Letter from the Chair

As we head toward the 2018-2019 academic year, there is much going on in German at UVA and at the University of Virginia in general. As I began to write this letter on August 10, 2018, we were coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Neo-Nazi/white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville last year on August 11-12. On August 11, UVA students found themselves surrounded by militant far-right extremist demonstrators holding an (illegal) torchlight march on UVA Grounds and chanting “You will not replace us/Jews will not replace us.” This was followed by a demonstration in downtown Charlottesville the next day, which resulted in the murder of counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer, the deaths of two police officers, and the injuring of many other peaceful counter-demonstrators.

This year, the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia sought to be better prepared for any possible “alt-right” activities, not least by operating under a local state of emergency. According to incoming UVA President James Ryan, these measures were undertaken in response, among other things, to certain postings on social media, though some peaceful demonstrators opposing the “alt-right” perceived that police presence as an attempt to police them instead.

The words and actions of these extremist right-wing and racist organizations—while clearly a domestic phenomenon with all too enduring roots in the United States as well as specifically in Virginia and Charlottesville history—prompt special concern for the Department of German for obvious historical reasons. Yet, modern Germany also provides a model of commemoration and of ongoing, concerted effort to own up to its Nazi past. To be sure, such action in Germany has hardly been perfect or devoid of dissenters (despite impressive support there) and cannot avert all right-wing extremist activity in Germany, as attested to by last year’s electoral success of the extreme right populist political party “Alternative for Germany” (Alternative für Deutschland [AFD]). Still, Germany’s engagement with the Nazi past might nonetheless provide clues for the U.S. populace and their government about how to deal with their own legacy of racism and its impact on the present.

While this legacy is just currently foremost on my mind, UVA German also has a great deal of good news to report, which I can only begin to share here (look for more in the German Department Newsletter). I begin by welcoming our two new faculty hires for 2018-2019, Robin Ellis (Ph.D. Berkeley, 2016), who comes to us by way of Davidson College in North Carolina as a teaching post-doc; and Marcel Schmid (Ph.D. University of Zurich, 2014), who comes as a visiting assistant professor via Brown University. We also welcome Max Rammelsberg, our visiting German Department TA from the University of Dortmund (the 22nd in as many years). We are additionally pleased to note the long-term faculty appointments of our Language Coordinator Julia Gutterman and of Stefanie Parker and Christina Neuhaus who, along with Assistant Professor Cora Schenberg and Graduate Instructor Kathryn Schroeder, have taken on almost all of the teaching of our beginning through intermediate language program. Additionally, we welcome the return of journalist and writer Gabriele Riedle as our Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor!

This year, we congratulate Manuela Achilles on her promotion to Associate Professor and Chad Wellmon on his promotion to full Professor. Manuela will also take up the mantle of directing UVA’s MA Program in European Studies, a program of great interest to many German Department faculty; Chad Wellmon continues to direct the Engagements Program of UVA’s New Curriculum (which is, itself, largely the result of Chad’s efforts together with the committee he chaired, which designed that curriculum). We additionally congratulate Paul Dobryden, who has received a prestigious Mellon Fellowship administered in conjunction with UVA’s Institute for Humanities and Global Culture Mellon Fellows Program.

The transition from spring to fall of 2018 also means the departure of two colleagues. Lecturer Rebekah Slodounik (Ph.D. UVA German, 2016) has left us for the green pastures of Pennsylvania, where she has taken up a tenure-track assistant professorship at Bucknell University. While we are excited for Rebekah, we also have to acknowledge the sad news (for us, if not for him) that our colleague Volker Kaiser has decided to retire after more than thirty years with UVA German. In addition to his other achievements, Volker chaired the German Department for six years, during which time he led the founding of and directed the Center for German Studies (now coming up on its tenth year in existence); before, during, and since then, Volker organized numerous academic conferences and events on a range of important topics—from the study of fascism to the role of “examples” in intellectual work, among others. Volker also served as an important bridge to German Studies in Germany, helping us to maintain valuable connections there. His departure at the end of the coming calendar year will be a significant loss for the UVA German Department, but we know that Volker, who plans to return to Germany and who retains his youthful vigor and enduring curiosity, has many plans, intellectual and otherwise, for the coming years. We wish him all the best for what we hope will be a very long retirement! Be on the lookout this fall for a public event, sponsored by the Center for German Studies and German Department, to honor Volker’s much-valued tenure at UVA.

In that regard, I should add that Manuela Achilles, who, besides taking the helm of European Studies, continues to serve as Director of the Center for German Studies. In that role, she is currently planning additional events for 2018-2019, one of the most significant of which is the final event in a series of recent symposia on the current refugee crisis! Be on the lookout for that event, among others, as well.

As noted at the outset, there is much happening with UVA German, and we have an exciting year to look forward to, of which the last to be mentioned remains the most important: our undergraduates. The German Department is fortunate to have a lively group of German majors, minors, and others with interest in German more generally who continue to engage in many ways with German language, culture, history, and current events, as attested to by all of the activities they organized and took part in last year alone. We look forward to working in the coming year once again with the German Studies Student Council and its new set of officers, including Emma Leidy, Molly Magoffin and others (for a full list, click here) and the Max Kade German House at Shea, as well as the many strong students we have in the program (as attested to, for instance, by our two outstanding distinguished majors who graduated in 2018—Courtney Cox and Elisabeth Fellowes—and by many others as well).

With that said, I conclude this letter by wishing all a stimulating and successful coming academic year—one that will, I hope, build on the some of the momentum of the preceding year.

Warm regards,
Jeffrey Grossman, Chair