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GE9: German literature, thought and history from 1815 to 1914

This paper is available for the academic year 2021-22.

(A revised paper will be in place for the academic year 2022-23. Further details to follow)

In this paper, students engage with German culture in a period where upheaval and change is on the horizon, and in which Germany’s transition to a nation state sees the rise of a literary culture in new urban centres like Berlin where artists start to embrace the idea of the “modern”. There is also an opportunity to study thinkers such as Nietzsche and Freud who played such a prominent role in shaping modernity.

You have considerable freedom to choose topics to study from the reading list, depending on your individual interests. Most students study around 4-5 topics. Your supervisor, or the course co-ordinator, will be able to help you in making your choice. Three questions must be attempted in the exam, at least one form each of the two sections.

Section A is made up of literature options where the texts listed are suggestions ONLY; you can also draw on other texts you may have read.

Section B consists of history and thought options. The history topics reflect major issues of the period such as the emergence of German nationalism, the 1848 revolution, the unification of Germany in 1871 and the history of the Second Empire.  The thought topics range from the apotheosis of Idealism in Hegel and its materialist appropriation in Marx to the cultural pessimism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and the early work of Freud. The influence of these thinkers upon subsequent developments across a large number of areas can hardly be exaggerated.



Section A: Literature topics

1. Drama: History and Myth

2. Voice and Vision: Nineteenth-Century Poetry

3. The Novelle and the Unconscious

4. The Novel from Realism to Modernism

5. Literature and Revolution


Section B: History and Thought


1. Theories of Tragedy 

2. Cultural Pessimism (Schopenhauer and Nietzsche)

3. Hegel and Marx on Politics

4. Gender and Sexuality (Freud’s case studies)



Topics in German history from the Congress of Vienna to the Kaiserreich

Preparatory reading: 

For general guidance, module descriptions and a reading list, see the Moodle site here.

Teaching and learning: 

A normal course of supervisions consists of ten sessions at fortnightly intervals throughout the teaching year. Students who wish to answer two questions from Section A should expect to devote six supervisions to these topics. Three or four supervisions should be devoted to Section B. A student who wishes to answer two questions from Section B should expect to devote six supervisions to Section B and three or four to Section A. In either case, the final supervision might be reserved for general discussion and revision.

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. However, students who do not attend the lectures offered may find themselves at a disadvantage.

For the Ge.9 Moodle site, please see here


The paper is divided into two sections. In the examination (3 hours in length) three questions must be answered, at least one from each section. 


Course Contacts: 
Dr Charlotte Woodford