GSA Curricular Guidelines
The German Studies Association (GSA) is the national and international association of scholars in all fields of German Studies, including German, Austrian, and Swiss history, literature, culture studies, political science, and economics. Its interests span the period from early times to the present Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

German Studies Programs
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This document has been produced by the German Studies Association in order to:
  • emphasize the role that German Studies can play in students' general education and intercultural competence
  • direct attention to the importance of German Studies programs in schools, colleges, and universities
  • suggest curricular guidelines and voluntary standards for institutions that offer or plan to offer interdisciplinary German Studies programs
  • reinforce cross-disciplinary initiatives in education
  • encourage programs to maximize use of faculty resources and facilitate cooperation in a challenging academic environment
  • demonstrate ways in which faculty can re-focus their teaching and research and find ways of integrating both
  • foster new interdisciplinary models that encourage students to pursue in-depth knowledge while acquiring useful skills in several related fields and developing flexibility for their future careers
  • relate curricula to the changing international environment, thereby contributing to the creation of an educated workforce with improved job opportunities
  • assist in the preparation of future teachers who will be called upon to meet the changing needs of their society
  • challenge the profession to ensure the place of German Studies at all levels of education
These Guidelines have been designed to be flexible so that they can be useful in different kinds of institutions in the United States and Canada. They are also meant to offer models that spark interest and initiatives among colleagues in other fields.
German Studies is a dynamic and growing field that provides a new paradigm for studying the record, experience, and legacy of the German-speaking peoples of Europe. In a general atmosphere of concern and uncertainty, where student enrollments in some European languages are declining or stagnating and the usefulness of traditional area studies is increasingly questioned, German Studies has emerged as a curricular initiative that promises cooperation and success.

Because German Studies is interdisciplinary, work in the field involves the interaction of differing methodologies. Like other fields of investigation that are served by more than one academic approach (e.g. public health or foreign affairs), many topics in German Studies call for an approach from the perspective of diverse disciplines. For instance, the study of national identities, the Holocaust, urban culture, and gender roles requires grounding in more than one discipline. Faculty in different discipl ines can advance interdisciplinary cooperation by learning the methodologies and understanding the standards of scholarship in other disciplines. The attainment of proficiency in the German language is an integral part of German Studies at all levels.

The cultural, political, and economic ties of this continent to German-speaking Europe span several centuries. Culturally, they are as varied as the musical themes heard in our symphony halls, the architecture of our communities, the films and other forms of visual arts that interpret human experience, and the literature and philosophy that help to shape our lives.

A myriad of North American place names, from Bismarck to New Braunfels, attests to the presence of German-speaking immigrants in the settlement of this continent. Politically, German immigrants have played an important role in the evolution of the United States from the Revolutionary War to the Progressive Era and beyond. In the economic sphere, North Americans have maintained substantial busi ness and commercial relations with Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and benefit from scientific and technical advances originating in these countries.

German thought is fundamental to many of our academic disciplines. From kindergarten to the graduate s eminar, the very structure of our educational system has been influenced by German models. Regardless of their ethnic heritage, North Americans have integrated, consciously or unconsciously, many aspects of German culture into their lives and institutions.

But the relations of this continent to parts of German-speaking Europe have not always been positive. Two World Wars remind us not only of our sometimes troubled relationship to this region but also point to the problematic internal development of Central Europe, where one type of political and social system has followed swiftly upon another, forcing scholars to confront issues of continuity, discontinuity, and legitimacy. Students of this area face the moral and intellectual challenge of a historical record that includes a brilliant legacy of creativity and performance in the arts and sciences as well as the officially organized cruelty and barbarism of the Third Reich, which has profoundly altered our understanding of modernity and progress.

Today, a democratic Federal Republic of Germany is a leading trading partner and ally of the United States and Canada in the Atlantic community. Substantial transatlantic investment flows in both directions. From pharmaceuticals to printing machines, from insurance to finance, from automobiles to airplanes, North Americans realize the benefits of these investments in virtually every aspect of their business and professional lives. With the largest population and economy in the European Union, Germany exerts a major influence on the development and policies of this region and plays a significant role in Eastern Europe. Global political and economic stability thus depend significantly upon Germany's position in Europe. Austria and Switzerland have also developed strong and dynamic economies. From the hospitality industry to banking, from machine tools to precision instruments, these countries contribute substantially to European prosperity.

