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Diversity Related Courses

The Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures offers a range of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that address issues pertaining to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.


The following undergraduate courses fulfill U-M’s race and ethnicity (R&E) requirement:

Dutch 160: Amsterdam: Tolerance in the Triple X City

Tolerance in Amsterdam and Dutch culture is not straightforward. The culture, with the capital as its most noticeable example, knows unusual levels of progressivism. Most teenagers are allowed to have sex with partners in their own bedrooms and receive sexual education from kindergarten through high school. Passports list F, M, and X (gender non-binary) and politicians are openly atheist. Immigrant populations benefit from extensive social programs. And yet the country has the poorest employment outcomes for people of color in Europe outside of Sweden. It has a 3 times higher disproportionality of arrests by race than the US. And new immigrants sign a contract that they understand what it means to "be Dutch".

Students in Dutch 160 learn to distinguish between tolerance and toleration in the Dutch context. They discover that Dutch progressivism is based in a long history of opportunistic and pragmatic tolerance that is put to the test when the majority culture in challenged. At the center is a state founded on 350 years of colonialism and slavery in east and west where knowledge of history is still erased, and where discussions of race and racism are in its infancy. Students consider how this informs their own cultures and identities.

Dutch 351: Anne Frank in Context

Dutch 351 examines the Holocaust in The Netherlands and beyond through the analysis of the Diary of Anne Frank, its film, stage and television adaptations, and related materials. It aims to increase your understanding of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred and discrimination. Topics include Jewish immigration, Jewish Amsterdam, bystanders, resistance movement, and controversial issues like the fictionalization of Anne Frank and alleged Holocaust exploitation.

German 322: The Origins of Nazism

German 322 traces the rise and fall of National Socialism. The first half of the course focuses on Germany’s first democracy, the Weimar Republic and explores Nazism’s roots in postwar political culture. The Republic’s radical democratic visions and social programs may have failed to produce a lasting consensus in the 1920s, but they did not naturally or inevitably lead to the rise of National Socialism and the assumption of power in 1933. In the second half, we focus on the Nazi period itself and explore how National Socialism consolidated its power, remade society, transformed culture, and maintained popular legitimacy in order to create a social order based on the concepts of race and struggle. The concept of race is crucial here and we will spend a significant amount of time, reading, thinking, and talking about the construction of race in Germany at the time and place it into its global historical contexts. In the name of the “racial purity,” the Nazi state moved ruthlessly against Germany’s Jewish population and cleansed German society of all “undesirable” elements. Racial politics also chiefly drove the genocidal war for territorial expansion that underwrote the entire Nazi project. Lastly, we will begin to sketch the complicated consequences for postwar Europe in the aftermath of the Third Reich’s collapse in 1945.

German 333: Fascist Cinemas

German 333 explores the fascist-era cinemas of Germany, Italy, and Japan. We will analyze important films from the era at weekly screenings, and will study historical documents and critical essays to help us understand the context. After we’ve defined some terms and covered some basic history at the beginning of the semester, the course focuses on a set of common themes to identify both commonalities and specificities of a given context or historical moment. The themes include: fascist aesthetics; nation, “Volk,” race, ethnicity; anti-Semitism; youth and movement; the exalted leader; propaganda and spectacle; entertainment and pleasure; film style; bodies and genders; war fronts and home fronts; and post-fascist visual culture.

The goals of this class are to deepen students’ historical knowledge; to foster a sense for the political and ideological power of culture, and of the cinema in particular; and to sharpen students’ ability to engage critically with the power of the moving image. In other words, this course explores not only the history and aesthetics of film, but also their relation to politics and society. Ideally, students will leave this course with a new sensitivity for the dangerous power of Fascist ideology — whether in the cinemas of the 1930s and 40s, in ongoing debates on history and memory, or in today’s popular culture.

German 391: The Holocaust

The Holocaust—the persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945—was one of the most horrific events in the history of the world. The atrocities committed in the heart of the twentieth-century threw into question the very notion of human progress, and continue to haunt humanity to this day. We have all seen images and films about the Holocaust, or have read literature and diaries from the time, but mostly we shy away from confronting the bigger questions that the Holocaust forces us to ask about ourselves and our history. German 391 will better equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to interpret representations of the Holocaust by grounding students with the factual basis on which these representations are made. Students will learn to interpret some of the most important historical facts about the Holocaust, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of contending explanations regarding the causes and effects of the Holocaust, and to contextualize the Holocaust.

