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GE4: The making of German culture

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

*This paper also serves as Paper 10H of Part I of the English Tripos)

“The making of German culture” introduces you to the vibrant literary and intellectual culture of the German-speaking world in the medieval and early modern period. Six topics explore important moments in German literary and intellectual history before the eighteenth century: the bold experimentation of courtly literature; the creation of a heroic epic that went on to have national myth-making potential in the modern period; the emergence of women authors in the field of religious experience; the rise of narrative prose; the Protestant Reformation, and its changed attitudes to political authority as well as religion; the stunningly varied and sophisticated poetry of the baroque era. Each topic is approached through a core text, chosen for its richness and important: many of the texts have had a resonance in the German-speaking world—and in certain cases well beyond it—down to the present day.


The topics with their core texts for 2023-24 are as follows:

1. Manufacturing heroism (Nibelungenlied)

2. Female visionaries: authorship and authority (Mechthild von Magdeburg: Das fließende Licht der Gottheit)

3. Courtly literature: complexity and experiment (Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan und Isolde)

4. Melusine: minne, myth, and origin (Thüring von Ringoltingen: Melusine)

5. Protestantism and power (Martin Luther: Von weltlicher Obrigkeit)

6. War, love, religion, and hexameters: poetry of the baroque (anthology of poems downloadable from the Ge4 Moodle site)

Preparatory reading: 

A complete reading list, tips on how to prepare in advance of the course, and past exam papers are available on the GE4 Moodle site (; you are welcome to enrol yourself to find out more.

Teaching and learning: 

Topics 1–3 are covered by lectures and supervisions in the Michaelmas Term, and Topics 4–6 in the Lent Term. There is also an introductory course of language classes in the first half of the Michaelmas Term where you can develop and practice your skills in reading medieval German. In the Easter Term students opting for assessment by end of year examination will be able to access revision supervisions on their chosen topics.

For the GE4 Moodle site, please see here.


Assessment is either by long essay or end of year examination. For each of the two long essays, you will have a choice from the three topics that have been covered in the two teaching terms. In the examination, you answer three questions, each one on a different topic: the exam paper will offer a choice of two questions on each of the six topics.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Doriane Zerka