It is a pleasure to write this Letter from the Chair, but at the same time it’s not easy for me to think my way into our storied department, with its scores of excellent PhDs leaving their marks in professions here and abroad; with its animated undergraduates who enliven our practice and have gone on to careers and communities in countless areas and who still from time to time drop in on us, remember us with cards, beloved books, or the generous gifts that make many of our scholarships and programs possible; and, of course, with my fellow faculty members whose passion for research and teaching—and infectious joy in the intellect—inspires us in our classrooms, our reading, and our reflections.
Letter from the Chair
Our department has been going strong for 134 years now, which is not a history to be taken lightly. At the same time, today has already arrived and tomorrow is eager for its turn, and neither is willing to let us forget them while we muse about what was once upon a time. So here I am, thinking my way into the department, with respect for where we’ve been, for our unflagging strength and camaraderie, but also with an eye toward the exciting places where we are heading.
Let me express my thrill at our three (!) new hires this year, Teresa Kovács, Gunther Jikeli, and Irit Dekel. They certainly represent an explosion of energy, which is powering our future, and we will be hearing a lot from them. I’ll let our new colleagues speak to their own work elsewhere in the newsletter, but for my part I want to observe how much they collectively open up new areas of distinction for the department, new spaces for our ambitions, and new venues for our students to discover their own hopes and concerns. But the first challenge of the new comes from the bittersweet quality of change. While time flows indifferently onward, it’s up to our shared memory to do the yeoman’s work of tempering that onrush into the dignity of duration.
I’m still surprised to mention the recent retirements and departures of Marc Weiner, Bill Rasch, and after this semester, Troy Byler, who is moving to the provost’s level as the new director of the Advance College Project. I cannot emphasize enough the depth of this change. Our colleagues’ departures leave us in a wilderness out of which we have to bushwhack our way. To be sure, we are no babes exposed to the wild, certain to perish without fairy magic to save us, but, even without magic in our story, we have quite an adventure before us.
With wolves howling and danger around every corner, rather than cower, we rallied ‘round to mark our colleagues’ achievements. As three-time chair of the department, and my immediate predecessor, Bill has had a career that called for celebration—his was a uniquely gifted and giving tenure and, as we found ourselves celebrating it among loyal department friends, it became an occasion to remember how much our calling consists in gathering a real community and an imaginary one across generations, and shaping both in colloquy with the language, poetry, and ideas we find irresistible, regardless of wolves and demons pressing in. We welcomed colleagues and former colleagues (Bill’s partner in Luhmann studies, Eva Knodt) and many of Bill’s Doktorkinder—from his first, Patrizia McBride (1998), to his most recent, Kasina Entzi (who defended her dissertation on the day of the celebration), as well as Howard Pollack, Wilfried Wilms, Derek Hillard, Corey Roberts, Andrew Mills, Joe O’Neil and Michael Schlie. (I take responsibility for those we missed, and please know that all of you who’ve worked with Bill were very much on our minds.) The testimonies to Bill and his role as a guide to (and participant in) the challenges, absurdities and adventures of “the life of the mind” were moving and humane, and very much because of that, they deeply reinvigorated our core sense of the humanities.
The news doesn’t end there. We have been authorized to search for a specialist in philology and earlier Germanic languages to begin this coming fall and are eagerly awaiting the outcome of that search (about which more news will follow in the next newsletter). As I mentioned, Troy Byler, who has done more than anyone to integrate our department into the educational landscape of Indiana, will be moving on up to direct the IU Advance College Project, the concurrent enrollment program that allows Indiana high school students to receive IU credit taking courses from specially trained high school teachers. Troy not only traveled the state to visit the high school German teachers credentialed to teach our IU courses through the ACP, but also inaugurated ongoing departmental projects such as the Summer Theater Project and the German Instructor Summer Program that cultivate German education for our best high school students and offer professional development and Masters Degrees for outstanding Indiana teachers of German. Troy’s are not easy shoes to fill, but undaunted, we are searching eagerly for the ideal candidate to try on his seven-league boots for size.
The cumulative upshot of these changes is that the department is embarking on a whole new era. Our métiers—in linguistics and philology, in German thought and intellectual history, in philosophical engagement with aesthetics and partisanship for the transcendentality of taste, in mixing cognitive science and narrative theory in new laboratories for the experimental humanities, as well as in an abiding concern for public culture and the poetics of knowledge—these long-standing strengths are holding firm as we explore new ways to configure the contemporary, to expand our circle of interlocutors to scholars at the cutting edge of cultural research and experimental performance. The forms we are adopting for this next era will ensure that we remain a department that brings others together, that forges interdisciplinary and international ties, that establishes new fields and attracts the brightest and most ambitious graduate and undergraduate students to our program. We are eager to have you follow along with us, open to surprise and delight.
Chair of Germanic Studies