Dr Karolina Watroba
I research and teach German and comparative literature and culture, with a specialism in European modernism and its global reception and continuing relevance today. I work across several languages and cultures, with a focus on German, Polish, and English. I am a Fellow of All Souls College as well as a member of the German Sub-Faculty and the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Research Centre (OCCT), and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).
My first book, Mann’s Magic Mountain: World Literature and Closer Reading, was published by Oxford University Press in 2022. It is the first study of Thomas Mann’s landmark German modernist novel Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain, 1924) that takes as its starting point the interest in Mann’s book shown by non-academic readers. It is also a case study in a cluster of issues central to the interrelated fields of transnational German studies, global modernism studies, comparative literature, and reception theory: it discusses the global circulation of German modernism, popular afterlives of a canonical work, access to cultural participation, relationship between so-called ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ culture, and the limitations of traditional academic reading practices. The book aims to present at once a sharply focussed and widely applicable argument about how and why literary scholars can and should study non-academic reading practices.
I am now expanding this approach in two directions. In Metamorphoses: In Search of Franz Kafka, a literary non-fiction book which will be published by Profile Books in 2024, I tell Kafka’s story from the perspective of his readers around the world and introduce this reader-oriented approach to a wider audience. In 2023, I received a British Academy Talent Development Award to continue the underlying research on the creative reception of Kafka in contemporary Korean literature, and presented this ongoing work at Durham University as the winner of the Ann Moss Early Career Keynote Lecture Competition.
My third research project, World Literature in Weimar Germany: Texts, Authors, Institutions, takes a broader view of the German-language literary scene between the wars to bring to light its transcultural and transnational connections by reintroducing fascinating books, writers, and literary institutions which were widely known and often critically acclaimed in the 1920s and 1930s but are nearly forgotten now.
I have also written on a range of other topics, including Latin American responses to Alexander von Humboldt’s journey around 1800, afterlife of the Weimar-era German mountain film in contemporary Canadian cinema, Navid Kermani’s writings on Eastern Europe, uses of culture in times of crisis, and the new global novel.
Metamorphoses: In Search of Franz Kafka (London: Profile, forthcoming in 2024)
Mann’s Magic Mountain: World Literature and Closer Reading (Oxford: OUP, 2022) — reviewed in Times Literary Supplement, Journal of European Studies, and American Book Review
‘Transcultural Connections in Interwar Berlin and Vienna: Kurban Said’s Das Mädchen vom Goldenen Horn (1938)’ (under review)
‘Culture in Times of Crisis: Auerbach, Czapski, Nafisi’, Oxford German Studies, 52.1 (2023), 120-129
‘Guy Maddin’s Careful and the Mountain Film: A Transnational Approach to German Film History’, New German Critique, 49.2 (2022), 133-160
‘Navid Kermani’s Entlang den Gräben and Its Readers: Remapping Europe’s East’, Edinburgh German Yearbook, 15 (2022), 262-284
‘Blind Spots on the Magic Mountain: Zofia Nałkowska’s Choucas (1926)’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 99.4 (2021), 676-698
‘Reluctant Readers on Mann’s Magic Mountain (Ida Herz Lecture 2020)’, Publications of the English Goethe Society, 90.2 (2021), 146-162
‘World Literature and Literary Value: Is “Global” The New “Lowbrow”?’, The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, 5.1 (2018), 53-68
Journal special issue
‘The White Rose and the Uses of Culture’, co-edited with Alexandra Lloyd, Oxford German Studies, 52.1 (2023)
‘Kafka’s Global Afterlives’, with Katrin Kohl, in Kafka: Making of an Icon, ed. by Ritchie Robertson (Oxford: Bodleian, forthcoming in 2024)
