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Word from the Director

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by Peter Gilgen

Welcome back to a new and exciting year of IGCS events and activities! I am delighted to act as the director of the Institute during the academic year of 2017-18. I have taken over the reins from Leslie Adelson who was preceded by Paul Fleming. Next year, Patrizia McBride will assume the director responsibilities. I mention these personnel changes to illustrate how deeply rooted the IGCS is in the Cornell community and how many of us have participated intellectually and administratively in its important work, from which a wide variety of scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences have profited over the years. To be sure, the importance of the IGCS for Cornell as a university and intellectual hub far exceeds its size and modest budget.

This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary. For a quarter of a century, “the Institute,” as it is called across campus with a good bit of affection, has implemented the far-reaching vision of its founding director, Peter Uwe Hohendahl, who, although now retired, can still be seen at many of its events. For 25 years, the Institute has offered a wealth of colloquia and conferences that led to intense exchanges and discussions, the occasional productive controversy, and a sizable number of important publications. The IGCS’s most important role is perhaps as a recognized institutional site of truly interdisciplinary work, where scholars of literature and culture interact and collaborate with philosophers, art historians, musicologists, historians, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians of science and, on occasion, even natural scientists. The multifarious events organized by the Institute have cultivated a loyal audience—a community of scholars who work in the field of German cultural studies, understood in a wide, capacious sense. The atmosphere of collaboration that forms the core of the IGCS mission has enhanced and complemented the cutting–edge scholarship for which the Cornell humanities and social sciences are famous.

In addition to fostering collaboration among the different disciplines at Cornell, the Institute has played an important role in creating durable collaborations and formal as well as equally important informal links with a good number of peer institutions in the US and leading universities in Germany. Thus, faculty and students alike have profited from exchanges and common projects at such places as the Humboldt University, Berlin, the University of Cologne, and the graduate student forum held annually in Boulder at the University of Colorado.

It is instructive to consult the archives and see how many established and emerging scholars were brought to campus by the Institute for its colloquium series, which is widely considered a model of its kind. Similarly, a list of all the conferences organized by the Institute over the years betrays a vision that combines a wide range of topics and methods with rigorous intellectual standards. Finally, The Institute has also brought leading artists from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to campus for extended stays as artists-in-residence, which in each case included public performances and readings, a seminar on a topic of the artist’s own choosing, and the Cornell lectures on contemporary aesthetics.

I am proud to be a part of the continuance of this excellent and illustrious Institution—and during its 25th year, no less. In addition to the colloquium series, we will celebrate the IGCS anniversary with many special events during the entire academic year (please consult the events calendar at for details). Thus during the fall semester, two outstanding scholars will deliver the IGCS 25th Anniversary Lectures: Eva Geulen, the Director of the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin, will visit on September 13, and Michael Steinberg, the former vice provost for the arts at Brown University and the current President of the American Academy in Berlin, will deliver his lecture on November 29. The well-known German writer and public intellectual Zafer Şenocak will dedicate his University lecture to the immensely important issue of “Imagining Migration in Contemporary Europe” and offer a literary reading on November 14 and 15, respectively. Further events are being planned for the spring semester—among them an extended visit by Clemens Setz, undoubtedly one of the most accomplished and interesting younger contemporary writers in the German language.

I hope that all of you will join us on these and many other occasions to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the IGCS and its numerous contributions to the intellectual life of Cornell. Most of all I hope—and trust—that like the years that preceded it, 2017-18 will give us much to think and talk about.