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Outside the Nation: Taking Stock of a Sense of Duty and Diversity in German Studies Abroad

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Part of the Global Germany in Transnational Dialogues book series (GGTD)


There has been a noticeable improvement in the ethno-cultural diversity and institutional openness of German higher education over the past two decades. It encompasses instruction and research activities as evidenced by the agenda of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung), and the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). There is currently, however, no collation of the programs, departmental efforts, or list of initiatives which would take stock of a similarly progressive shift in transnational German higher education outside a national, Germany-centred perspective. In recognising the shift, this chapter offers a contemporary overview of important German Studies Abroad programs and trends at international liberal arts colleges and research universities. They transcend the field’s nation-centric history, as they redefine transnational German education in the 21st century with a sense of pluri-local attachments and intersectional duties. A possible explanation for this departure from nation-centred tradition is an increased geo-political awareness. There is now more concern for the local academic environments of German Studies Abroad than there is for replicating the higher education experience of German studies in Germany.

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Fig. 1

(Source DAAD

Fig. 2

(Source Alexander Humboldt Foundation

Fig. 3

(Source German Research Association


  1. 1.

    See Ervin Malakaj’s chapter in this volume for a detailed analysis of the DDGC’s post-colonial German studies initiatives in Canada and the United States of America.

  2. 2.

    See as an example for this Irina Herrschner’s chapter on the Goethe Institute’s transnational eduction and culture policy agenda in Australia.

  3. 3.

    Rudolf Muhr, Obituary, TRANS, 2015.

  4. 4.

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  5. 5.

    C.f. Peggy Piesche and Sara Lennox, “Epilogue, Of Epistemologies and Positionalities: A Conversation”, in Sara Lennox (ed.), Remapping Black Germany (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016), pp. 274–281

  6. 6.

    Piesche and Lennox, “Epilogue”, pp. 275–276

  7. 7.

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  8. 8.

    Damon Salesa, Island Time: New Zealand’s Pacific Futures (Wellington: BWB, 2017), pp. 1–13

  9. 9.

    Piesche and Lennox, “Epilogue”, pp. 276–277

  10. 10.

    HM Jokinen, “Weiße Flecken der Erinnerung”,, [Last accessed 20 November 2019]

  11. 11.

    See, for example, Russell A. Berman, Enlightenment or Empire: Colonial Discourse in German Culture (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1998) and Gabrielle Dürbeck, “Postkoloniale Perspektiven in der Germanistik: Gegenstände, Positionen, Perspektiven”, in Gabrielle Dürbeck and Axel Huber (eds.), Postkoloniale Germanistik: Bestandsaufnahme, theoretische Perspektiven, Lektüren (Bielefeld: Aisthesis Verlag, 2014), pp. 19–70

  12. 12.

    Jenny Engler, “Renaming Streets, Inverting Perspectives: Acts of Postcolonial Memory Citizenship In Berlin”, Focus on German Studies, 20 (2015): 41–61, p. 41

  13. 13.

    Sasha Huber, “Karakia—The Resetting Ceremony”, Sasha Huber, [Last accessed 20 November 2019]

  14. 14.

    See, for example, Patricia Purtschert, Barbara Lüthi and Francesca Falk (eds.), Postkoloniale Schweiz: Formen und Folgen eines Kolonialismus ohne Kolonien (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2013)


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Appendix: Commentaries and Position Statements

Appendix: Commentaries and Position Statements

Dr. Carrie Smith, Chair of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, Professor of German Studies, University of Alberta

