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Special Subjects are grouped into programmes as described below. You can either choose subjects from these programmes or devise subjects of your own. The subjects correspond to areas of particular teaching and research strength in Oxford, but the list is by no means exhaustive and is subject to amendment. In addition to the three programmes shown below you can choose from options in German Literature from the List of Women's Studies Options.

These are the Special Subject options available in 2022-23. These are indicative of the course offerings for the sub-faculty, so applicants should note that not all options will run in all years, and some course content might change. 


Middle High German Courtly Literature (Michaelmas Term) 

Convenor: Professor Almut Suerbaum

Courtly literature in medieval German spans the period from Lambrecht’s Alexander c. 1160 to the Minnesang of the later 13th and early fourteenth century. The course centres around Veldeke’s Eneide, the romances of Hartmann, Wolfram and Gottfried with the option to look also at poetry. Students are encouraged to tackle new texts not covered in their earlier studies, and to approach the texts with a diversity of methods ranging from more traditional literary approaches to gender issues and cultural history


Women’s Writing in Medieval Germany (Hilary Term) 

Convenor: Professor Henrike Lähnemann

Women’s writing in this period consists mostly of mystical revelations, (auto)biographical writings, letters, and religious poetry. Important areas of study that have now firmly established themselves in the literary canon are the Fließendes Licht der Gottheit of Mechthild von Magdeburg, the ‘Nonnenviten’ - lives of nuns from S.W. German Dominican convents – and devotional writing from the North German convents. The course offers scope for the investigation of questions of genre, public and private dimensions of literature, the reception of women’s writing, as well as gender-specific aspects of female authorship. The course is planned on the basis of German texts, but it is also possible to study this option on the basis of a combination of Latin and German material.


Literature and Medicine 1770-1930 (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Professor Barry Murnane

The relationship between literature and medicine is an important source of aesthetic developments in the modern era, helping to shape literary movements as diverse as Empfindsamkeit and Poetic Realism, Romanticism and Naturalism and helping to link writers like Goethe, Novalis, Büchner, Fontane, and Mann. There is no formal prescription and the course will allow you to examine a range of genres and writers including poetry and prose, scientific texts, and encyclopaedic literature, focusing on particular authors, periods, or on historical developments across the period as a whole. Comparative approaches are encouraged, with the opportunity to read developments in German culture alongside other European literatures. There is also opportunity to take a more theoretical focus, looking for example at issues such as affect, corporeality, and aesthetics. Some possible topics for discussion are: how literature deals mimetically with medical matters (death, concepts of illness and wellness, therapy); theories of imagination and feeling around 1800; the co-evolution of psychology in literature and clinical discourse; narrating illness; literature as medicine; depictions of medical practitioners; literature and drugs.


Hölderlin in the World (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Dr Charlie Louth

Hölderlin’s work is both rooted in his native Swabia and unusually receptive to the way the local is bound up in the distant, the removed and the foreign. This goes beyond his deep interest in Ancient Greece and his attempts to see German and Germany in Greek terms. The world of his poems is permeable and full of references to places remote in time and space, including London, Tahiti and the Americas. Hölderlin was fascinated by journeys and the way they connect distant points and allow one to think of them in relation to one another. As well as the many actual journeys made and reflected on in his poems, there are the courses of rivers and mountain ranges, crossing and making borders and readable as signs of how history might develop. He pays particular attention to bird-flight. All these things reveal the world to be deeply interconnected, so that every landscape, real or cultural, is a hybrid SPECIAL SUBJECTS - GERMAN MODERN 15 landscape, both of its place and elsewhere. Hölderlin is primarily a poet, and his poetry will form the main focus, but – partly via his friendships with Schelling and Hegel – he was closely involved in the development of post-Kantian philosophy, and his fragmentary philosophical and theoretical writings have also been returned to by many later philosophers. His poetry has drawn a large number of key 20th and 21st century thinkers, from Heidegger onwards, as well as poets from around the world. So this special subject offers an opportunity to read and write about Hölderlin’s work from a variety of perspectives, including comparative ones, noting the multiple relations that traverse it, run out into contemporary preoccupations and continue to make their way in the world today. Initial reading list: Theodor Adorno, ‘Parataxis: Zur späten Lyrik Hölderlins’, in Noten zur Literatur III (Frankfurt, 1965) and elsewhere David Constantine, Hölderlin (Oxford, 1988) Winfried Menninghaus, Hälfte des Lebens: Versuch über Hölderlins Poetik (Frankfurt, 2005) Hölderlin’s Philosophy of Nature, ed. by Rochelle Tobias (Edinburgh, 2020)


Jews and Judaism in German Literature from 1740 to the Present (Michaelmas Term) 

Convenor: Professor David Groiser

This course examines the representation of Jews and Judaism in Germany and Austria against the background of the history of Jewish emancipation, the resurgence of antisemitism, the Holocaust, and recent attempts to confront and comprehend this history. Within this framework, students may wish to give particular attention to one or more of the following: the entry of Jewish writers into the culture of the Enlightenment and the qualified philosemitism they encountered; the development of antisemitic images from the Romantics onwards and their presence within a wide range of texts whose overt ideology was often far more liberal; the complex Jewish identities of such writers as Heine, Freud, Kafka, Schnitzler, Lasker-Schüler, or Kraus; the relationship between Jews in eastern and western Europe; German Jews and the First World War; the ‘renaissance’ of Jewish culture in the Weimar Republic; literary representations of and responses to the Holocaust; and the question of whether a Jewish culture exists in present-day Germany and Austria.   

