German Studies Department: Goals and Objectives
German Studies is an interdisciplinary course of study that emphasizes cultural and literary analysis, intercultural learning, and language study. Though language study includes attaining linguistic proficiency in German, it also encompasses inquiry into the relationship between language and culture. In beginning language courses, for instance, students read and write children's books not only to practice grammar and build vocabulary, but also to study how these texts transmit German culture to new generations. Subsequent courses offer students a broad understanding of important German historical and cultural developments from the Reformation to the present. These courses also teach them how to develop sustained interpretations of texts ranging from literature to films and events, using tools such as literary analysis and theory. By studying German culture self-reflexively as outsiders, students also attain intercultural competence: an ability to acquire and use knowledge of a culture or cultural practices in both textual analysis and real-time communication. What distinguishes German Studies at Vassar is our emphasis on applying this liberal-arts approach consistently from Beginning German to senior seminars. In addition, we are also recognized for our innovative use of technology for classroom collaborations with other colleges and universities in the U.S. and Germany, as well as for our encouragement of creative projects that allow students both to interpret and produce German-language culture.
Except for German 101, 235, 265, and 275, all courses are conducted in German and fulfill the college's language proficiency requirement. German 101 fulfills the freshman course requirement. Our beginning and intermediate sequences offer students both linguistic proficiency in German and opportunities to connect their language study to other broad liberal-arts goals, including sustained engagement with another culture through the study of primary documents—something typically reserved for advanced courses. In addition, all departmental courses, including those offered in English, provide students with an opportunity to develop intercultural competence: an ability to interpret documents, practices, and values from the point of view of a culture other than their own. These courses also help students learn to communicate effectively, in either English or German, across linguistic and cultural borders. In recognition of Germany’s impact on events in the 20th century, all courses also expose students to important ethical, philosophical, and cultural issues. Moreover, from Beginning German through the senior seminar, students grapple with aesthetic objects (literature, film, images, and music) by considering their significance, expounding their own interpretations, or developing their own creative responses. In our experience, the study of cultural difference in its multiple forms provides rich opportunities for obtaining knowledge of oneself, gaining a humane concern for society, and developing a commitment to an examined and evolving set of values.
Majors and correlates must demonstrate the ability to develop sustained interpretations of a variety of German-language documents produced between the Reformation and the present. These interpretations must also exhibit linguistic proficiency in German and familiarity with the interdisciplinary methods of German Studies. Students accomplish this in a graduated process over the course of the major. Thus, in all our classes, we expect students to write papers that respond to the imbrications of language, culture, and aesthetics. In Beginning German, for example, students studying Grimm's fairy tales might write a modern fairy tale that demonstrates an understanding of the political uses of fairy tales in different historical contexts. In more advanced courses, students produce explicit interpretations of texts, films, and cultural events. Such assignments promote students' critical knowledge of Germany, while helping them develop their own voice in German. For instance, students in Beginning German use German children's books as a source for comparisons between German-speaking cultures and their own; and in Intermediate III, they work on an intercultural project, such as media and school violence in Germany and the U.S., with German university students online. In a 300-level seminar, students might use videoconferencing to interact with leading German professionals and cultural figures as part of studying (and participating) in cultural practices, such as theater performance traditions or the memorialization of the Holocaust in Germany. To meet the requirements for graduation, majors must demonstrate mastery in papers written in two 300-level classes. Majors interested in being considered for honors may also elect to write a thesis, which exhibits a sustained interpretation, through a careful argument or creative performance, of an issue, author, or work. In addition to the skills and background knowledge necessary for graduate study, majors leave Vassar with the ability to engage in independent, lifelong learning, as well as the critical thinking, writing, and communication skills necessary to succeed in nearly any career.