‘Between Prussia and the Caribbean: Thinking the World with Humboldt, Ramos Sucre, de la Parra, and Restrepo’, in German Romanticism and Latin America: New Connections in World Literature, ed. by Jenny Haase and Joanna Neilly (Oxford: Legenda, forthcoming in 2023)
Radio programme ‘Death in Venice’, with Melvyn Bragg, Erica Wickerson, and Seán Williams, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 (2023)
Radio programme ‘Thomas Mann’, with Matthew Parris and Susie Dent, Great Lives, BBC Radio 4 (2023)
Essay ‘The Anxiety of Difficulty: Trying to Read Thomas Mann’, The Point, 27 (2022)
Podcast ‘Magic Mountain on Goodreads: On Experiencing Mann’s Novel’, with Kasia Krzyżanowska, Review of Democracy, Central European University (2022)
Podcast ‘Looking East, Looking West: Should We Change How We Talk About Eastern Europe?’, with Conor Brennan and Kasia Szymanska, The Hublic Sphere, Trinity College Dublin (2022)
Blog post ‘Germany and Eastern Europe’, EGS – Towards an Equitable German Studies (2020)
Policy pamphlet ‘Willkommen in Europa? Die lokale Aufnahme von Geflüchteten’, with Nicolas Chanut, Laura Führer, Hallvard Indgjerd, Marie-Alice Kernéis, and Manuel Liebig, Projekt Europa 2013/14 (2014)
I have also presented my research in English, German, and Polish at conferences and seminars organized, among others, by the American Comparative Literature Association, British Comparative Literature Association, German Studies Association, Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland, English Goethe Society, German Screen Studies Network, Deutsche Thomas Mann-Gesellschaft, and Korean Kafka Society.
I grew up in Krakow, Poland, before moving to Oxford, where I studied for a BA in German at Magdalen College and graduated with a congratulatory first-class degree in 2015. During my Year Abroad in Germany, I studied Swedish and Spanish at the Humboldt-Universität, as well as European Studies at the Studienkolleg zu Berlin, funded by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.
In 2016, I completed an MSt in German and Comparative Literature with distinction, also at Magdalen College, funded by an Ertegun Scholarship. I was awarded the American Comparative Literature Association’s Presidential Master’s Prize for the best master’s thesis on a comparative topic. In 2019, I completed a DPhil in Modern Languages at Merton College, supervised by Prof. Ben Morgan and funded by a Clarendon Scholarship. My thesis was titled ‘Der Zauberberg and the Pleasures of Immersive Reading’. I was awarded the 2018 American Comparative Literature Association’s Horst Frenz Prize for a paper based on my doctoral research on Thomas Mann and his readers around the world.
At Oxford, I have given undergraduate tutorials, classes, and lectures on a wide range of topics, including German grammar, translation from German to English, modern German literature, and German film (for Prelims Papers I, II, III, IV, XI, and FHS Papers VIII, X, XII, XIV). I was also Sessional Lecturer at the University of Reading in 2018.
I have taught graduate students at Oxford as part of the MSt and MPhil in Medieval and Modern Languages, as well as the MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation and the MSt in World Literatures in English. In 2019-22, I convened the Method Option ‘Spaces of Comparison’. Each year my students won prizes for their work on this module. In 2021, I co-designed a new Special Subject ‘Looking East, Looking West: Comparative Perspectives on Polish Literature’. I currently co-supervise a DPhil student in this area.
Access, outreach, and public engagement
In 2019-22, I coordinated ‘A German Classic’, Oxford German Network’s essay competition for sixth formers. Nearly 500 students from schools all over the UK participated in the programme and the videos in which I spoke to Oxford academics and students about our set texts have been viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube. I also regularly give German and Polish taster sessions for various other outreach and access projects, including UNIQ and Opportunity Oxford. I have run several similar classes in Poland as a member of Collegium Invisibile, a Polish non-profit academic organization.
I recently served as Judge (2020) and Head Judge (2021) for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for literary translations into English from any living European language, and currently co-curate an upcoming major Kafka exhibition at the Weston Library (2024).