Advanced German Source Reading in Historiography

Course Description: 

The historian of Central and Eastern Europe frequently meets with secondary literature in the German language. Understanding of these texts needs more than practical conversation skills, as historical expression is a compound discourse created from elements derived from the literary, philosophical, legal, civic, scientific and colloquial vocabulary, and exposed to the impact of political and cultural ideologies. In order to introduce students to text categories they may encounter in their own research, the class is meant to be a sample of styles from academic historiography, covering various literary genres, time periods, geographical origins, and political and scholarly jargons.

The readings do not follow a chronological order, but are arranged in a didactic progression from easier to more difficult texts through four stylistic categories. First among them (sessions 1-3) are works of A) Compilation, meaning reference works such as encyclopedia articles, websites, and research manuals. The section B) Description/Narration, consisting of sessions 4-6, will examplify ways of chronological presentation of historical facts and developments. In the C) Interpretation category (sessions 7-9) we will encounter the sociological, cultural or philosophical grids of analysis and their respective vocabulary. Finally, D) Reflection (sessions 10-12) will offer notable specimens of essays on the historian's task.

We will read in every session between five and ten pages from one or two sources that course participants should prepare beforehand. As different thematic interests and levels of preparation will coexist among the students, longer or shorter text portions will be assigned to the individual participants in the class. Though the most efficient procedure of text study, namely the phrase-by-phrase reading and translating, cannot be easily avoided, we will try to include less rigid approaches, such as collecting and elucidating key terms, giving summaries of texts and focusing on their most interesting linguistic features.

Learning Outcomes: 

 Participants in the class will be familiarized with the linguistic conventions, vocabulary, cultural semantics, and academic contexts of historiographical literature in German. On the technical level, students will firstly learn to read printed Gothic script (Fraktur), as well as the abbreviations and other typographical norms commonly employed in historical and present German encyclopedias. In the field of lexicology, Students will then receive an explanation of the most frequent German concepts in political, social, cultural, intellectual, and gender history. From the scope of readings, students will be able to recognize and contextualize the typical styles of the major historical periods, such as nineteenth-century historicism, the ideological jargons of the national socialist and cold war ages, as well as the recent German appropriation of the international vocabulary of cultural studies. Students will also learn to recognize and encompass the contrasts between high-brow and journalistic language levels, the differences between German, Austrian, and Swiss traditions of historiographical writing, as well as the stylistic originality of influential individual authors such as Max Weber, Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, and Reinhart Koselleck.


Each weekly class will require a careful preparation of the assigned readings. In every session, each student will have to present and translate an assigned passage of one to two pages, the exact length of the extracts depending on the German skills of the student. Assessment will be made on the basis of each students' efforts in translating, understanding, and presenting the texts. These weekly presentations will generate a considerable workload for all students and a sufficient basis for grading, so that this class will not require any further papers or exams.