The View From Here: Newsletter 2023/24

Letter from the Chair

In 2022-23, our Chair, Stefan Soldovieri, embarked on a well-deserved sabbatical after deftly shepherding the Department through nearly three years of pandemic uncertainty. To be an administrator under such unprecedented circumstances is no easy task, and we are grateful to Stefan for the extraordinary leadership he displayed throughout those years. We are equally thrilled at his return as we embark on this new academic year 2023-24. 

The return to in-person operations on the St George campus last year offered no reprieve from the theme of ongoing transition and recalibration, also for our Department, as we struck a new executive team during my year as Acting Chair.  We sorely missed the invaluable wisdom and institutional memory associated with our Student Placement Coordinator and Assistant to the Chair, Helena Juenger who also happened to be on maternity leave, but we were incredibly fortunate to be able to hire a U of T graduate, Ryan Masters. His doctorate in German colonial history helped him to acculturate to our program while our newly forged executive team, which included Professors John Noyes, Hang-Sun Kim, and Stefana Gargova, was similarly learning the ropes. What a year it was, tasked as we were to guide the department in envisioning a disciplinary future not only in the wake of the pandemic but also following feedback and recommendations from an external program review to which all campus units submit on a regular basis. In faculty meetings over the past year, and in consultation with undergraduates and graduates in our programs, we have debated and deliberated over the best path forward to sustain and grow our undergraduate enrollments and maintain our current standing, while also exploring the future contours of German Studies and of Yiddish Studies within the Humanities and indeed, in the face of unprecedented change in secondary institutions around the globe.  

Following two years of remote learning, teaching and administering, it was exciting to encounter colleagues in hallways and on the walkways of St Michael’s College and be able to linger over spontaneous conversations. The newly renovated graduate lounge and kitchenette area on the third floor of Odette are getting excellent use, and have enabled us to more effectively host the refreshments served at our twice-monthly Kaffeestunde. At the same time, after having adapted to living, working, and managing everyday life from home, it takes some conscious effort and reflection to again juggle competing demands when moving through real time and space, rather than slipping with a few taps of the keyboard between virtual offices and classrooms. Over the coming years, the University will be evaluating how educators and students and operations more generally can best incorporate useful insights and technologies from the pandemic years and integrate these with earlier ways of doing and being that have also proven their enduring value. 

All the more remarkable, amid these transitions, that our students and faculty could pack so much activity and such extraordinary achievements into this past year, including a dizzying array of symposia, conferences, and workshops spearheaded by members of our department We hope you’ll enjoy reading about all of this in more detail in the ensuing pages. Please be sure to drop by Odette Hall, whether for a guest lecture, a Kaffeestunde, or just to have chat with our Chair to explore ways to remain connected with or contribute in some fashion to the Department’s legacy and its future trajectory. 

Angelica Fenner
Acting Chair 

Undergraduate Report

by Professor Hang-Sun Kim, Associate Chair, Undergraduate Studies

2022-23 was another eventful year for our undergraduate program. The Fall term launched with our annual student appreciation event to celebrate the achievements of our undergraduate students who earned in-course awards. Janna Abbas, Marin Anguish, Mina Ali, Khubaib Choudhry, Zoe Levson, and Graeme Meyers were all recognized for their outstanding academic performance.

In December, following two years of virtual events, the German Department at the University of Toronto and the German Studies program of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University co-organized the 8th Annual German Language Teaching and Learning Workshop on our St. George campus. The topic was “Kulturelles Lernen im DaF-Unterricht” and drew a record number of participants, totaling 37 German graduate student instructors and language specialists from universities in Ontario and Quebec. It was exciting to hold our first post-pandemic conference in person and there was a great energy. Workshop topics included intercultural learning, digital teaching strategies, promoting gender-inclusive language in German classes, community-building in the classroom, and teaching German with multilingual literary texts. Special thanks are due to our workshop presenters, Daniel Bowles from Boston College, Steffi Retzlaff from the Goethe-Institut München (now at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences), James Skidmore from University of Waterloo, Marje Zschiesche-Stock and Miriam Swatuk from Das Deutschteam, and Nicola Townend from the University of Toronto Schools.

