HomeCOURSEGER 272 German Thought and Culture: People

GER 272 German Thought and Culture: People


This course introduces students to German culture. But instead of following the standard practice of cultural history – starting with the stone age and making our way step by step to the modern era – GER 272 instead considers some of the people whose artistic, intellectual, or political work have shaped both the culture of German-speaking societies and the world itself. We won’t hit every major figure in German cultural history, but we’ll study some important ones whose contributions still have ramifications today.

What makes this course different?

Well, a number of things:

  • first of all, the people we’ll be studying: they’re some of the most influential cultural figures in recent human history. We won’t study them the way you might in high school (where they were born, how long they lived, blah blah blah) but instead engage directly with their ideas and their perspectives on human existence.
  • an emphasis on human engagement: online courses are sometimes thought of as the lesser cousins of in-class (face-to-face) courses because both students and instructors are more passive, less present and active in the course. Not here; the online discussion forums aren’t just add-ons but an integral part of the course – you do a lot of your studying and learning by participating regularly and consistently in the forums. And the instructor will be right there with you.
  • the human engagement leads to learning engagement: this is not the kind of course where you memorize facts and spit them back on tests and exams, only to forget them as soon as you leave the exam. Instead, you become familiar with the material by discussing and writing about it.
  • this course is all about communication. GER 272 has no tests, no  mid-terms, no finals. It’s built around communication, not rote learning. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is a life and career skill that everyone needs. We’ll be improving our communication skills while at the same time using them to learn, because basically to engage with knowledge means communicating about ideas with others.

Actually, come to think of it, that last sentence sums up my whole approach to studying at university, especially in the humanities: engaging with knowledge is all about communicating ideas. Communication is a two-way street, by the way; the whole point behind researching and writing about a topic is to engage others in a discussion about that topic. It’s that simple.

Course structure

The course is made up of modules; each module is made up of content items. The modules are week-long units in which we work on a particular person and his/her ideas/contributions/influence. The content items are readings, interviews, videos (including some ProfMoments, short lectures by the instructor) that discuss the person and related ideas and issues. Each content item has its own discussion forum where you can answer questions set by the instructor or raise questions and ideas of your own. At the end of each module there is a Module Review, an open-book assignment in which you review the ideas in the module and the discussions about the module.

In addition to the eight modules that make up the main part of the course, there are two other modules. Module 0 takes place the first week and provides an introduction to the course. Module You is a three-stage project (two checkpoints and a final product) where you create a module on an influential German of  your own choosing.


Here’s what you will learn:

To learn this . . .. . . you will do this:
how studying influential people can be a gateway to understanding important concepts and ideasModule 0 – the introductory module that explains some of these concepts
what issues and ideas are significant for understanding the cultural development of German-speaking Europethe readings and viewings contained in the modules
how to synthesize, describe, and discuss ideasthe discussions associated with the content items of each modulethe Module Reviews
how to apply what you’ve learned about understanding ideas to a new situationMyModule