CFP: Fifth Undergraduate Research Conference in German Studies

We would like to announce the Fifth Undergraduate Research Conference in German Studies on Saturday, April 18, 2015. This year the conference, co-organized by Lafayette College and Moravian College, will take place at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

This conference will give students the opportunity to present their research in all German-related fields, including but not limited to the study of German literature, film and culture, art history, music, philosophy, history and politics.

Format: we consider proposals for research papers and posters.

Papers and posters can be presented in either German or English.

Paper presentations may not exceed 15 minutes (2000 to 2500 words). Posters should include a thesis statement, short reference to literature and primary materials, a discussion of the methodology and results.

Please send your proposal of 250-300 words to Axel Hildebrandt at hildebrandta@moravian.edu by December 15, 2014.

The proposal should include:

  • The title of the paper or poster
  • Concise thesis statement
  • Short list of primary and secondary sources (bibliography)
  • Anticipated findings

The program committee will notify accepted applicants by January 25, 2015. For more information and updates, please contact Axel Hildebrandt at hildebrandta@moravian.edu.

Axel Hildebrandt, Associate Professor of German, Moravian College
Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger, Professor of German, Lafayette College
Heikki Lempa, Associate Professor of History, Moravian College

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CFP: Berkeley Prize for Undergraduate Essays in German

BURG/es is pleased to announce the following opportunity for undergraduates:
The Berkeley Undergraduate Essay Prize is awarded annually by the Department of German for outstanding unpublished papers written during the previous calendar year by undergraduate students enrolled at a North American university/college. Thus the 2015 prize will consider papers written during 2014 on a broad range of topics in German studies. The winning essays carry a cash award of $500 each and will be considered for publication in the department’s electronic journal TRANSIT.

Essays for submission may be written in German or in English; one submission per student. They should be double-spaced, between 3000 and 5000 words in length (including notes and references), and without the student’s name on the paper, since the Awards Committee reads the essays anonymously. A separate cover sheet with the student’s name, major, year of study, title of the paper, address, phone number, e-address, and plans for graduate school (if applicable) should accompany the essay. The essay may be submitted in hard copy or electronically.

The paper has to have been written in the 16 months prior to the essay deadline.

The submission deadline is March 13, 2015; winners announced May 1. Send to:

Undergraduate Essay Prize
Attn: Nadia Samadi
German Department
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3243
e-address: germanic@berkeley.edu

On the Benefits of Attending College Next to An Archive — by Nolan Rivkin

As an undergraduate student studying modern German history at Loyola Marymount University, I had the unique experience of studying less than five miles away from the Wende Museum and Archive – easily the largest archive of East German cultural history in the Western United States (if not the entire U.S.) This proved to be an immensely useful resource. Over the course of four years of undergraduate study, I made use of the Wende during my sophomore, junior and senior years. During my sophomore year I participated in a binational (German and American) undergraduate research group and contributed to the Wende’s recently-launched online exhibition (see the previous entries from Elizabeth Drummond about the Wende Museum Project). As a junior I returned to the Wende to comb through their archives for my own research while writing a seminar paper; this seminar paper later formed the basis (and roughly the last third) of my senior-year thesis. While writing that thesis I made use of the Wende’s archives once again and also received hands-on experience of archive work from the “other side” as a research intern. It is safe to say that the proximity to this resource not only strengthened my own research but also guided my academic path, which has led to a doctoral program in history at the University of Tennessee.

If I had to narrow it down, I would say that my work with the Wende taught me two important lessons relevant to my studies in history:

1) How do make use of an archive. Archival research is one of the most basic tools of a historian, but undergraduate students of history rarely get the chance to do it. Admittedly, not every university is conveniently placed adjacent to an archive, but nevertheless, having the chance to conduct archival research prior to entering graduate school was a great opportunity. The Wende Museum’s archive is small by most standards, but it is still cavernous (and cold! The work stations within it were actually equipped with space heaters) enough to earn its nickname of “the Vault.” While working at the Wende, I learned important lessons about how to locate specific documents from within this vast, frigid space and how to handle them. In the case of the Wende, they have a well-organized digital database with all of the collection indexed to a series of tags and with searchable descriptions, thus providing for easy navigation within the archive.