Like Canada and the United States, German-speaking countries today confront many of the problems of a rapidly changing international order, including the globalization of trade, finance, and manufacturing; new demographic imbalances linked to lower birth rates and higher life expectancies; immigration and cultural diversity; widespread job scarcity or insecurity; powerful fiscal and ideological challenges to the established welfare state with its social safety net; and changing family structures, to name only a few. There is a real need for appropriate programs in our universities and colleges to prepare interculturally trained individuals who can integrate the experiences of other societies into the search for solutions to these problems. Such persons are also important for businesses, which increasingly find themselves in a new, highly competitive world environment. German Studies, where interdisciplinary cooperation has brought together scholars of language, literature, culture, society, history, politics, economics, and other fields, offers an important framework for young people who need to understand the transatlantic community.

Although English is widely used in communications around the world, intercultural competence and proficiency in foreign languages are essential for deeper international understanding. German, the third most widely taught foreign language in the world, is of particular significance in the post-Cold War era because it is an important language bridging Eastern and Western Europe.

The approach to the study of history, society, and culture termed German Studies has two somewhat different origins. On the one hand, the term has been used to designate interdisciplinary scholarship on the German-speaking world approached from the integrative perspective of a range of disciplines. Scholars and teachers engaged in this variety of German Studies have sought to broaden knowledge about the area provided by their own field by drawing upon scholarly methods and conclusions that derive from other fields. Since 1976 the German Studies Association has provided a forum for scholars engaged in such projects.
On the other hand, the term German Studies has also come to describe a major shift within the field of German language and literature. Motivated in part by changing patterns of enrollment in colleges and universities, in part by methodological innovations in the scholarship of other national literatures, this variety of German Studies represented a shift from the philological focus of German Germanistik to a broader concentration on culture studies, often with the help of methods derived from Anglo-Americ an literary studies (cultural studies, new historicism, film studies, feminism, ethnic and minority studies, gay and lesbian studies, queer theory, postcolonial theory).
Originating as an oppositional movement led by younger Germanists attempting to chall enge older approaches, this version of German Studies has achieved widespread acceptance in the field. It has also found a forum with the German Studies Association, and many German departments now designate themselves and their curriculum as German Studies.
These Guidelines argue for a meeting of these two varieties of German Studies. Without insisting upon specific methods appropriate to German Studies, the Guidelines are premised upon the assumption that German Studies is fundamentally an interdisciplinary approach and that scholarship undertaken from a German Studies perspective optimally employs the tools of more than one discipline. German Studies colleagues from fields other than culture studies can learn from an examination of the, perspectives that in form the exciting new work in this area, while scholars in culture studies will augment the breadth and rigor of their investigations as they learn to employ the tools and approaches of other fields.
These Guidelines thus encourage German Studies scholars to obtain further training in disciplines outside their own field, pursue other possibilities for interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching, seek administrative arrangements that facilitate such work, and train their students in interdisciplinary methods.

These Guidelines are intended to assist in the development of German Studies curricula, raise awareness about their value in schools, colleges, and universities, and provide arguments for persuading administrators of their importance. For institutions that offer or are planning to offer interdisciplinary German Studies programs, these Guidelines seek to foster high academic standards, strong language preparation, and an appropriate balance of interdisciplinary and disciplinary courses.
The German Studies Association recognizes that the type of German Studies program feasible at different institutions depends on local resources, the institution's academic requirements and traditions, established departmental or disciplinary boundaries, and funding. For the viability of a program, however, the size of the institution and its resources are not as important as the commitment of faculty and administration to German Studies; the institution's ability to foster cooperation among departments; and its resourcefulness in attracting visiting faculty and creating study and internship opportunities in German-speaking countries.
Particularly crucial is the willingness of faculty to gain additional expertise and to develop new courses, methodologies, and interdisciplinary teaching materials.
A solid German Studies program sets high academic standards, provides serious language preparation, and includes courses with an interdisciplinary component.

