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GE12: Revolutions and Disruptions in German Culture, 1830–1945

This paper will be available in the academic year 23-24.

This paper takes in some of the most turbulent decades in the history of the German-speaking world, marked by a sequence of revolutionary movements and events, the dramatic rise and fall of Imperial and Republican systems. It is also a period of revolutions in a broader sense: the Industrial Revolution re-shaped the landscape of towns and cities; revolutions in science and thought disrupted earlier narratives which helped make sense of people’s lives; and in the cultural sphere, there was an ongoing tension between experiment upheaval and established concerns and forms (and the counter-revolutionary tendencies attached to these). The central motif of revolution and disruption will be explored in its political and historical sense and will also inform the paper on a conceptual level: individual modules engage variously with notions of aesthetic transformation, upheaval and perturbation. There is also an opportunity to explore how contemporary conceptual revolutions, e.g. with regard to gender and race, allow us to revisit this period and see it in a new light.

At the heart of the paper is an examination of the ways in which various literary genres (the novel, the Novelle, lyrical poetry) as well as the visual arts (including cinema) and the performing arts were reshaped by – and in their turn shaped – the socio-economic and political transformations that defined the period 1830 to 1945. Literary texts and other forms of cultural production were both indicators of and agents in the great social and intellectual crises of the age: the decomposition, set in motion by Freudian psychoanalysis, of the bourgeois conception of the self as a rational, self-determined entity; the re-negotiation of gender and sexual relations; colonial ambitions and anxieties; nationalism, racism, and genocide. GE12 investigates these crises through the prism of some of the most iconic as well as some lesser-known works of modern German culture.


1. ‘Wolle die Wandlung’: Poetic Transformations
2. Emancipation, Antisemitism and the Holocaust: Jewish Voices
3. Modernist (Post-)Colonialisms
4. Disruptive Narratives: Novelle and Case History
5. From Wagner to Hitler: Politics, Culture and Ideas in the Age of the Masses, 1848-1945
6. Transforming Prose Writing: from Realism to Modernism
7. Transforming the Stage

Five out of the seven modules listed will be available in each year (in 2023-24 modules 2,3,4,6 and 7),  with three lectures provided for each module. Each module will be introduced through a combination of cultural and political context and theoretical perspectives.

Preparatory reading: 

John Breuilly (ed.), 19th-Century Germany: Politics, Culture and Society, 1780-1918 (2001)
Sabine Hake, Topographies of Class: Modern Architecture and Mass Utopia in Weimar Berlin (2008), Chapters 1 and 2.
Andreas Huyssen, Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film (2015).
Matthew Jefferies, Contesting the German Empire, 1871-1918 (2008), Chapters 3 and 4.
Clayton Koelb and Eric Downing (eds), German Literature of the Nineteenth Century (2005)
Michael Minden, Modern German Literature (2011), especially Chapters 3, ‘Imperial Modernity’, and 4, ‘The Literature of Negation’.
Ingo Stoehr, German Literature in the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism (2001), Chapters 1–6. 
Robert Tobin, Peripheral Desires: The German Discovery of Sex (2015), especially Introduction and Chapters 3 and 5.

Full reading list available here

Teaching and learning: 

Students will learn about revolution and disruption as political and historical events and as conceptual changes, and about how culture and ideas reflect or produce upheaval and perturbation, and are indicators and agents of change. They will encounter and analyse some of the most iconic as well as some lesser-known works of modern German culture. 

Structure of the course: A normal course of supervisions consists of ten sessions at fortnightly intervals throughout the teaching year. 

The course also includes lectures on various aspects of the literature, thought and history of the period. A list of these may be found in the lecture list published online. Students who do not attend the lectures offered will find themselves at a disadvantage.
For the GE12 Moodle site, please see here.



From 2024: Assessment is by a combination of coursework essay and end-of-year examination. Further details are on the Moodle pages for the course.


Course Contacts: 
Charlotte Woodford