German 396: Germany and the Black Diaspora

Taught in conjunction with University College London and the University of Missouri, German 396 explores global Black histories in an unlikely place: German-speaking Europe. This course is timely, too: as African migrants make the dangerous passage by ship to Europe to plead asylum in Germany and more neo-Nazi hate crimes take place, more public conversations in Central Europe are addressing what it means to have Black people on German lands. But students in this class will learn that people of African descent have always been a part of Central European history. From Black saint iconography in medieval churches to entertainers such as Josephine Baker or Beyoncé in Berlin, Germans have long engaged with and responded to Black figures in European history. In so doing, they have participated in global conversations on nationalism, colonialism, race, and gender. Students in this class will learn to think about Germany’s Black pasts in general and Afro-German history specifically while also developing their skills as digital humanists: together we will use blogs, learn digital mapping technologies, and curate an online digital museum exhibit to think about the humanities in the 21st centuries. Students will also collaborate closely with students at University College London and the University of Missouri on these projects. By working with peers on two continents and on three different campuses, students will engage deeply with questions of national identity, race, culture, and diaspora in the 19th and 20th centuries.

German 464: Postwar German Ethnicities in Literature and Culture

What defines terms such as “Germanness,” “culture” and “ethnicity”? In German 464 we will consider how different ethnic minorities in postwar Germany have influenced and altered the very question of what it means to be “German.” In our examination of historical phenomena such as the economic miracle and the guest worker programs of the 1950s and 60s, we will explore the cultural impact of migration on contemporary German society through a focus on questions of integration, religion, nationality, ethnicity and gender. Course materials range from historical documents and journalistic prose, to literary and filmic representations by Afro-, Turkish-, Japanese-, Jewish-, Russian-, and Arab-German authors. In our assessment of postwar German history, we will pay particular attention to the unprecedented waves of migration Germany is experiencing in the present. In doing so, we will consider the inadequacy and/or staying power of existing categories of analysis such as diaspora, hybridity, authenticity, transnationalism and globalism.

Additional undergraduate courses addressing issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion include:

German 232: Queer Germany

With the dual goal of further improving students’ German and queering narratives of German history, in this course students and I engaged with a variety of media and literary, political, historical, cultural, and artistic themes. We began with the rise of the first homosexual emancipation movements in the late 19th century, reading private letters and political statements from prominent activists like Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Anna Rüling. With this base knowledge, we worked our way through major moments of queer German history and culture: the flourishing of gay and lesbian subcultures and communities during the 1920s of the Weimar Republic, their persecution under the Nazi regime, the emergence of gay and lesbian liberation in the 1970s and 1980, the conflicts between feminism and German lesbian communities, and the emergence of vocal queer voices of color and migrants in the present day. Furthermore, we discussed the experiences of queer folk, focusing on what words they used to describe themselves, their struggles for emancipation and community, and, most importantly, the creativity and beauty of queer self-expression. Studying novels, political manifestos, films, and artwork as well as reconstructing the historical topography of queer living and community spaces of Weimar Berlin, students became familiar with many queer figures, such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Jeanne Mammen, Klaus Mann, Marlene Dietrich, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Rosa von Praunheim, and Audre Lorde. Along with an extensive knowledge of the history and cultures of queer Germany, students came away with the analytic tools and linguistic capabilities to speak, read, and write at a high level of German.

German 232: Deutschland heute/Contemporary German Society

In this fourth-semester language course, students discuss issues related to diversity in Germany, such as migration, refugees, and religion in postwar Germany and today, environmental and climate justice activism, and the movements for women's and LGBTQ rights.

German 303: Memory Studies: The Roman Empire and German Culture

This course explores how German philosophers, literary authors, and painters thought about their present through the lens of the Roman past. The issues that this involves are, of course, German identity; but also, more specifically, the re-appropriation of the opposition of Roman conqueror versus “barbarian”; models of empire and colonialism; and the inter-textual presence of ancient texts. We will discuss the Romans’ concept of the “barbarian” reading Tacitus’s anthropological texts. The course will focus on several key moments in German cultural history, starting with the Romantics and their early-nineteenth century appropriation of Tacitus; history and ethnography of the ancient German tribes and their “barbarian” customs. Tracing the context of the anti-Napoleonic movement, we will read the philosopher J. G. Fichte on the difference between “Romanized” French and “un-Romanized” Germans; study Heinrich von Kleist’s guerilla theatre about the battle between Arminius and Varus in the Teutoburg Forest; and scrutinize C.D. Friedrich’s landscapes. We will then focus on the Second German Reich (1871-1918) and the role of the Roman past in its colonial culture. Here, we will study contemporary history paintings reviving the image of the German “barbarian”; we will read excerpts from Felix Dahn’s rather hilarious novel, The Struggle for Rome (1876), Nietzsche’s glorification of the imperial Roman warrior in his Genealogy of Morals, and Wilhelm Jenssen’s Gradiva, his “Fantasy tale” about Pompeii (together with Sigmund Freud’s analysis of Jenssen’s novella). From the Kaiserreich we will move to the Third Reich (1933-1945) and the many ways in which the Nazi leadership advocated the imitation of the Roman Empire in architecture and other realms.