  • Introductory language courses should contain German Studies components that integrate information about private and public life, including cultural behavior patterns, social relationships, environment, history and traditions, political systems, literature and the arts, political and cultural relations with German-speaking countries, and, where appropriate, immigration from these countries to this continent. In addition to remaining abreast of current affairs, college language teachers, including teaching assistants, should be familiar with the history of the German-speaking countries in their European and global context. Students should be presented with and encouraged to use up-to-datesources of information about German-speaking countries, such as local and national newspapers and magazines, lectures, film and TV presentations, bibliographical and library resources, and electronic media.
  • German Studies courses should be included among those available to satisfy general education, core, or distribution requirements. Where appropriate, a German Studies component should be included in general education courses on broader topics.

  • German Studies tracks within other degree programs, such as European Studies, International Relations, International Business, Gender Studies, and Film Studies, should have the following minimalacademic requirements:
    - Completion of at least four semesters of college-level German or an equivalent level of language proficiency.
    - Units on German-speaking countries in all program core courses.
    - Additional courses focussing specifically on German-speaking Europe.
  • Academic study or internship experience in a German-speaking countries should be strongly encouraged.

  • The German Studies minor or certificate recognizing completion of a specified program in combination with a major in a traditional discipline, such as German, history, or political science, should have the following minimal academic requirements:
    - Completion of at least three years of college-level German or an equivalent level of language proficiency.
    - A core course or courses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century German and/or European history.
    - Additional courses focussing specifically on German-speaking Europe.
  • Academic study or internship experience in a German-speaking country is highly recommended.

  • The German Studies major should have the following minimal academic requirements:
    - Completion of four years of college-level German or an equivalent level of language proficiency.
    - A core course or courses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century German and/or European history.
    - Additional courses focussing specifically on German-speaking Europe.
    - One or more integrative elements, such as a comprehensive examination, a senior project, an independent study course, or a senior German Studies seminar in which students are required to write a long cross- or interdisciplinary paper or thesis. The paper should demonstrate command of critical discourses of more than one field and the ability to use the resources and reference materials in these fields.
  • A semester or more of academic study or an internship experience in a German-speaking country is very strongly recommended.

  • Language-across-the-curriculum programs, offering students in courses outside the German department the option of doing part of their work in the original language, enrich the experience of participating students and foster working relations between the departments involved.
  • Foreign language immersion programs enable students to progress rapidly in gaining fluency.
  • Team-teaching can bring German Studies elements into other courses and programs.
Graduate programs in German Studies encourage research efforts with a broader focus than those in traditional disciplinary fields. Such programs foster collaborative research projects as well as interdisciplinary research by individual scholars. Development of graduate programs in German Studies should be guided by a realistic appraisal of available institutional resources across the relevant disciplines.

Graduate work in German Studies may offer preparation for a variety of careers, including research and teaching, public affairs, international commerce, and international relations. Graduate students in German Studies will ordinarily enroll both in courses that are discipline-based and those that are interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary courses may be team-taught or offered by a single faculty member with expertise in several fields. While most graduate students in German Studies typically receive their degree in a traditional discipline, their training differs from that of others in that discipline in the breadth of preparatory course work that is undertaken as well as in the subject matter, conceptualization, and methodology of the research project. Graduate students may find it advantageous to combine an M.A. degree in German Studies with a Ph.D. in a traditional disciplinary field, or a disciplinary M.A. with a Ph.D. in German Studies.

Graduate students can also receive valuable German Studies training in special summer seminars and other short-term courses offered in North America or in a German-speaking country. All programs should require German-language competence commensurate with their aims and resources. In all areas, this will include as a minimum advanced reading skills in subject-matter areas and, in some cases, oral skills needed for courses or discussions in German. Prospective teachers of German will need to demonstrate near-native levels of proficiency.

