Dear friends, lieve vrienden, kära vänner—
Sommerloch is the journalistic term of art in German for the summer doldrums, when the news cycle subsides as politics and politicians take a Sommerpause – a recess filled, in the best of cases (as it is this year), by a European or World Cup soccer event. These days, of course, the notion that politics might slow down seems rather quaint, on both sides of the Atlantic: as I write, the half-century alliance of the governing CDU/CSU parties appears to be fraying in Germany, and German-American relations are strained by disagreements over trade and immigration. But to judge by the hallways of the Modern Languages Building here in Ann Arbor, the notion of a summer slowdown still has its justification. Although teaching and learning and placement testing still go on, classes are noticeably fewer and smaller; undergraduate students have filled the Sommerloch in droves by heading off on summer language study programs abroad (with help from our generous donors!); and office doors remain closed as faculty and grad students return to their research and writing, whether in the quiet of the Ann Arbor summer or at archives overseas.
For the chair and for staff, summer is consequently an opportune time to regroup, to catch up on projects left pending during the rush to the academic year’s finish line—as well as to reflect and look ahead. Now, as I look back on the year that we brought to a close with the graduation ceremony, our most festive annual event, I continue to be impressed by the levels of activity and excellence that define this department. You’ll find out more in the pages that follow, but my favorite measure of our successes currently are two departmental awards whose announcement bracketed the academic year: as I reported in a previous newsletter, last summer we received the Department Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education from the College of LSA; and just before the Winter term ended, we learned that LSA Student Government had chosen us, based on student votes, for their Departmental Award of Excellence—for the fourth time!
Between these two wonderful announcements, another academic year unfurled, chock-full of learning, research, publications, events, presentations, and…more awards. You can read about much of it in this newsletter; for another perspective, I find myself reflecting back on the beginning of the Winter semester, when we were privileged to host the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s annual meeting of German chairs and language coordinators. This wonderful, collegial event is always an opportunity to trade notes with our peers in the Big Ten, to explore pressing issues, and develop new initiatives. We had intensive sessions on different institutions’ undergraduate programs in German, Dutch, and Scandinavian studies; on trends in graduate education; and on the important role that German Departments have to play in the overall landscape of higher education and the humanities today. We explored initiatives to foster alternative career outcomes for German PhD's and began a fascinating discussion of how to respond, in the language classroom, to the increasing sophistication of translation software such as Google translate. Over lunch, we even got to listen to a great talk by our historian colleague Melanie Tanielian on a landmark case testing the limits of academic freedom when members of the German Department at U-M became subject to widespread anti-German sentiment a century ago, during WWI. All in all, the two-day meeting was a reminder —if any was needed—of the importance and vitality of German Studies, language learning and teaching, trans-Atlantic and cross-cultural histories, and the importance of cultural exchange.
As we approach summer’s mid-point, the Sommerloch is decidedly an opportunity not only for retrospection, but also to look ahead to next year, which will bring new leadership to the Department. By the time you receive this newsletter, I will have concluded my four years as chair; on July 1, Andreas Gailus takes the helm. A great scholar and wonderful colleague with substantial experience as associate chair in recent years, he’ll be an excellent steward of the German Department in all its various facets. Whether you’re a current student or an alum, a member of the faculty or a friend of the Department, I hope and trust you’ll give Andreas the same support and confidence that you’ve shown me over these past years and for which I remain most gratefully yours.
Johannes von Moltke