In the winter term, on the occasion of the United Nations International Mother Languages Day, I co-organized with colleague Prof. Paolo Frasca the Global Language Initiative’s Language and Culture Day. Fourteen language departments from across our campus gathered to celebrate linguistic diversity and to help students discover the impressively wide range of languages and cultures that they can study at this institution.

Most recently, we just offered two summer study abroad courses in Berlin, “A Tale of More Than Two Cities” taught by Prof. Erol Boran, and “City Past, City Future: Urban Space and Cultural Memory in Berlin” taught by yours truly. With our enthusiastic groups of students, we ventured out to explore Berlin’s diverse neighbourhoods, thrilling architecture, and multi-layered historical landscape. It was an intense, rewarding, and very fun four weeks. We look forward to the study abroad reunion this fall!

Undergraduate Profile: Enriching Undergraduate Education with German Language and Culture Studies

by Helena Jovic

From the age of 16, my connection with the German language became more than just academic; it  was a personal commitment. This bond strengthened following a year of high school abroad in Switzerland, and solidified my determination to master this captivating language. As I delved into Bioinformatics and Computer Science, my commitment to a minor in Business German became seamlessly intertwined, enriching my education at the University of Toronto with layers of cultural understanding. 

This summer my journey extended beyond the classroom; taking a leap across the pond, I dove into my second iPRAKTIKUM internship. This time, it was in-person in the charming city of Freiburg im Breisgau, where I engaged directly with topics in sustainability, taking the lead in an impact assessment and laying the groundwork for strategic green event management. Moreover, it brought me into contact with a diverse range of individuals, including policymakers, scientists, accomplished authors, and talented artists. 

My experience in German topic courses in has been thought-provoking, whether exploring engaging literary works such as those of Sybille Berg, viewing cinematic comedies by Ernst Lubitsch, crafting an essay on the complexities of refugee identities within our globalized world, or decoding the grammatical nuances of Konjunktiv I and II. What has made this journey unique is the ever-present connection between classroom learning and real-life applications. 

Being a part of the close-knit community of the German Department and actively contributing to different aspects of the department’s growth has been special for me. Serving as the student representative on the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and organizing a student election in March for the newly revived German Studies Student Union exposed me to the vibrant and diverse community the department attracts. It’s the people within the program that truly make it exceptional. Professors who are not just educators but also mentors, constantly guiding us towards success. If I could offer advice to future students, it would be to grasp every opportunity, form connections early on and cherish the sense of community.  

Viel Spaß – and good luck on your own journey in the world of German studies! 

Professionalization and Perseverance: Keys to Graduate Success

By Professor John Noyes, Associate Chair, Graduate Studies

In 2022-23, we welcomed a new graduate cohort that included MA students Savannah Bein and Hannah Wickham, as well as PhD student Jacob Hermandt. Hannah has how transitioned into our PhD program in Fall 2023, raising to six the number of PhD students conducting research specializing in Yiddish. We also welcomed four new MA students this Fall: Zhiyi Cao, Owen Meunier, Hannah Robinson, and Zoe Levson.

During the past academic year our doctoral students undertook important steps toward the completion of their degrees. Maria Harutyunyan officially achieved candidacy following the approval of her thesis proposal. She is researching the exploration of philanthropic ideas in the writings of women authors of the 18th and 19th centuries. Sophie Jordan successfully passed her comprehensive examinations, as did Astrid Klee, and both have had their thesis proposals approved with flying colours by their supervisory committees, spearheaded by respectively Markus Stock and John Zilcosky. Astrid is now in Berlin pursuing archival research with the support of a DAAD research grant. In October 2023, Veronica Curran successfully defended her dissertation: Morality and Society in J.M.R. Lenz’s Dramas and their Resonance in the works of G. Büchner and B. Brecht, supervised by John Noyes. Congratulations Veronica!