German 325: Other Victims of the Holocaust

It is well-known that there were over 6 Million Jewish victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Much less well-known is that there were 5 Million “other” victims of the Nazi Regime in Germany during that time. This course examines texts by and about representatives of this other, very large and disparate group of Nazi victims. Course material includes various novels, excerpts from historical documents, essays, films, and eye-witness accounts from some members of the above mentioned groups.

German 388: Antisemitism in German Literature

In this course, we will focus on the image of the Jew in the German literary and cultural imagination, from Luther’s translation of the “New Testament” to Timur Vermes’ 2012 satirical novel Er ist wieder da. We will read a variety of canonical and lesser-known fiction texts from the Austro-German literary tradition, and learn about the formal characteristics and motivations of German literary and aesthetic movements. We will also discuss genre, and will make it our task to execute careful close readings of the texts we read. Here the point is not to merely “catch the drift” of a plotline, but to make a diligent effort to access important details of the text that can assist us in deepening our understanding of the literature. We investigate the image of the Jew in the writings of Martin Luther, the Brothers Grimm, Richard Wagner, Theodor Herzl, Henry Ford (whose translated Anti-Semitic writings were gleefully welcomed by the Nazis), and Adolf Hitler, among others. We end the course in present-day Germany. We discuss, of course, the phenomenon of Anti-Semitism often and in detail, tracing its development from the Middle Ages to present times. Our primary aim is to follow the general trajectory of the (German) Jewish experience in Germany and Austria by examining the manner in which Jewish figures have been depicted in German-language literature and culture.

German 416: Minority Reports: Culture By and About Minorities in German

Long before the current immigration debate in Germany, minorities have been part of the German-speaking world as contributors to various forms of culture as well as (sometimes problematic) cultural objects themselves. In this course we will engage with current arguments about identity and value systems in German-language societies. We will analyze texts and films mainly but not exclusively from the 20th and 21st century with whose help we will articulate answers to questions such as: Was/Wer ist deutsch? What does it mean to be (a) German (or Austrian or Swiss) today? How have “minority” and “minor culture” in comparison to „major culture“ been defined in the past, and how are they defined today auf Deutsch? What is the purpose of a cultural canon und how is a canon determined in the first place?

German 449: Multilingualism in German Literature and Film

This course considers the diverse transnational imaginaries forged by modern multilingual authors and filmmakers working primarily in German. With an attention to real and imagined (linguistic) travels, spatial representations of language, acts of cross-linguistic remembrance, literal translation, and exophony, we will consider the challenges multilingual texts pose to both national and disciplinary boundaries. Throughout the semester, we will both situate course materials within diverse socio-historical assertions of monolingualism, and pay close attention to the relationship of linguistic multiplicity to literary form and filmic structure. In our analyses of these issues, we will necessarily question what it means to approach multilingual literature and film through translation. While taking the encroachment of global English into question, we will also consider the rewards of reading multilingual texts through divergent translations that bring out a multiplicity of meanings at work within the German.


Recent courses addressing issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taught at the graduate level include:

German 731: Performing Race, Gender, Nation

In 2012 controversy arose in Berlin when the Deutsches Theater produced a play by Dea Loher called Innocence and hired two white actors to perform black characters in blackface. What had convinced the Deutsches Theater to use blackface in a performance? Why did people react so strongly against it? This course examines how people in Central Europe have performed racial, national, and gendered identities throughout their modern history. In this course we will investigate two different kinds of performance. First, we will examine the role of performance as an artistic enterprise. Film, opera, theater, music, dance, and the visual arts are all kinds of performances this course seeks to interrogate in order to understand identity construction in Germany. But we will also examine how performance is an everyday act. In a Geertzian sense, our quotidian encounters with people are themselves a performance, where cultural behavioral codes are at play. In other words, examining different kinds of performances allows us to debate and consider how identities have been made, un-made, and/or re-made in German history. By investigating the forms, functions, and meanings of aesthetic as well as everyday performances, we will deepen our understanding of how Germans have created and contested their own definitions of race, gender, and the nation. In this discussion-based course, we will read seminal texts by Homi K. Bhabha, Roland Barthes, Bertolt Brecht, Judith Butler, E. Patrick Johnson, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Erwin Piscator, Edward Said, Richard Schechner, Katrin Sieg, Christopher Small, Gayatri Spivak, Diana Taylor, and others.

