Major Description

Department/Program Description.

Interdisciplinary in nature, the academic field known as German studies has undergone rapid development in recent years. At Wesleyan, the Department of German Studies takes an active part in internationalizing the curriculum, with the aim of educating students for a world in which a sophisticated understanding of other cultures and their histories has become increasingly important. A background in German studies can prepare students for careers in many fields, among them teaching, translation, publishing, arts administration, law, international business, and library science, as well as for graduate study in literature, linguistics, philosophy, art history, history, psychology, the natural sciences, music, and other disciplines. At every level, the department’s courses taught in German stress the four basic skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking and aim to develop students’ sensitivity to language and its relationship to culture. The department’s courses taught in English focus on the German-speaking countries’ specific historical experiences and those countries’ contributions to literature, the arts, and thought. These courses often raise the question of translation, asking how successfully cultural phenomena specific to a particular place and time can be expressed in another language.

General Education.

The department strongly recommends that majors fulfill Stages I and II of the general education expectations.

Major Description.

German studies as a field embraces a number of disciplines. The department’s offerings and the faculty’s areas of scholarly expertise fall primarily into three related but distinct areas: literature, film and visual culture, and critical thought.

Literature: The study of literature and language lies at the center of German studies, for in works of literature, language manifests itself in its most complex, aesthetically rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and culturally revealing forms. The study of literature provides insight into the nature of narrative, which structures the expression of most human self-understandings. The concept of literature goes far beyond what we call “fiction.” For example, literary patterns can be identified in Hegel’s philosophy of mind, Darwin’s theory of evolution, or Freud’s conception of how the human mind functions. Thus, students of sociology, psychology, history, political science, and many other disciplines can benefit from learning to analyze literary structures and styles. The German Department’s strengths in literary studies include the age of Goethe, poetic realism, Viennese modernism, the Weimar Republic, the theory of the novel, exile literature, postwar and contemporary literature, multicultural literature, literary translation, and poetry. The department’s courses treat specific authors, genres, themes, or periods.

Film and Visual Culture: In the wake of the “visual turn” in the humanities, the field of German studies has paid increasing attention to film and photography, while awareness of the relationship between literature and the other visual arts—painting, printmaking, drawing, and sculpture—has deep historical roots. In addition to the visual culture of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the department offers courses that treat the history and aesthetics of German film from the Weimar era to the present. Major directors such as Fritz Lang, G. W. Pabst, F. W. Murnau, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Werner Herzog and film adaptations of literary works receive extensive treatment in the curriculum.

Critical Thought: The German intellectual tradition, associated with among many others, such influential thinkers as Luther, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Benjamin, has made indispensable contributions to Western thought. The German Department’s offerings in this area constitute key components of the Certificate in Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory and include aesthetics, cultural and literary theory, the history of science, German-Jewish thought, and major figures from the Enlightenment to the Frankfurt School.

Admission to the Major.

To become a German studies major, a student should have no grade lower than a B in any course taken in the department. The department recognizes the diversity of student interests and goals by allowing its majors great flexibility in designing their programs of study. Students should work closely with their major advisors to put together coherent courses of study and assure that they will make steady progress toward mastery of the German language. While majors are not required to choose a concentration, they may find it valuable to focus on one of the three areas described above.

Major Requirements.

The major requires satisfactory completion of nine credits’ worth of courses. At least five credits must be earned in courses taught in German above the level of GRST211, with at least three of the five being GRST seminars at the 300-level or courses taken in Germany. Majors are strongly encouraged to spend a semester on an approved program in Germany. Courses taken there count toward the major, provided the subject matter is relevant to German studies and the instruction and assignments are in German. A maximum of two courses per semester taken in Germany may be counted toward the major. For students who have not taken GRST214, one credit of intensive language instruction in Germany may count toward the major as well.  Before enrolling in courses in Germany, students should obtain approval from their major advisor.

Study Abroad.

For information on approved programs, students should speak with their faculty advisors and the Office of International Study http://www.wesleyan.edu/ois/. Brochures and application forms are available from the German Studies Department, 65 Lawn Avenue, or from the Office of International Studies, 105 Fisk Hall. The application deadline is November 1.

  • Eligibility. To become a candidate for honors in German studies, a student must have earned a B+ or better in all German studies courses above GRST211 and must have taken at least one course in each of the three curricular areas.

  • Candidacy. A prospectus must be handed in and approved by the prospective tutor or the department chair by the end of Reading Period in the spring of the junior year. Enrollment in senior thesis tutorials (409 and 410) is required. Candidates for honors in German studies and another department or program may choose to have two thesis tutors. The two departments or programs must agree in advance about the tutoring arrangement and evaluation of the honors project.

  • Honors projects. Honors are given only for two-semester projects. Examples of possible projects are a scholarly investigation of a topic in German studies; a translation of a substantial text from German to English, accompanied by a critical essay or introduction; production of a play from the German repertory, accompanied by a written analysis; a creative project written in German, accompanied by a brief introduction or afterword.

  • Deadlines. Deadlines for nomination to candidacy and submission of the honors project are set by the Committee on Honors.

  • Evaluation and award of honors. Honors projects will be evaluated by the tutor(s) and at least two other readers. A student receiving high honors may, at the department’s discretion and subject to the guidelines of the Committee on Honors, be nominated to take the oral examination for University honors.


Students who demonstrate excellence in the study of German may be candidates for prizes given from the Scott, Prentice, and Blankenagel funds. Students seeking modest funding for special projects should consult the chair.

Additional Information.

German Haus. This wood-frame house at 65 Lawn Avenue, with six single rooms and one double, sponsors many cultural and social activities. The original German Haus was established in 1977, making it the oldest foreign-language program house on Wesleyan’s campus. http://www.wesleyan.edu/reslife/housing/program/german_house.htm