The Founder

The Institute for German Cultural Studies owes its existence to the intellectual vision of its founding director, Peter Uwe Hohendahl, Cornell University’s Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of German and Comparative Literature. Under his dynamic leadership, the Institute made its mark as a premier venue, both within Cornell University and in the interdisciplinary field of German Studies more generally, for the critical study of German-speaking cultures from the medieval period to the present. Thanks to the founding director’s foresight and dedication, what began in 1992 as an innovative attempt to overcome traditional disciplinary divisions within our home institution has become an indispensable feature of rigorous inter- and trans-disciplinary inquiry in the College of Arts and Sciences and beyond. An extraordinary record of individual scholarship has likewise accompanied this colleague’s countless accomplishments on behalf of the Institute for German Cultural Studies. For this distinguished record—which includes expertise in 18th- to 20th-century German literature, intellectual history, critical theory, and the history of the university in Europe and the United States—Peter Uwe Hohendahl was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize for Humanists in 2005. In 1997 the founding director of the IGCS formulated this mission statement, which reflects on the first five years of Institute programming and highlights many commitments that continue to characterize the Institute for German Cultural Studies today.
Leslie A. Adelson, Director (2007-2013)

Founder Peter Uwe Hohendahl
Director, 1992-2007

From the founder Peter Uwe Hohendahl
Director, 1992-2007

Since the fall of 1992 the Institute for German Cultural Studies has served as a local, regional and national clearing house for the promotion of German Studies. The Institute was founded under the aegis of the College of Arts and Sciences whose dean, Don Randel, recognized the exceptional strength of Cornell’s faculty in the area of German culture. Since traditional disciplinary divisions had kept these faculty members for the most part in their respective departments and programs, thus isolating their intellectual efforts, the Institute was conceived as a place where faculty members and students would find a suitable meeting ground for transdisciplinary discussion and exploration. From the very beginning, however, this task was defined in terms of a regular exchange with scholars and intellectuals from the outside. From its inception contacts with other universities and research institutes have shaped the work of the Institute. These contacts have included, of course, institutions of higher learning in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Among them the contacts with Humboldt University, Berlin, have become especially important. As part of an ongoing faculty exchange Professors Hartmut Böhme, Rüdiger Steinlein, and Inge Stephan came to Cornell, while several members of the Cornell faculty visited Humboldt University.

The mission statement of the Institute has emphasized the trans- and interdisciplinary nature of its work. It has called for cooperation among a number of departments in the humanities and social sciences. among them German and comparative literature, philosophy, music, art history and architecture, anthropology, history, and political science. Representatives from these departments have served on the steering committee to advise the director on matters of policy and program development. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary nature of the committee, the Institute’s projects have consistently focused on questions of interdisciplinarity as a theoretical and methodological issue as well as a pragmatic organizational problem for teaching and research. IGCS projects have explored the possibility of intersecting approaches to the study of German culture. Moreover, in contrast to traditional German conceptions of culture, they have uniformly used a wide and non-ideological understanding of culture that includes both elite and popular cultural formations. The intention of all ventures has been to open up new research perspectives by undercutting conventional disciplinary boundaries.

The Institute has developed a number of formats that have proved to be especially effective in bringing together scholars from different fields. They range from traditional lectures to larger conferences that establish a broad forum for intellectual exchange. A sequence of special lectures, for instance, was co- sponsored by IGCS and the Institut für kulturwissenschaftliche Deutschlandstudien of the University of Bremen. They focused on present-day German politics. The speakers were Jens Reich, a leading East German scientist and intellectual, and Cem Ozdemir, the first Turkish-German member of the German Bundestag. For the most part, however, the Institute has preferred events that encourage a more intimate and intensive intellectual dialogue, such as the ongoing colloquium which permits members of the Cornell community as well as scholars from other institutions to present their work. The fact that the papers are distributed in advance makes a much more intensive discussion possible. In this context it should be noted that Cornell’s graduate students participate in this discussion — not only as discussants but also as presenters. The bi-weekly colloquium is the place where advanced graduate students who are working on their dissertations make their debut as young scholars.

The favorite conference format of the Institute has been the small workshop or symposium, a format that allows for both formal and informal discussions. During the last five years there have been six, ranging from a symposium on translation to a workshop on the Holocaust. These events have successfully served as intellectual interventions by stimulating dialogue between different approaches and positions. While symposia and workshops have primarily helped to explore specific research topics, the larger conferences, among them the conference on the state of the intellectual and the conference on the legacy of Freud’s theory (which was preceded by a number of internal events), articulated the present state of the discourse in the respective fields to a larger forum of participants.

A brief look at the programs of the conferences and symposia that took place at the Institute attests to the breadth and variety of the Institute’s agenda, which is clearly distinguished from the more specific mission of the Department of German Studies. The topics have ranged from the early modern age (a conference on Nuremberg culture) to the present (a conference on present-day Berlin); the events have dealt with problems in architecture and city planning, the impact of Wagner’s operas, the film industry of Nazi Germany, and the theory of the public sphere, to mention but a few examples. And they have addressed the intersection between music and literature, psychoanalysis and philosophy, as well as gender studies and history. In each of these cases members of the Cornell community have worked together with faculty and graduate students from other institutions.

In this context the Fellows Program has to be mentioned as yet another venue for intellectual exchange. Beginning with the academic year 1993-94, the Institute has invited younger scholars to become research fellows for an academic year. While these fellows, free from obligations to teach, have primarily concentrated on their own research projects, they have also interacted with local faculty members and graduate students, either through the colloquium or through participation in ongoing events. These interactions would also extend to the fellows in residence of the Society of the Humanities and the Institute for European Studies, two prominent institutions at Cornell with which the Institute for German Cultural Studies is informally allied.

The pedagogical mission of the Institute has been two-fold: on the one hand, it has played an important role in the mentoring of graduate students, on the other hand, IGCS’s summer seminars, taught by Cornell senior faculty, have brought American and Canadian college teachers for five or six weeks to Cornell. These seminars, co-sponsored by DAAD and Cornell, were designed to create a forum for the development of research projects as well as course planning. Recent seminars have addressed theories of the public sphere (Hohendahl, 1994), Freud’s theory of masochism (Gilman, 1995), and cinema in Nazi Germany (Bathrick, 1996).

During the five years of its existence the Institute has slowly but significantly grown. With the increase in funding and staff time, the program has increased as well. Most of the funds have come from the College of Arts and Sciences of Cornell University. More recently, the Office of the Provost has added resources for special programs such as the exchange between Cornell and Humboldt University. Funding for conferences and symposia was typically made possible by drawing on a number of sources. Among the external sponsors, the German Academic Exchange Service deserves special mention. The DAAD’s generous financial support of the summer seminars as well as numerous conferences and symposia has most definitely helped to increase the national visibility of the Institute. Additional external funds have come from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Council for the Humanities and the Goethe Institute.

Peter Hohendahl, 1997