Notre Dame Berlin seminar explores the economics and culture of the German literary world

Author: Connor Bran

Notre Dame Berlin Seminar Meeting With German Novelist

From June 16-27, the fourth annual Notre Dame Berlin Seminar brought scholars together with experts and leading figures of Germany’s literary scene.

Conducted in German, this intensive two-week Seminar provides an opportunity for faculty and advanced graduate students of German literary and cultural studies to engage personally with representatives from different areas of Germany’s vibrant literary field. Co-directed by Martin Kagel, associate dean in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, the Notre Dame Berlin Seminar is sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures at the University of Notre Dame in partnership with the University of Georgia.

“The Notre Dame Berlin Seminar provides something that no graduate program in the United States can do and, indeed, that no professional can access very easily from their home institution,” said William Collins Donahue, director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and co-director of the Notre Dame Berlin Seminar. “This Seminar offers the day-to-day experience of being an author, and the material conditions of writing, publishing, and reviewing in a robust literary landscape.” 

This summer’s program included visits to institutions such as the German Literature Institute in Leipzig and the Bertolt Brecht Archive, as well as opportunities to observe editorial meetings of a Berlin-based newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, and have group discussions with literary agents, playwrights, poets, novelists, publishers, and renowned filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. 

Notre Dame Berlin Seminar Cohort Meeting With Berlin Newspaper Outside Group ShotThe 2019 Notre Dame Berlin Seminar cohort outside of the editorial offices of Der Tagesspiegel, a widely circulated German newspaper.

"From my perspective, the seminar filled a profound gap in the general disciplinary approach to literature found within North American German Studies, where the industry and business of acquisitions, talent-scouting, rights and translations, and promotion are still seen as a secondary bundle of concerns, while the intimacy between individual reader and written page is often prized as the only meaningful and imaginative relationship in literary studies,” said David Gramling, associate professor in the Department of German Studies at the University of Arizona. “Unfortunately, that ends up being a rather unrealistic view of how literature is made—today, as ever. In this sense, the seminar program expressed a commitment to understanding literary and cultural production in the actual, and often compromised, social and institutional circumstances where men and women labor to make it.”

“What our participants get in two weeks is an incredible amalgamation of access and study,” Donahue said. “I think it’s an incredible opportunity.”

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies, created in 1992, is a teaching and research institute of the Keough School of Global Affairs. 

It serves as an integrated, interdisciplinary home for students and faculty to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, beliefs, and institutions that shape Europe today. 

Photo description top: In the first week of this year's Notre Dame Berlin Seminar, participants took part in a round table dialogue with author Terézia Mora.