I am writing this statement from Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence the vibrant community of (Amiskwacîwâskahikan is the nehiyawewin itwewin or Cree word for Edmonton), of which the University of Alberta is a part. I am also writing this statement from multiple subject positions: chair of a large modern languages department, feminist researcher of German Studies deeply invested in social-justice oriented collaborative practices, and settler scholar in what is currently called Canada. My work as department chair comes at a time when in the Anglophone world, language-learning is on a steep and steady decline. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in January 2019 on 651 program closures between 2013 and 2016 in the US alone, and the UK charts a 30–50% decline in language teaching in secondary schools. When I began my post 11 years ago, more than half of my colleagues were looking backwards, embroiled in conversations about imaginary futures that were based on perceived realities for departments that had long since been dismantled. Those same faculty members saw their majors cut due to dwindling numbers, entrenching them more and more in a distant, “better” past. My department has now spent the last five years restructuring our graduate and undergraduate programs away from conceptions of national belonging, working to move past the growing-together pains of this amalgamated department’s now 20+ year adolescence. Department members developed programs that focused on local and international community service, “for the public good.” But much of what emerged in our often-contentious conversations was: For the good of which public? Who is the implied “we” of these communities? In much of the navel-gazing scholarship on the university, “we” is often singularly used to refer to faculty members, leaving out administration, students, and staff, and, more problematically, the greater non-university communities nevertheless impacted by research and teaching. The “we” invoked is often white, male, and cisgender. As the territorial acknowledgement at the outset of this statement attests, “we” must also include Indigenous people and their epistemologies. Such acknowledgements pay respect to and name original inhabitants of the land while also pointing toward the imperialism that lives on in the form of institutional and cultural forms and teachings in our daily lives. German Studies is a discipline that depends on the frame of the “nation” as the hegemonic political form of the last 200 years to partition itself off from other humanities disciplines. If the concept of the national is at the heart of German Studies, then scholars must not only recognize but work to rectify the role that German Studies played, and continues to play, as product and project of settler-colonialism.

Dr. Andrea Bandhauer and Dr. Maria Veber, The University of Sydney

Transcultural German Studies in Australia

The orientation of tertiary German Studies/Germanistik in Australia towards a linguistically and culturally monolithic idea of German literature and language shifted dramatically and irrevocably, if slowly, and not uncontroversially, with Leslie Bodi’s new focus on “the pluricentricity of literature and languages,” and on “consider[ing] this diversity from different perspectives and not unilaterally,” informed by the idea that “a “language” can accommodate multiple cultures and literatures.”Footnote 3 Bodi, who had taken up his position as Professor of German in 1960, pioneered an intercultural approach that clearly preceded developments in Germany. There, in 1984, Alois Wierlacher introduced the term ‘Intercultural German Studies’ at the founding conference for the Society for Intercultural German Studies/Gesellschaft für interkulturelle Germanistik. This led to a broadening of the discipline taught in Germany to include consideration of the contexts of disciplinary engagement in countries outside Germany, the so-called ‘Auslandsgermanistik’. Here, “intercultural” meant specifically opening up German Germanistik to an audience outside the German speaking countries, asserting that German culture should be more interested in and open to addressing students who learn the German language, and should reach out to ‘the world’, maybe ‘their’ world.

Through the 1980s, and pre-dating the 1984 conference, a number of studies on Germans in Australia were published, overwhelmingly by scholars in Australia, but also including the volume Australia Germany. Two Hundred Years of Contacts, Relations and Connections, edited by German scholar Johannes H. Voigt, a volume which was the result of exhaustive archival research. These pioneering publications fostered a greater awareness of German migration to Australia, and its historical and cultural impact,Footnote 4 subtly contesting the idea that German culture was represented solely by the more traditional fields of German Studies/Germanistik, that is, German history and literature/film.

Subsequent studies have focussed on aspects of contact between Germans and Indigenous people of Australia, such as Walter Veit’s extensive scholarship on German Lutheran missionaries in Hermannsburg. Our collaborative work on the Hermannsburg Mission, focussing on textual materials produced in the context of the colonising mission work, explores the reasoning that drove these men and women to travel to unknown and faraway places such as outback Australia in order to preach salvation to people they considered ‘heathens’. We are consistently aware that such research cannot be called transcultural by any means. Indeed, any research of Germans in Australia contributes to a history of colonisation. Learning of Indigenous languages would be a prerequisite to creating inter-cultural narratives of the history of Indigenous people and German settlers; however, the creation of inter-cultural narratives of the history of Indigenous people and German settlers would only be possible through the reception of Indigenous voices.

The history, culture and languages of Australia have become an important starting point for the creation of a philology that connects the place where we conduct our research to German-speaking countries and contributes to transcultural aspects of German Studies. German Studies is, however, not the only subject area where interest in Australia is growing. The School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sydney has embarked on a project called “Multilingual Australia: Past and Present”. Numerous language departments are involved in creating a history of Australia which does not privilege Anglocentric narratives of Australia, its migrants and their relationship to its First Peoples.