Our doctoral students also continue to garner distinguished fellowships. Eli Jany secured an Ontario Graduate Scholarship for his thesis project, “Life Writing of Disabled Yiddish-Speaking Jews in Interwar Poland,” and Jacob Hermant secured a SSHRC fellowship that was later upgraded to a Bombardier Fellowship for the project, “Judaism, Nature, Faith: Seeking a Response to the Contemporary Climate Crisis in Modern Diasporic Jewish Literature.” Indeed, congratulations to all of our graduate members in achieving so many benchmarks towards professionalization!

Both Sophie Jordan and André Flicker received the Research Excellence Award announced in August. Sophie Jordan was recognized for her insightful term paper, “Culture and the Space Between Language and Identity in Jacques Derrida’s The Language of the Other,” written for Professor Goetschel’s Critical Theory seminar (JGC 1875). André Flicker paper, “Tracing the Singular of Contradiction in Contradiction(s) Set Free,” started out as a conference paper delivered in Fall 2022 at the U of T symposium devoted to the philosopher Hermann Levin Goldschmidt, and recently published in expanded form in the magazine, Philosophy Today. Flicker also co-edited a special issue of Germanic Review on German Netflix Cultures and most recently became a fellow at Victoria College for the academic year 2023-234.

This year we also witnessed a plethora of local conferences that showcased graduate research, including the Toronto German Graduate Conference, described in a later subsection of this newsletter. At the German Studies Canada conference at York University, May 28-30, 2023, alumnus Dr. Yasmin Aly received the GSC prize for her thesis, Orientalism und unvollständige Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Arabische Identitätsfigurationen in deutschsprachiger Literature und Film nach 1945. Sophie Jordan secured the GSC graduate award for her brilliant presentation, Black Excellence at Arthur’s Court: Moriaen and Northern Germanic Medieval Concepts of Blackness. The department also relaunched the Graduate / Faculty Research Forum following a lull during the pandemic. Andre Flicker presented a paper on Voicelessness, Narration, and Documentation: On the Dramatic Agon of Expression in Karl Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit. John Evjen spoke on The End: Death of Wolves and Their Kin.

It is heartening to see this resurgence of productivity and connectivity among our graduates as we prepare to greet the year 2024!

Graduate Profile: A Jewish Literary Response to Climate Crisis

by Jacob Hermant

To confront the immense scale of the contemporary climate crisis through a recourse to theoretical or literary texts might seem at first to be a fool’s errand. Why, at this time of imminent danger, should we turn to the past rather than build on the knowledge and resources at hand today? Looking back at depictions of the natural world prior to knowledge of the impending climate crisis can, I suggest, help us envision our current world anew and [re]discover relations and connections to the Earth that we otherwise risk overlooking today. Though the question certainly remains of whether a renewed mode of understanding is enough to combat such a colossal threat, through my focus on diasporic Jewish literatures I highlight possible answers that can emerge as a direct result of the vastly different relationship these authors held to their world – answers that may aid in articulating a radically new Jewish literary response to climate collapse. 

Trained in the fields of comparative literature, Jewish philosophy, and of course Yiddish studies, I align modern Jewish thought in its relationship to Jewish mysticism with a focus on images of nature and climate in Yiddish and other diasporic Jewish literatures. By investigating the suggested and contested connections between the writing of Jewish life and the natural world, I hope to propose a Jewish literary response to climate collapse through authors such as Sholem Aleichem, Y.L. Peretz, and Yankev Glatshteyn, and theorists like Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem. 

Having grown up in the Toronto Jewish community, and now furthering my personal engagement with Judaism through my love for Yiddish, it is a great privilege to continue my studies here in Toronto. I can share my thoughts with friends and family, raise questions at my synagogue, and be a part of a wonderful group of scholars working on Yiddish and Jewish studies along with an incredible team of supervisors. I have learned so much already from Professors Anna Shternshis and Naomi Seidman after just the first year of my doctoral studies following my Master’s at U of T’s Centre for Comparative Literature, and look forward to studying for my comprehensive exams and also teaching Yiddish for the first time. 