German 732: Minor Subjectivities

Scholars working in historical fields necessarily encounter questions about how the interior experience of individual subjects has interacted with historical processes, worldviews, and structural change. At the same time, much critical attention has been given to the status of minorities and the oppressed in history (colonized subjects, women, ethnic/racial and sexual minorities), whose very subject positions have sometimes presented a challenge to the universalist claims of the post-Enlightenment West.

This course intends to engage questions of minority subjectivity in history, broaching methodological and theoretical issues at the same time as it surveys historiographical strategies of engaging the lived experience of minority subjects. Reading assignments will set theoretical works on subjectivity (including psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, and other models) against historical work (monographs and articles) on the one hand and primary texts (including literature, autobiography, letters and diaries) on the other. We will also consider these “marginalized” figures as creative subjects, or as cultural producers. In what ways are self-perceptions of liminality productive, and are there specific features of contributions by such subjects? Topics to be covered include German-Jewish history and the problem of “minor culture,” studies of historical “crises of masculinity,” colonized and decolonizing subjects, and minority sexual subjectivity.

Authors will include Hannah Arendt, Franz Kafka, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Sigmund Freud, Georg Simmel, and others. Some theorists to be included are: Deleuze, Lacan, Silverman, Zizek, and other psychoanalytic theorists; Marx and later Western Marxist thinkers; Fanon and post-colonial critics; Michel Foucault and others.

German 732: German, Jewish, Turkish Narrative Encounters

This course explores the role of Jewish and Turkish experiences as ethno-religious Others in the German cultural realm: What new shared narratives emerge via texts that bring Turkish and Jewish historical legacies of trauma and integration into contact? Throughout the semester we will consider the staying power and/or inadequacy of diverse categories of analysis, such as “Berührungspunkte” (Şenocak), “touching tales” (Adelson), “missed encounters” (Ertürk), and “East West Mimesis” (Konuk), as well as the very concept of comparison itself. Scholars such as Edward Said, Aamir R. Mufti, and Emily Apter have all traced the birth of Comparative Literature in its contemporary guise to scholarship by German-Jewish émigrés in 1930s Istanbul, where they were called upon to reform the Turkish system of higher education. Considering this seminal role played by German-Turkish-Jewish relations, we will further question what new grounds of comparison have emerged in the 21st century: How do points of Turkish-German-Jewish literary contact pose a challenge to national memory cultures, ethnic collectivities, and monolingual modes of belonging? What new, and often multidirectional formulations of Turkishness, Germanness and Jewishness are forged in their wake?

German 732: Feminist/ Gender Theory and German Culture

In this seminar we will take Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity as our point of departure. In the first weeks, we will undertake a genealogical exercise. That is, we will read texts that informed Butler's rethinking of feminist theory and identity in terms of performativity. These texts include, for instance, Joan Riviere's "Womanliness as a masquerade" (1929), volume I of Foucault's History of Sexuality as well as texts by Freud and Lacan. The middle section of the seminar will be devoted to authors critical of Butler's performative gender theory. For instance, we will read excerpts from Toril Moi's Cavell-inspired essays What is a Woman? And other essays (1999) together with essays from her recent Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell (2017). We will also read the classic texts on intersectionality. The last third of the seminar will focus on post-Butlerian queer theorists and queer historians. Here we will read Jack Halberstam and Jose Esteban Munoz. Throughout the semester we will pair these theoretical readings with literary texts by German-language authors.

German 762: The Ethics of Translation

Scholarship in the field of postcolonial studies has shown how acts of translation are both enmeshed in fields of power, and constitute a field of power in their own right. In this course, we will take up these issues from a German perspective, to ask how translations have both been used historically to produce knowledge of the Other, and to circumscribe presumed “others” in contemporary German society within a dominant understanding of Germanness. At the same time, we will examine translation as a force of disruption, or a challenge to dominant discursive frameworks such as nationalism, monolingualism, and ethnic definitions of Germanness. Through our course readings, we will explore this ethical dimension of translation as a process of unsettling and deauthorizing established modes of knowledge.  

Central course topics include: the nexus of Weltliteratur, German scholarly orientalism, and British colonialism; the relationship of cultural translation to exile and migration in postwar Germany; translation as a mode of critical performance; and recent translation initiatives that have emerged in response to the “refugee crisis.”