Thinking intersections and what remains: Dr. Kate Roy, Franklin University, Switzerland

Writing as a Pākehā New Zealander working in a Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at an international American university in an Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, I first need to acknowledge that I enter any form of Germanic Studies with a set of small, complexly sited—yet privileged and powerful—positionalities that must introspect and understand their accountabilities in a globally uneven, migratory world. My subject position as product of a settler culture, in particular, calls for me to listen—and not to speak for—, to critically process the discomforts of the layered nature of postcolonial society, the privilege of the settler position and its complicity with the colonial project and continued hegemonic power structures.

The Germanic Studies departments that I came from (as a student in Aotearoa-New Zealand), and that I now find myself in, had and have long since moved beyond the canon, turning rather to texts and contexts of political power shifts, painful memories and (im)migration. Yet Aotearoa-New Zealand still seems so far from the German-speaking lands, while Ticino—particularly at the height of the summer tourist invasion and the reflections on language and power within Switzerland that this should bring—is almost too close. Perhaps it is just this nexus of distance and proximity that could help us go beyond exploring these movements, histories and ideas in Germanic Studies as “trends,”Footnote 5 as products of other cultures, as ideas we can study and unpick at arm’s length. Instead, we need to start “voyaging into” the field (in a Saidian sense) “to mix with it, transform it, to make it acknowledge marginalized or suppressed or forgotten histories,” both looking at how knowledge has been produced in Germanic Studies, and by whom, and embracing the “epistemological turn” (Piesche)Footnote 6 to return alternative forms of knowledge production on ourselves.Footnote 7

With colonies and outposts in China and the Pacific, the German Empire was, in fact, once at Aotearoa-New Zealand’s back door and its project remains. The national museum of Aotearoa-New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, holds records and material vestiges of German Samoa, and seeks to (begin to) employ them to reflect on our country’s own (post)colonial role in that region: how did we continue the colonial project, it asks, and how do we see it still? With Tāmaki Makaurau-Auckland’s “Pacific islands” of “ethnoburbs,” pushing the question is fundamental: the colonial desires of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s white settler structures and their unacknowledged past of incursions in the Pacific—a space that still remains to be decolonised—have arguably already shaped its future.Footnote 8

What Piesche terms the unacknowledged “relevance of whiteness”Footnote 9 in Germanic Studies still causes blind spots (“weiße Flecken”)Footnote 10 that impede understanding in our spaces. The role of Georg Forster on the Cook voyages, for example, which is (astonishingly) still up for debate in Germanic Studies,Footnote 11 arguably perpetuates the problematic tendency of seeing the Germans (and indeed natural scientists) as better—or at least less power-invested—colonisers in spaces not directly under their control; however, the productive discourse emanating from postcolonial focus groups around the naming of streets and other (city) spaces and the continued presence of colonial statues in urban spaces continues to demonstrate to us that these choices are never “just about history” but always also about “present social organizations” within shared spaces of belonging.Footnote 12 My classes in this area might focus on (predominantly German) city spaces, but my own complicity in the colonial project means that I am thinking about how Aotearoa-New Zealand and Swiss-German spaces and histories are linked in this sense by the “hinterlands”—for example, by the debate about the naming of a West Coast glacier after Swiss “ethnographer” and geologist Louis Agassiz. Swiss-Haitian artist Sasha Huber and pounamu master carver Jeff Mahuika (Kāti Māhaki, Poutini Kāi Tahu) performed the unnaming of this glacier in 2015 as part of a project to bring awareness of the complicity between racist discourses of racial hierarchy (as embodied by Agassiz) and “the history of colonial land seizure by the application of European nomenclature.”Footnote 13 Highlighting these power structures of the unseen—a “colonialism without colonies”—is also what informs the work of the Postkoloniale Schweiz group, which explores Swiss hinterlands enablers of colonialism and enslavement, while also uncovering continuities with contemporary Swiss discourses on migration.Footnote 14

For me, it is precisely acknowledging the relevance of our (overwhelming) whiteness in the field and listening to “alternative knowledge production” from within past histories and spaces that is of the utmost importance for Germanic Studies, and all of its extra-Germanic intersections, in the consequences of our present and future.

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Nickl, B. (2020). Outside the Nation: Taking Stock of a Sense of Duty and Diversity in German Studies Abroad. In: Nickl, B., Popenici, S., Blackler, D. (eds) Transnational German Education and Comparative Education Systems. Global Germany in Transnational Dialogues. Springer, Cham.

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