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A short history of German Studies at McGill

In the late 19th century, French and German were taught at McGill as “foreign languages”: French as the language of diplomacy and German as the language of science. These courses were first taught by one C.F.A. Markgraf, who later became a senior librarian at McGill. During the subsequent history of German Studies at McGill, several figures were instrumental in the expansion of our department into a thriving center of literary research. Bertha Meyer, an early feminist scholar who taught here in the decades before and after WWII, published studies on German-Jewish writers and women of the Romantic period. Born in Québec and of Jewish origin, she was also active during the war in helping newcomers to Canada. Later, Armin Arnold, a prolific scholar of modern world literature, was charged with expanding German Studies into a department of Comparative Literature. At that time, Québec was going through a period of rapid educational expansion, and under Arnold’s chairmanship, our department grew to encompass more than 60 graduate students. Succeeding Arnold, after an interim period of acting chairs (Ernst Gallati, Hans Joachim Maitre, Horst Richter), was Professor Peter M. Daly, who represented the department from 1978 to 2000 with a distinguished international reputation in the field of emblematics. After Professor Daly's retirement, the chairship passed to Professor Karin Bauer, author of Adorno’s Nietzschean Narratives (1999), who also served as president of the CAUTG from 2002 to 2004.

Under Professor Bauer's leadership, our department is currently entering into a new phase with several retirements and new hires. After a distinguished career at McGill, our medievalist Horst Richter left us in the winter of 2006. His departure was followed a year later in the fall by those of Professor Trudis Goldsmith-Reber, whose work within our department has largely helped to place film and theater studies on the McGill map, and Professor Adrian Hsia, whose research on transcultural translation and interpretation has earned him a distinguished reputation in North America, Europe and Asia. These retirements were accompanied by two additions that have given the department a new emphasis on historical media and cultural studies. Professor Andrew Piper, a specialist in the history of the book and translation, was hired in 2005 to cover the classical and romantic periods at the turn of the 19th century. In 2006, the department then hired Professor Michael Cowan, who works on film, modernism and the history of the body.

Professors Piper and Cowan are joining four other remaining faculty members to make up the core faculty in German Studies at McGill. Professor Bauer, who continues to serve as departmental chair, focuses in her current research on German intellectual history and cultural studies in the postwar period. Professor Paul Peters, author of the 1997 study Die Wunde Heine (now in its second edition since 2001), has published widely on writers from the 18th century to the present with an emphasis on Heine, Kafka, Brecht and Celan. Professor Josef Schmidt, who will be remaining with us until 2008, is the author of numerous scholarly articles and the editor of such best-selling volumes as the Kriminalromanführer (Guide to Detective Novels) from Reclam Press and the third volume of Reclam’s German literature series Die deutsche Literatur in Text und Darstellung on Renaissance, Humanism and Reformation.

With this faculty team, our department remains strongly grounded in the philological tradition that earned McGill German Studies its prestigious reputation, while at the same time expanding into the areas of transdisciplinary research. Reflecting this double emphasis, the McGill German department currently offers a range of programs for students wishing to focus on literature, cultural history, media or contemporary German Studies. We take seriously the changing role of German Studies and believe that research into the history of German cultural production is more relevant than ever in a context marked by globalization, European unification and rapidly changing mediascapes.