November 11, 2011

     Letter from the Chair
John Zilcosky Dear friends of the German Department,

After spending a rainy August in Berlin, I was happy to return to a typically Ontarian Indian Summer, and to meet again the group of colleagues and students who make the German Department at the University of Toronto such an exciting place. Part of this enthusiasm is reflected in this newsletter itself, which we hope will be the first of many. I’d like to thank my colleague, Angelica Fenner, who has been the guiding force behind it, in collaboration with editorial assistant Elena Bilenky-Iourtaeva and webmaster Peter Kozar.

I was also pleased to return because, unlike last year, the spectre of possible dissolution no longer looms. As many readers will already know, last year’s proposal to amalgamate the German Department with several others has been dropped, due partly to the concern expressed by friends of the Department from around the world. I would like to thank you for your support. The German Department has retained its status as a dedicated department, the only one in Canada and one of an elite group in North America (the Ivies, Berkeley, Chicago, etc.). Indeed, although German departments are too small to be ranked internationally, ours, together with U of T’s cognate units, was recently duly honored: Our “modern languages” were ranked 9th in the world, joining only English (7th), Philosophy (7th), and Computer Science (10th) from the U of T in the world’s top ten.

Under the enthusiastic guidance of our undergraduate coordinator, Erol Boran, our undergraduate enrollment has been growing steadily: from 846 in 2007-8 to 1157 in 2011-12. And these undergraduates continue to impress us with their intellectual energy, focused on anything from German language, to medieval culture, to Romantic literature, to contemporary film. Our graduate program is likewise reaching new heights. Due primarily to the efforts and savvy of our graduate coordinator, Markus Stock, we have admitted an especially large incoming class: six new students. The continuing graduate students as well as our faculty look forward to working with this new cohort, which has already begun to garner awards. And our Al and Malka Green Yiddish Program is flourishing, under the expert leadership of Anna Shternshis.

Last year was an exciting year for events, most notably a lecture on Fontane and German realism by the renowned Germanist and “Rektor”—equivalent to President—of the University of Bonn: Prof. Jürgen Fohrmann. For this, we fit more people into the departmental library (and hallway) than I have seen in my 12 years in the Department. We also continued the tradition of the “Annual Toronto German Studies Symposium,” begun in 2008 and already making a name for itself internationally. Our symposia so far have been: “Autobiographical German Film” (organized by Fenner and Soldovieri); “Staging Minority Voices: Turks and Jews Performing in Germany” (Boran and Shternshis); “Spatial Practices, Medieval and Modern” (Stock); and, in 2011, “Fact and Fiction: Literature and Science in the European Context” (Lehleiter). “Fact and Fiction” drew major financial support from the Faculty of Arts and Science, the DAAD, SSHRC, and the Goethe Institut, and attendees included the German Consul General, Ms. Sabine Sparwasser, as well as many of you, whom I hope to see again this April, at the symposium organized by John Noyes, entitled “Where is German? The Global Imagination and the Location of Culture”—featuring an impressive international line-up including Alexander Honold (Basel), Johannes von Moltke (Michigan), and the poet and critic Alain Patrice Nganang. Please also attend the post-symposium reception at my home. Other upcoming events are a lecture on “Germany and the Middle East” by Nina Berman (Ohio State), a one-day symposium, together with CERES, entitled “Nazism and Terrorism: Violent Responses to the Dark Past in Postwar West Germany,” and a reading and translation workshop by the Swiss-Croation poet, Dragica Rajcic. For dates and venues, see the Events section of our website.

My colleagues continue to shine. Erol Boran was well-deservedly promoted to Senior Lecturer. Christine Lehleiter landed a prestigious SSHRC Insight Development Grant, valued at $57,319, for her project, “Original Sin: the Quest for the Origin of Evil.” Given the increasing difficulty of winning SSHRCs, this achievement is remarkable, and it adds to our department’s already notable successes in SSHRC competition: 89% of our research faculty have held major SSHRC grants in the past six years, the best percentage of all departments in the Faculty. On top of this, three colleagues published new books (available in our display case): Angelica Fenner, Race Under Reconstruction in German Cinema (University of Toronto Press); Michael Hager, Culture, Psychology, and Language Learning (Peter Lang), and John Noyes, Goethe’s Faust: Theatre of Modernity (Cambridge University Press). Willi Goetschel founded the journal Bamidbar. Marking our faculty’s achievements are also the residency fellowships awarded to Willi and Markus Stock, who will spend the spring semester 2012 as fellows at Göttingen’s Lichtenberg-Kolleg and Freiburg’s Institute for Advanced Studies, respectively. Our faculty’s interdisciplinary leadership continues to be valued within the academic community at U of T and beyond: At St. Michael’s College, John Noyes is serving as Director of the Book and Media Studies Program, and Markus Stock as Director of the Medieval Studies Program; at the Centre for Jewish Studies, Anna Shternshis is Associate Director. And Markus has just been appointed Book Review Editor of Seminar, Canada's Germanistik journal of record.

For the coming two years, we are honored to host the Ray D. Wolfe Post-Doctoral Fellow, Rachel Seelig. Dr. Seelig's interests include twentieth-century Jewish literature, German-Jewish philosophy, and postcolonial theory. In addition to teaching “Weimar Culture and Beyond” and “Yiddish Literature” for us this year, Dr. Seelig will give a public lecture on her present research. Our ranks will be further strengthened in the new year by the addition of a DAAD visiting professor.

It is a pleasure to serve as chair of such a vibrant department. As always, we need your support, so please visit our fundraising page and consider donating. And I invite you—our friends, colleagues, emeriti, and alumni—to contact me, send letters from abroad, or simply stop by.


John Zilcosky

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