MA Profile: Sowing the Seeds of Environmentalism

by Savannah Bein

My journey with the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures started in the first year of my undergraduate studies. My major was in Environmental Studies, but I enrolled GER100 as an elective to connect with my heritage. Little did I know that this decision would eventually lead to a deeper understanding of the environment as well. I continued learning German and eventually became an intern with iPRAKTIKUM doing environmental research in Germany.  

I have just completed my MA studies in German, during which I delved deeper into my interests in the early roots and conceptualization of sustainability and environmental activism – particularly relating to forests. My researches explore German figures who’ve impacted the broader understanding of sustainable forestry and the interconnectedness of nature, including how these figures have contributed to the wider public understanding of environmental issues and climate action. One movement I’m particularly interested in is the Hambach Forest action – a series of environmental demonstrations against clear-cutting an ancient primordial forest and calling for a shift towards renewable energy and social participation for environmental change.  

My course work in German Literature was often centred around subjects that I had never interacted with before. This became an opportunity to explore unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated disciplines. I gained familiarity with a plethora of different German contexts and combined them with my passion for sustainability, which only made my understanding more nuanced and diverse.  

Another significant highlight during my MA derived from serving as an instructor for an undergraduate GER100 course, where my own journey began years ago. Stepping into the role of an instructor granted me a whole new set of skills, understanding and appreciation of the German language. It feels like everything has come full circle in a truly special way to finish off my academic career, while also inspiring me to continue as an educator, and pursue a Masters of Education in the coming years!  

German Studies Canada Annual Conference Hosted in Toronto, May 28-30, 2023

by Professor Angelica Fenner  

This year’s GSC conference was a momentous occasion, staged in person for the first time since 2019, and drawing registrants from across Canada, the US, and even the UK for a dynamic program that included 23 conference paper and three days of lively discussion. From U of T, doctoral students Sophie Jordan and Rita Laszlo delivered papers, while André Flicker, Veronica Curran, and John Evjen refined their skills in panel moderating. U of T faculty presiding included the GSC president, Prof. Markus Stock, as well as Professors Angelica Fenner, Stefana Gargova, and Hang-Sun Smith.  

Program Co-Chairs Professors Angelica Fenner (U of Toronto) and Simone Pfleger (U of Alberta) worked with program assistant Astrid Klee (doctoral candidate, U of Toronto) and site host  Prof. Gabriele Mueller (York U) to also schedule two pedagogy workshops, a roundtable on academic publishing, a literary reading by Austrian author Marianne Jungmaier, a lecture on the ambivalence of gay liberation in the 1970s by Waterloo Center for German Studies Book Prize winner, Prof. Craig Griffth (U Manchester), and an illuminating keynote by Prof. Katrin Sieg (Georgetown University) on the decolonial politics of empathy.  The GSC also co-presented with the Goethe-Institut Toronto a public screening of the documentary Liebe, D-Mark, und Tod with director Cem Kaya in attendance at Innis Town Hall on the U of T Campus. This was made possible through generous support from the German Consulate General Toronto, along with the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Cinema Studies Institute.   

Following online iterations of the conference in 2021 and 2022, our appreciation has been renewed for the spontaneous exchange and heightened conviviality enabled when scholars, grad students, and teachers converge in the same space and time. Nonetheless, there is growing awareness among academic organizations of the ways in which online conferences both reduce our carbon footprint and make participation financially feasible for a wider spectrum of participants. Discussions are underway to explore whether the GSC may begin annually alternating online and in-person conferences. But next year we are already looking forward to visiting Montreal, where Congress 2024 will be hosted by McGill University. 

Toronto German Studies Graduate Conference 2023

by the organizers Maria Harutyunyan, Sophie Jordan, Astrid Klee, Virginia Shewfelt  

Our first German Graduate Conference since the start of the pandemic took place 8-9th May in the Munk School. Around 25 attendees contributed to two rich days of papers on Zeit zur Vorstellung: Past and Future Projections. The many members of the Department who participated were joined by a few University of Oxford graduate students. German studies’ multiple facets were well represented in the speakers’ interventions, and each new take on the topic helped highlight the flexibility of temporal frames across different genres and media, exploring the mutual shaping of the self and temporality. 

