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Department History

Welcome to 
The German Division is part of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages.  The other divisions are Russian and Linguistics. 

"Man muß etwas neues machen um etwas neues zu sehen."
"To see something new, we must make something new."
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, 1742-99)

"Ohne Bücher bin ich nicht ich."
"Without books I am not I."
(Christa Wolf, 1929-)

The influence of German is pervasive. Did you know that John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), one-time ambassador to Prussia (1797-1800) and the sixth president of the United States (1825-29), translated Christoph Martin Wieland's famous, classic comic epic, Oberon (1780), from the German or that our current president, Bill Clinton, regularly consults German-language sources for information? Did you know that Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), the first philosopher of the American spirit, learned German in six weeks so that he could read Goethe in the original? We might not be able to transform you into a professional translator or teach you enough German in just six weeks to enable you to read Goethe in the original, but if you are fascinated by him or Nietzsche or Hesse or just want to read for information we can get you well on your way during your time with us. Did you know that "Independence Day" and "Air Force One" were produced and directed by German directors? Or, finally, did you know that more than four million persons in Eastern Europe alone are currently learning German? These are but a few of the signs of the pervasiveness of German historically and at present. The German program at Vanderbilt is on the cutting edge of research into the role of German studies here and abroad, past and present. We can help you be there too.

Whatever your inclination – cultural, intellectual, or purely practical -- German at Vanderbilt offers a variety of options, ranging from minoring or majoring, to an occasional course on idiomatic German, or a Maymester in Vienna, a specialized course in business German, on Nietzsche's impact on literature, or an interdisciplinary look at the cultural life of the Weimar Republic. Of course the full range of intellectual life from Enlightenment and Romanticism to Turn of the Century, and contemporary women writers is also available. In a world increasingly dominated by global thinking but requiring local action, knowledge of German is a clear asset. Ask our neighbors in South Carolina and Alabama, where BMW, Bosch, and Mercedes are transforming the landscape! Even if you are just visiting Berlin or Vienna and not negotiating a contract, familiarity with the language and the customs will enhance the value of the experience. Above all, knowing German (or any second language for that matter) broadens horizons, deepens insights, breaks down prejudice. Without that second language, you are "locked in" your own world view as well as "locked out" of others' worlds, to adopt Virginia Woolf's keen insight in A Room of One's Own. That is why the German faculty regularly contribute to Comparative Literature, European Studies, Humanities, and Women's Studies.

There are many good reasons to continue or start your study of German at Vanderbilt. We are of manageable size, the faculty is internationally renowned, our course offerings diverse, our thinking flexible. And we care about students. Our students have graduated magna cum laude, been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, gone on to graduate studies in German (of course), entered law school (e.g, Georgetown, Vanderbilt), medical school (e.g., Washington U), and launched business careers. The Department has the fourth oldest chapter of the honorary German scholar society, Delta Phi Alpha, sponsors a German film series, a weekly Kaffeestunde, and regularly invites noted scholars to its speakers series.

Stop by and speak to any one of us. We will gladly assist in any way we can. We want the liberal education of all students to become a natural part of their lives well beyond graduation itself.

"Wenn nicht mehr Zahlen und Figuren
Sind Schüssel aller Kreaturen...
Wenn dann sich wieder Licht und Schatten
Zu ächter Klarheit werden gatten,
Und man in Märchen und Gedichten
Erkennt die ewgen Weltgeschichten,
Dann fliegt vor Einem geheimen Wort
Das ganze verkehrte Wesen fort."

"When numbers and digits
Are no longer the keys to all things living...
When light and darkness join once more
And create something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The eternal history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run at the utterance of a single secret word."

(Friedrich von Hardenberg {Novalis}, 1772-1801)