Dr Karolina Watroba
I work on modern literature and film across eight European languages and beyond, with a focus on material in German, English, and Polish. As well as being a Fellow of All Souls College, which I joined in 2019, and a member of the German Sub-Faculty, I am also on the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Research Centre (OCCT) organizing committee.
My first book, Mann’s Magic Mountain: World Literature and Closer Reading, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2022. It is the first academic 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. At the same time, it is 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 circulation of an important work of German modernism in the wider world, popular afterlives of a canonical work, access to cultural participation, relationship between so-called ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ culture, the wider impact of literary modernism, and the limitations of traditional academic reading practices. The main ambition of this study is 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 also in the early stages of work on three new projects. Fictions of Erudition: The European Philosophical Novel in the Twentieth Century will be a comprehensive monograph on the genre of the philosophical novel, focussing on ten novels written over the last 100 years in ten European languages. Worlding Weimar: Inventions of Interwar Germany in International Literature and Film (1920-2020) will explore how writers and filmmakers - including Stefan Zweig, Kurban Said, Barbara Pym, Wes Anderson, and Tom Tykwer - have imagined German-speaking Europe in the 1920s an 1930s, and what it can teach us about how we perceive our own world(s), 100 years on. I am also working on a non-fiction book about Franz Kafka: I hope to reach readers outside of the academy by investigating who reads Kafka and why in the twenty-first century, in the run-up to the centenary of his death in 2024.
I have presented my research 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, and Deutsche Thomas Mann-Gesellschaft.
Mann’s Magic Mountain: World Literature and Closer Reading (Oxford: OUP, forthcoming in 2022)
Journal special issue
‘The White Rose and the Uses of Culture’, co-edited with Dr Alexandra Lloyd, Oxford German Studies (in preparation for 2023)
‘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 2022)
‘Guy Maddin’s Careful and the Mountain Film: A Transnational Approach to German Film History’, New German Critique (forthcoming in 2022)
‘Navid Kermani’s Entlang den Gräben and Its Readers: Remapping Europe’s East’, Edinburgh German Yearbook (forthcoming in 2022)
‘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
Background and education
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 new MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation. Since 2019, I convene the Method Option ‘Spaces of Comparison’. In 2021, I designed and taught a new Special Subject ‘Looking East, Looking West: Comparative Perspectives on Polish Literature’ with Dr Kasia Szymanska. I also currently co-supervise a DPhil student in this area.
Access, outreach, and public engagement
Since 2019, I coordinate A German Classic, Oxford German Network’s essay competition for sixth formers. Nearly 500 students from schools all over the UK have participated in the programme so far and the videos in which I speak to Oxford academics and students about our set texts have been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube.
I regularly give German and Polish taster sessions for various outreach and access projects based at Oxford and beyond, aimed at school pupils and sometimes at school teachers. I have also 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 book-length literary translations into English from any living European language.