2) How to interpret cultural artifacts. The main goal of the Wende Museum is to archive cultural artifacts and not simply retell the basic history of the German Democratic Republic; therefore, their archives are stocked not with Stasi documents or transcriptions of political meetings but with home magazines, books and consumer electronics (to name a few examples). Artifacts like these have a lot to teach us; they serve as windows into the everyday life (or Alltagsleben, if you will) of a society that, for the most part, no longer exists. Through cultural artifacts, one can determine and analyze a variety of attributes. To use an example from my own research, I used popular antifascist films to examine East Germans perceptions of their role in the Second World War and how the Socialist Unity Party fostered the antifascist foundational mythology of the GDR. I also had the opportunity to work with the East German lifestyle magazine Kultur im Heim. Researching this magazine afforded me the opportunity to look into East German everyday life and consumer culture to analyze issues such as private spaces, East German design philosophy, and how the state’s political agenda was realized through consumer goods. For example, the heavy use of plastic in new toys, tools and cookware was a direct result of the regime’s “pushing” of plastics to strengthen one of the GDR’s strongest domestic industries. Admittedly, not every historian studies cultural history. However, analyzing cultural artifacts is an important and at times overlooked skill, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to develop it.

Every undergraduate student of history should pursue the opportunity to conduct first-hand primary-document research. Of course there is nothing wrong with the classic method of conducting research in the library, writing the paper, and turning it in all without leaving campus; but if the opportunity to go out and conduct history in a “real-world” setting exists, it shouldn’t be passed up. Without the academic foundation that I built up with the help of the Wende’s archives, I likely would not have done the academic work that resulted in my application and acceptance to a Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where I am continuing my work on 20th-century Central and Eastern Europe.

Nolan Rivkin graduated from Loyola Marymount University in May 2013 with a major in History and minors in both German and Jewish Studies. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, working with Dr. Monica Black.

Rethinking the Senior Project in History, Part II Eric Kurlander, Stetson University

In my September 8th post, I outlined some ways of rethinking the Senior Project in History, which I hoped to test in teaching the Fall 2013 History Department Senior Research capstone course. For the Senior Project, History majors must research and write a primary-source based, historiographically-informed paper of article length (ca. 8,000 words) that makes an original scholarly argument. The changes made to previous iterations of the course included: 1) Contacting my senior research students early in the summer to discuss their topics and think of ways to combine their scholarly interests with my own areas of expertise. 2) Enhancing the structured peer review elements of the course. 3) Researching and writing an article, drawn from my own research, alongside the students, inviting their peer review at every stage of the process. With the semester over and student evaluations at hand, I can now reflect on the results of this experiment.

Trying to match student research interests to my own yielded seven projects in fourteen that tied in loosely with my geographical or methodological areas of expertise. While the three best projects fell into this group, the next four best papers were in periods or fields almost entirely unrelated to my areas of interest. Hence, it is not clear that an advisor’s familiarity with the student’s research is essential to the quality of the project. Rather, two other factors appeared crucial: peer review (see below) and the “Research Intensive” methodology classes that precede our Senior Research capstone. These seminars first introduce students in some depth to the diverse historiography and range of primary sources available on a major topic in the field (“The French Revolution”, “The Holocaust”, “The Fall of Rome”, “The Birth of Modern America”, etc.) and culminate in a significant (15-20 page) primary source-based research paper.  Students who did not take both of “Research Intensive” courses prior to the capstone were at a clear disadvantage, even where they chose topics with which I was more familiar. Moreover, the students remarked in the evaluations on the importance of taking both “Research Intensive” methodology classes prior to the Senior Capstone. Hence the student’s methodological preparation may be more important, at least in History, than the advisor’s familiarity with the project.