A graduate degree in German Studies may be pursued under the auspices of a traditional department or formally constituted as an interdisciplinary degree.Regardless of which of these two paths is chosen, the program should include faculty and courses from several departments and a standing graduate German Studies committee. An individual student's course of study should be designed in consultation wit h an interdisciplinary committee and integrated through seminars, independent study courses, and/or a thesis. Students need to demonstrate that they are familiar with the tools for research and teaching in German Studies, including bibliography and methods in the related disciplines. Students pursuing a graduate degree in German Studies should have the experience of living in a German-speaking country.

Graduate programs in German Studies or those with a German Studies component should provide students with professional preparation for a variety of careers with an international orientation as well as for the teaching of German Studies at the post-se condary level. The master's thesis, if required, or doctoral dissertation should reflect an interdisciplinary German Studies approach and be supervised by faculty from a range of relevant disciplines. It will demonstrate the candidate's thorough understanding of the tools for research and teaching in German Studies, including bibliography and methods of the related disciplines.

Graduate institutions may wish to encourage doctoral candidates in a traditional discipline to develop a second field in German Studies leading to a certificate, a German Studies minor or, if neither is available, a minor in a related discipline.

There is a place for a German Studies component in the graduate programs of professional schools, such as those in business, law, and music. This component may include intensive language courses, interdisciplinary summer seminars, special courses during the regular term, workshops, or internships.
Although the primary responsibility of the elementary and secondary school German teacher is language instruction, language teaching goes hand-in- hand with introducing the student to the area where German is spoken. This is an important learning process that helps students overcome ethnocentric perspectives and leads them to respect cultural diversity.It also teaches students to view their own culture critically in its relationship to others. German Studies, therefore, plays a very important role in the language curriculum.

Many teachers of German may have received their undergraduate training before German Studies was established as a field or studied at institutions where German Studies programs have not been offered. Professional organizations, such as the GSA and AATG, can help teachers to remain abreast of new developments in the field. Universities and colleges are urged to make contacts and share resources with teachers in their area, to inform them about German Studies events, and to consider holding weekend workshops and longer seminars, in German and in English, to update teachers about developments and resources (traditional media as well as newer electronic technologies) in the field. In developing programs at the M.A. level, universities are urged to pay attention to teachers' needs for both appropriate German Studies content and current approaches as well as teaching methodologies for the secondary level. Universities, colleges, and professional organizations need to work together with teachers to design programs at appropriate levels and to achieve the most thoughtful articulation of high school and undergraduate instruction.

The significance of German Studies extends beyond its role in teaching language. If possible, the German teacher should reach out to students and colleagues outside the language classroom. In many schools, however, the German teacher is often the only resource person on German-speaking countries. Since a substantial number of students may not go on to college, or, if they do, may not continue to study German, these teachers may be the only access such students have to information about this area. Up-to-d ate information about the German-speaking area better prepares students to become involved citizens in the world community.

German Studies on the elementary and secondary levels should be closely integrated with thelanguage-learning process. German teachers should be able to present their students with an up-to-date and accurate introduction to contemporary affairs and th e history of the German-speaking countries. A comparative approach that moves from the familiar home environment to the culture of the German-speaking world is often suitable at this level. As far as possible, students and teachers should establish contacts with peer groups abroad, taking advantage of opportunities offered by newer technologies and electronic media as well as more personal avenues of exchange, such as study visits and civic or school partnership programs. German teachers should work with colleagues in social studies and the arts to plan joint activities and to develop cooperative teaching units on topics such as World War II and the Holocaust, immigrant studies, drama, popular culture, economics, geogr aphy, and the environment. In support of such undertakings, materials that do not require students to know German need to be available to teachers.

German teachers need to be familiar with the wide range of German Studies resources available in print and electronically. Professional organizations, universities and colleges should take seriously their responsibility to provide instruction and shou ld frequently update information about such resources.