Literature and Culture of the Berlin Republic (Michaelmas Term) 

Convenor: Dr Alex Lloyd

Candidates will be expected to acquire a general knowledge of writing in German since 1990 and to read a selection of texts from the same period. Candidates may expect to address a range of issues, including topics such as: adjustments in the German book market post-1990; approaches to the legacies of the Nazi past; the legacy of the GDR; writing in a multicultural society; literature and globalisation; changing notions of authorship, especially in the light of the digital media; the development of the various genres; gender and writing. There is also the opportunity to focus on selected authors and issues of students’ own choosing.


The Bildungsroman 1770-2000 (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Barry Murnane

The Bildungsroman, the novel centring on its protagonist’s development from youth to adulthood, has been widely considered the characteristically German form of the novel, thanks largely to the cultural prestige of its chief exemplar, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-6). The genre can, however, be followed back to Wieland’s witty philosophical novel Agathon (1766-7) and Moritz’s searching psychological and autobiographical novel Anton Reiser (1785-90); and it runs forward through the Romantics (Novalis, Brentano, Eichendorff), who combined homage with criticism in their reception of Goethe, through the qualified realism of Mörike, Stifter and Keller. The genre was also adapted for the purposes of feminism (Gabriele Reuter’s Aus guter Familie, 1895) and Jewish emancipation (Franzos’s Der Pojaz, 1905), while in the twentieth century it has been modified or parodied by such writers as Rilke, Hesse, Thomas Mann and Günter Grass. By studying a selection from this corpus, candidates will appreciate the range and continuity of German fiction, and its ability to address in literary form some of the central problems of modern culture.


Nietzsche and His Impact (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor David Groiser

Though largely ignored during his lifetime, Nietzsche was soon recognised as the philosopher of modernity. More radically, honestly and intelligently than anyone else, he explored the consequences that must follow if traditional religious belief and moral constraints are jettisoned to make way for a view of the universe based on scientific knowledge and the individual will. Although his ideas about how to fill the resulting moral vacuum have not (fortunately) won general acceptance, nevertheless he is one of the most interesting – and entertaining — of philosophers and ‘cultural critics’. He is also among the most brilliant of German stylists. When Nietzsche began to be widely read in the 1890s, his ideas were found stimulating and liberating in the most varied quarters. There were Nietzscheans on the radical right and the revolutionary left, in the women’s movement and among Zionists. He was read avidly, but also critically, by writers as varied as Thomas Mann, Kafka, Rilke, Gottfried Benn and Hermann Hesse. Outside Germany, he was read with enthusiasm by Yeats, Lawrence, Stevens, Gide and many others. The subject can be approached comparatively, by pursuing Nietzsche’s impact in English or French literature, or in terms of the history of ideas, by looking at Nietzsche’s reception by subsequent thinkers (e.g. Schmitt, Bataille, Foucault). Students will be expected to know the following books by Nietzsche in particular detail: Die Geburt der Tragödie (1872) and Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887), and to have read more widely in Nietzsche’s works. They will also be encouraged to study his impact, by a close study of a text or texts by one or more subsequent writer in relation to Nietzsche.


Contemporary Women’s Writing in German (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Georgina Paul

This course examines the range and varieties of literature written in German by women after 1945. It offers the opportunity to examine issues of identity, sexuality, myth, feminism, tradition, and politics, as well as genre, aesthetic strategy and language within the context of work by important writers of the post-war period. Also available to Women’s Studies students.


Cinema in a Cultural Context: German Film 1930 to 2020 (Hilary Term) 

Convenor: Professor Ben Morgan 

The course has two points of focus. The first is the study of German cinema between the coming of sound and the arrival of New German Cinema: 1930-1970 (the first German talkie was made in 1929; by 1970, Fassbinder had already made 4 feature films). The second is the cinema of the Berlin Republic, with a particular focus on the films of Christian Petzold. For the cinema 1930-1970 there will be lectures in Hilary Term weeks 1-4. For the Petzold strand there will be lectures in Hilary Term Weeks 5-8.

Topics for the period 1930-1970 will include propaganda and entertainment films in the Third Reich, the realism of the Rubble Films of the late 1940s, the different strategies for remembering and coming to terms with the past in the popular films of the 1950s and 1960s. German films of the period will be put in dialogue with relevant Hollywood productions of the period. The period includes the political ruptures of 1933, 1945, 1968, and the aesthetic ‘new beginning’ of the Oberhausen manifesto in 1962. But the focus of the course will be the continuities that can be observed in film style, narrative techniques and in the way film is used as a medium for reflecting on everyday problems during the period. The Petzold course will focus in particular on Petzold’s relation to genre film. His work continues the dialogue with American film that has been a major feature of German cinema since the time of the Weimar Republic. At the same time, he is in creative conversation with his own contemporaries in Germany, as is particularly clear in the Dreileben trilogy (2011) to which Petzold contributed a film alongside Dominik Graf (b. 1957) and Christoph Hochhäusler (b. 1972). He makes films for cinema release but also works for television, for instance Toter Mann (2000) or his three episodes of Polizeiruf 110: Kreise (2015), Wölfe (2016), Tatorte (2018). You don’t need to have studied film before to take this option. You can start familiarizing yourself with the vocabulary of film studies by reading David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Film Art: An Introduction, currently in its 12th edition (you can read any edition). Otherwise, the best thing to do is to start watching films. For the 1930-1970 strand: You can work by director (e.g. Käutner, Harlan, Sierck), but it is often more productive to watch films with the same star (e.g. Heinz Rühman, Hans Albers, Ilse Werner, Zarah Leander), or from the same year, to get a clearer sense of continuities in style and approach. Similarly, for Petzold: watch as many of his films as you can, but watch also films with the stars he regularly works with (e.g. Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Matthias Brandt), or films made in same year as Petzold’s productions.