In respect to peer review, the core element of the class, we read and commented on each other’s work two out of every three weeks, first when presenting our next stage of research and/or writing, and then after posting our prospecti, introductions, first drafts, second drafts, and final drafts on “Blackboard” for everyone to access. One way I enhanced this process in Fall 2013 is by attempting to alternate peer review groups between students covering similar periods or geographical areas (twenieth century, Europe, North America, etc.) with groups based on similar methodology (cultural, intellectual, and art history; war and diplomacy; subaltern studies). Another way I attemped to enhance the peer review process was by researching and writing an article, drawn from my own research, alongside the students. I tried to alternate the group that reviewed my work from unit to unit, so that everyone had a chance to critque the professor. In the evaluations, students reported that the peer review process the best part of the course. Many also commented positively on working with the same group of students, whether based on similar topics or along similar methodological lines, for the entire semester. While students tended not to give much specific feedback on peer reviewing my article–– I probably should have added a specific question to that effect–– students did relate independently the value of reading my drafts as a model for their own. They also appreciated the democratc and collegial element it introduced to the classroom environment. Needless to say, I benefited from having to meet the weekly deadlines and student peer review, producing a nearly finished article as a result.

Ultimately, I found this semester to be the most rewarding Senior Project of my career. The experiment did not bear out all my “hypotheses,” notably in trying to align students’ projects with my own areas of expertise. But it might provide a few lessons for advising the Senior Project in History elsewhere. First, it reinforced the importance of regular class meetings structured around peer review, the core aspect of the class. Second, it suggested that students benefit by working in groups based on thematic interest and methodology. Third, it showed that researching and writing an article or chapter alongside the students can be a valuable pedagogical tool and useful in a faculty member’s own professional development. Finally, it reinforced the importance–– borne out by our department’s self-assessments—of requiring rigorous methodology courses prior to Senior Research. 

The Berkeley Prize for Undergraduate Essays in German Studies

BURG/es is happy to announce a new prize recognizing outstanding undergraduate research from the Department of German at the University of California Berkeley. The announcement from UC-Berkeley is below, including contact information for further questions.

The Berkeley Prize for Undergraduate Essays in German Studies

The Berkeley Undergraduate Essay Prize is awarded annually by the Department of German for outstanding unpublished papers written during the previous calendar year by undergraduate students enrolled at a North American university/college. Thus the 2014 prize will consider papers written during 2013 on a broad range of topics in German studies. The winning essays carry a cash award of $500 each and will be considered for publication in the department’s electronic journal TRANSIT (http://german.berkeley.edu/transit).

Essays for submission may be written in German or in English; one submission per student. They should be double-spaced, between 3000 and 5000 words in length (including notes and references), and without the student’s name on the paper, since the Awards Committee reads the essays anonymously. A separate cover sheet with the student’s name, title of the paper, address, phone number, and e-address should accompany the submitted essay. The essay may be submitted in hard copy or electronically. The submission deadline is February 15, 2014; winners announced May 2. Send to:

Undergraduate Essay Prize

Attn: Nadia Samadi

German Department

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA 94720-3243

e-address: germanic@berkeley.edu

Rethinking the Senior Project in History, by Eric Kurlander, Stetson University

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve advised nearly fifty senior projects in History. I began by directing a handful of honors theses as a graduate student at Harvard and have since taken multiple turns as Senior Project advisor at my current institution, Stetson University. Unlike Harvard–– or Bowdoin College, which I attended as an undergraduate–– Stetson requires a senior capstone project of all students, regardless of whether they are seeking Latin Honors within the major. This means that the Senior Research advisor in any given year can find him- or herself directing fifteen different projects, one for every graduating senior, ranging from the environmental causes for the unification of Egypt’s Upper and Lower Kingdoms to Eleanor of Aquitaine’s influence on the English tradition of courtly love to the role of NGOs in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The equivalent diversity of approach rarely occurs in the Natural Sciences, where students normally investigate one strand of a faculty member’s larger research agenda. Stetson’s Biology Department, for example, is especially strong in aquatic and marine biology. Not surprisingly, the majority of senior projects in Biology focus on the habits of native snake species, local flora, and freshwater fish, as opposed, say, to molecular or cellular biology. In the Humanities and less quantitative Social Sciences at Stetson, however, the relationship between faculty and undergraduate research is much less direct. As suggested above, there are years where not a single project will touch on the Senior Project advisor’s general field of expertise, much less his or her specific area of research.