The success of German language programs in the schools depends on adequate provisions for professional development of teachers.
  • Above all, the German teacher must be highly competent in the German language and the methodologies of second-language teaching.
  • Because German teachers often have the main responsibility for German Studies instruction, they must be appropriately prepared, including training in the methodology of second-culture acquisition and in German Studies.
  • Optimally, the German teacher should have spent some time in a German-speaking country and be familiar with current events there. Where possible, opportunities for regular visits to the German-speaking countries should be provided.
  • To remain in touch with the language and current events, the teacher should participate in in-service training on German Studies subjects, make use of summer seminars and workshops here or abroad, and take related courses at colleges or universities. School districts should support teachers in these endeavors.
  • The teacher should be familiar with the classroom use of newer technologies and electronic media as tools for gathering current information, conducting electronic exchanges with schools in German-speaking countries, and sharing materials with colleagues and students in the United States and Canada.
  • Teachers using German Studies materials should be encouraged to establish permanent networks that allow them to share their successes in instituting German Studies units, the strategies they have used, and the materials they have prepared. Professio nal organizations should aid in facilitating such communication and showcase successful German Studies programs at the high school level at conferences and in their publications to encourage teachers with successful programs to share their experiences.

Research in German Studies can be undertaken either as the collaboration among scholars from different fields examining a topic using methods of their own field or by an individual scholar employing the methods of several fields. Faculty and students alike should be encouraged to explore interdisciplinary approaches in analyzing texts, data, and other raw materials of research.
Faculty undertaking German Studies research should recognize that they will need to address themes, approaches, and methodologies that differ from those they have acquired in their own graduate training. Where possible, they should take advantage ofthe opportunities offered by summer seminars and institutes to broaden their own interdisciplinary understandings.

The first attempts to define German Studies were made in the early 1980s by working groups of the journal Monatshefte, which were then combined with committees within the German Studies Association. These efforts ultimately resulted in the 1987 GSA Guidelines. In 1994, the Executive Committee of the GSA, recognizing the enormous changes that had taken place in Europe since 1989 and the ongoing growth and development in the field of German Studies, mandated a revision of the original Guidelines. A new Task Force, consisting of a smaller Drafting Committee and a larger Advisory Committee, was appointed to develop the Guidelines. This Task Force included scholars from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions.

The process began with a forum at the 1995 GSA annual meeting at which members were invited to share their insights and concerns about the state of the field. The Advisory Committee convened at that meeting to identify the sort of information that would be needed before actual work on the new Guidelines could be undertaken. In addition to the forum at the 1995 meeting, the Task Force used a series of questionnaires to seek input from the membership. Special sessions at the 1996 annual meeting were devote d to some of the areas members defined as central. The Advisory Committee also met to hear reports from its various subgroups. In February 1996, the Drafting Committee incorporated this information into a working document that was posted on the GSA websit e to solicit input from the profession at large. At the 1997 meeting, the Drafting Committee presented a revised document to the membership and received additional feedback from the Advisory Committee. The revised draft was also posted on the Internet. T he Drafting Committee met in February 1998 to incorporate suggestions from all sources into this final document.

The German Studies Association gratefully acknowledges the generous financial assistance of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), as well as a contribution from the Austrian Cultural Institute towards this project.

The German Studies Association gratefully acknowledges the help of the following colleagues in the preparation of these Guidelines:


Patricia Herminghouse, Chair (University of Rochester)
Gerald R. Kleinfeld (Arizona State University)
Sara Lennox (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Ronald Smelser (University of Utah)
Christian Soe (California State University, Long Beach)
Jennifer Michaels, ex officio (Grinnell College)
Gerhard L. Weinberg, ex officio (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Gerhard H. Weiss, ex officio (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)


Ann Taylor Allen (University of Louisville)
Roger Chickering (Georgetown University)
Scott Denham (Davidson College)
Marion Deshmukh (George Mason University)
Sander L. Gilman (University of Chicago)
William Hutfilz (University of Washington)
Konrad Jarausch (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Wolfgang Natter (University of Kentucky)
Valters Nollendorfs (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Pamela Potter (University of Illinois)
Diethelm Prowe (Carleton College)
James Retallack (University of Toronto)
Dan Rogers (University of South Alabama)
Helga A. Welsh (Wake Forest University)
Helene Zimmer-Loew (American Association of Teachers of German)

For more information, please refer to the website of the German Studies Association: