so, it highlights the problematic nature of representation in the aftermath of the Third Reich and totalitarianism, and the creative ways in which authors have responded to this challenge in the post-1945 era.
Afro-German Moving Images. Postcolonial Perspectives on German-language film
Born directly from a 2011 departmental research initiative exploring the multiple intersections between Germanic and global cultures, this final-year module focuses on film as a medium that channels cross-cultural relationships. Beginning with documentaries on German memories and histories of colonial pasts, the module continues with post-war films conveying East and West Germany’s different relationships to black cultures. It ends with films including Austrian-Iranian director Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy (2018: pictured), and Angelina Maccarone’s Afro-German queer comedy Alles wird gut (1998): films that we examine for their insights into cross-cultural life experiences, as well as Afro-German anti-racism in contemporary Germany and Austria.
Want to delve into this topic? Try Vincent Moloi’s Skulls, of my People (2018), a documentary on the fight for recompense from Germany for colonial atrocities in Namibia. To watch the trailer, click here.
German Capitalism, Business and Society
This final-year module introduces you to the business history of Germany, building on knowledge of Germany’s 19th and 20th-century political history. As one of the three most cited economies in business history literature, Germany is an ideal setting to explore industrialization, different business models, and the roles of management and labour in industry, and how these have changed over time. The module will introduce you to European and specifically Germany’s business culture as an increasingly popular counterpoint to American approaches, by examining entrepreneurship, innovation, corporate governance, business ethics, European economic integration, and investment models through historical business case studies.
The case study approach offers a distinctive learning opportunity that fully involves you in research culture, as you research and write you own company case studies for assessment following the Harvard Business School case study model. Analytical and teamwork skills as well as knowledge about the business sector acquired in this assessment enhance your employability, as you gain experience in examining cultural and structural, external and internal challenges that companies face in an increasingly globalising world.
Want to find out more about this topic? Try: Herbert Giersch, The Fading Miracle. Four Decades of Market Economy in Germany.
Death and the Afterlife in Medieval and Modern German Literature
There is a large quantity of medieval writing on death, from ‘practical’ ars moriendi texts to more ‘literary’ explorations such as Johannes von Tepl’s dialogue between death and a ploughman, Der Ackermann. It is not surprising, given the high mortality rates and extreme concern for human salvation, that death was a privileged topic in medieval writing, but it is more surprising that many of the specific concerns and literary strategies present in medieval texts are also found in more recent works. By focusing on both medieval and modern works of literature, we will investigate each text within its specific historical context and search for change and development, but also identify common ground between them. To facilitate this and to enable a creative response, texts will be taught in pairs – one modern, one medieval – with similar themes and a common theoretical framework. In some cases, the modern text is directly influenced by the medieval response to death; in others, the connection is striking if not deliberate. All the modern texts studied have been published since 1990; by studying these works in conjunction with medieval texts, you will not only develop a new outlook on the Middle Ages, but also investigate how contemporary culture engages with the traditions of death and dying.
Want to delve into this topic? Try: Carl Watkins, The Undiscovered Country, or the online exhibition Heaven, Hell, and Dying. Images of Death in the Middle Ages.
Learn more about the German department at KCL here.
For the perspective of a student, check out Lillith’s Day in the Life of a German Student.