One solution, of course, is to eliminate the Senior Project Seminar and encourage students to pursue an independent study with the faculty member whose interests most closely align with theirs. This is the model at Harvard and Bowdoin as well as in the Natural Sciences at Stetson. But this approach raises a number of problems at a school that requires a senior project from all students, not merely Honors students, and has only two-thirds to one half the faculty resources of the best liberal arts colleges or research universities. For one thing, it has produced a situation where many Natural Sciences faculty at Stetson are teaching overloads, with no fair or effective way to reassign faculty time. Another problem is the unpredictability from year to year in terms of the number of theses one might be asked to advise, which makes it very difficult to plan teaching schedules.

And then there are pedagogical concerns. Especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences at a small liberal arts institution, a student may still struggle to find an advisor whose research expertise overlaps with his or her own. Eliminating the Senior Project Seminar would also take away the important collaborative elements of the research and writing process that we in History find essential in motivating all students to complete an ambitious, semester-long thesis. So going the independent study route in the Humanities and Social Sciences, at least at a place like Stetson, probably raises more issues than it resolves.

Now, one might ask: is it really a problem that the primary thesis advisor has little or no background in the projects he or she is advising? Certainly Humanities and Social Science faculty without specific expertise in a given area can bring a variety of skills to mentoring undergraduates, from familiarity with finding sources and employing cutting edge methodologies to conceiving, researching, and writing an article-length project of peer-review quality. Mentoring undergraduate research projects unrelated to one’s own can have beneficial spinoff effects for the faculty advisor as well, helping one to rethink his or her own approaches to research and writing.

For the most part, however, the advisor-student relationship in the Humanities and less quantitative Social Sciences, at least at Stetson, remains both less collaborative and, I would contend, less mutually beneficial than in the Natural Sciences. My goal in teaching the History Department’s Senior Research sequence this semester is to experiment with a more collaborative approach that falls somewhere between the open-ended nature of most senior projects in the Humanities and the closely directed nature of senior research in the Natural Sciences.

With this enriched experience in mind, I contacted my senior research students over the summer to discuss their topics and think of ways to combine their scholarly interests with my own areas of expertise, whether geographical, methodological, or chronological. Where students felt little or no affinity for these common areas of interest, I have encouraged them to pursue their own independent line of inquiry (and of course seek outside advice from my colleagues in related fields). Although we have only met once so far, this approach seems to have yielded seven projects–– half the class–– that tie in loosely with my broader areas of research expertise, namely Modern Germany and Europe between 1890 and 1945, including my current research project, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, 1919-1945.

In order to facilitate collaborative and experiential learning, I have likewise committed to researching and writing a an article, drawn from my research project, alongside the students, inviting their peer review at every stage of the process. Over the course of the semester, we will explicitly peer review each other’s work two out of every three weeks, first when we outline our next stage of research and writing, and second when we post respectively our prospecti, introductions, first drafts, second drafts, and rough drafts for everyone to access.

As the first few posts suggest, the purpose of BURG/es is to help faculty working in German and European Studies “involve students in faculty research” and “(re)shape undergraduate research experiences” in German and European Studies, which, coincidentally, tends to represent faculty in the Humanities and less quantitative Social Sciences. I hope to take advantage of this invitation to participate, in a collaborative venue, by reflecting and reporting on my experiences two more times over the course of the semester.