Visiting Assistant Prof. Azadeh Sharifi’s keynote, “Mein Name ist Ausländer. Semra Ertan and the Poetics of BIPOC Past and Futurities in Post-War Germany” was received with great enthusiasm, as the talk addressed Semra Ertan’s life and work without shying away from difficult issues of diversity and identity. Prof. Shami Ghosh’ workshop, “What’s next: Unlocking Academic Careers and Post-docs” was an honest reality check about the obstacles to pursuing an academic career. In the afternoon panel “Time and Intercultural Ties in Medieval Literature”, Somaia Mostafa questioned “Mittelalterlicher Orientalismus?” and Jing-Yi Yang presented “The Perception of Time in Middle High German and Classical Japanese “Tagelieder” Poems.”, both leading to fruitful discussions. 

The second day saw new forays into individualized experiences of present and future. The morning panel, “Shaping Temporalities,” opened with Julia Lorenz’ “Time as Narrative Structure – How the Conception of Love Shapes the Course of Time in Middle High German Romances,” followed by Dylan Shaul’s paper “Hegel on Goethe’s Faust: Philosophy’s “Grey in Grey””. Anne-Marie Fowler closed off the morning with her innovative reflection on “The Ineffable “Now.” ChatGPT and the Messiah That Was Missed.” The conversation continued on the topic of “Present Identities”, with Francis Bristow’s research on “The Self in Search for a Better Future in 21st Century German Film.” Finally, Olga Grochowska joined via Zoom to present “Now Is All That Matters: The Multiple Worlds of Artur Daniel Liskowacki’s Eine kleine and Olga Tokarczuk’s Dom dzienny, dom nocny.” After several quieter years, we were thrilled to engage in such lively debates. 

iPRAKTIKUM: New Partners, New Prospects

by Elisabeth Lange 

Intern Helena Jovic with Andrea Philipp (board member at Aiforia Agency for Sustainability) at this year’s Agrikultur Festival in Freibug im Breisgau.

The Internationalization and Experiential Learning Initiative –iPRAKTIKUM – turned six this year and has been extremely successful in offering undergraduate students in German or Yiddish studies at the University of Toronto a diverse range of “professional sneak-peeks.”  Thanks to outstanding partners in both the GTA and Germany, participants are not only offered expert mentorship in a variety of fields but also participate in a facilitated, multi-layered cultural exchange that builds the confidence needed to work in a foreign language environment. 

In the futureGenerator program, student interns engaged with highly topical subjects such as sustainability and social integration. This year, Alice Miao assisted at the Berlin start-up NOCA Mobility (=No Car), which offers a digital marketplace for the cycling industry and IT-related fields.  Shantel Watson spent the first half of the summer working for the Freiburg migrant engagement organization zusammen leben e.V., assisting them with operating their solidarity café while Emi Cermjani and Helena Jovic supported our regional food security partner, Agronauten, in organizing their annual Agrikultur Festival in July; they created social media content and a sustainability assessment. 

For the German and Yiddish in the City Partnership Program, the iPRAKTIKUM team was excited to collaborate with the Harbord Collegiate Institute for the first time in early 2023 after German language instruction was reintroduced to their curriculum. Under the supervision of Jimmy Steele, undergraduate Tobias Streibel-May had an excellent experience helping to teach German to High School students. Similarly pleased with their rewarding time in the German Language classroom were Aditi Kolluro and Diego Bay-Cheng who spent close to two semesters working with our long-term partner Nicola Townend at University of Toronto Schools. The iPRAKTIKUM program also continues to successfully collaborate with the Bialik Hebrew Day School where Mariyah Khan and Zoe Levson have help with preparing projects and developing teaching materials for elementary students of Yiddish.  

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