By James Hodkinson
So where in the world is German? This deliberately wide-ranging question is not merely a geographical one: recognizing the undisputed political and economic importance of the German speaking nations, it also asks about the status of the language itself. To what extent are school children learning it and students studying it? And as educational politics seems to step back time and again from any real commitment to modern foreign languages, despite so much rhetoric to the contrary, is German in some sort of crisis within educational systems? Or is it more the case that, within the MFL field, German is ebbing away as other languages rise in prominence?
Looking beyond the oft-cited utilitarian model of language learning, whereby the subject area must be seen to legitimize itself by equipping individuals with useful skills that deliver measurable economic returns, what is the ‘value’ in studying German culture and history? Can and should university level German Studies make itself appear ‘relevant’, not only to students’ career needs but also and to a wider public? Ought we to resist the political forces impelling scholars of German (and academics generally) to demonstrate its relevance through outreach work and societal impact projects?
Or does such pressure actually nudge us towards meaningful opportunities to remodel an already and necessarily evolving field of study? And finally, do these questions pertain more to the UK context, or do they resonate internationally? What, in other words, does German Studies look like in a global context? This dizzying whorl of questions relates, of course, to the wider issues of the academy’s various relationships to other sectors: to wider society, to a public that (in part) funds its activity, and to the artists and writers upon whose work academic endeavour depends.
Lively discussion on these matters had broken out at the annual IMLR/ DAAD sponsored meeting of Heads of German from British Universities in 2013, and the symposium ‘German in the World’, held June 2 2014 at Senate House, London, organized by Erica Carter (KCL), Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR) and Robert Gillett (QMUL), formalized this in the form of a one-day event. Dedicated to exploring the state of global German Studies, the event was organized around a series of panels, each centering upon one to two short papers, with a brief response from two respondents and an open discussion.
Dr James Hodkinson is Associate Professor in German at Warwick University. He is a specialist in eighteenth and nineteenth-century German language culture. If you would like to find out more about the symposium (the programme can be found here) and the conclusions reached take a look at the full report on SAS-Space.