German Department


Academic Program Information

The German department’s curriculum provides a critical engagement with the intellectual and cultural legacy of German-speaking countries. All language courses are taught in German and include weekly conversation sessions with the German language scholar. From the outset, we encourage students to explore cultural and historical materials in the original. The first year focuses on the full range of active and passive skills. In the second year, we pursue a comprehensive approach to reading, writing, and speaking through the study of selected literary and sociopolitical themes. Advanced classes in composition and conversation complete the language track in the third year.

Upper-level courses in the department are organized thematically and historically, often emphasizing interdisciplinary study. A flexible two-track program for majors offers a variety of perspectives on the analysis of texts. Students who select the German with a Concentration in Literature program may focus their thesis work on a particular author, period, or paradigm. They are also encouraged to consider broader questions about the nature of interpretation and criticism. The German with a Concentration in Culture Studies program gives students the opportunity to explore the German intellectual tradition through the methodological perspectives of a variety of fields, including philosophy, history, anthropology, and sociology. Students who pursue the culture studies concentration can take two of their required courses in other departments. In their thesis, they may combine literary and nonliterary analyses or write exclusively on nonliterary topics. With both concentrations, it may be possible for students to work on particular areas of interest in an independent study. 


Students with a background in German may take a placement test to determine if they are prepared for second- or third-year classes. Placement tests are offered during orientation week and (online) over the summer.

Major Requirements

See the college catalog for major requirements:

A Minor in German

The goal of the German minor is to achieve proficiency in the German language and a strong understanding of literary and cultural studies.

See the college catalog for German minor requirements.

German Qual and Thesis

The German junior qualifying exam (“Qual”) offers a framework for students to study broadly within a canon of works. Upon becoming a German major, one is given a reading list that includes literature and film from the 18th to the 21st centuries, as well as some exemplary literary-critical essays and works of philosophy, history, and cultural theory. In preparation for the exam, students are expected to read texts from different genres from each period, supplementing their coursework with outside reading as necessary. The Qual itself is an open-book, take-home test. Taken over a weekend before the start of the term, the students write three essays, selecting one of two options from three pairs of topics and spending 2-3 hours per answer. The exam questions require them to discuss authors from different eras and genres while demonstrating an ability to analyze individual passages in detail. All three faculty members of the German Department read the essays and discuss the results, determining whether the student has shown both close reading skills and a broad understanding of concepts. If the Qual reveals specific areas of weakness, we can require specific coursework to address these problems.

The German major culminates with the writing of the senior thesis. The yearlong project gives us an opportunity to see how well our students can engage in a systematic and sustained way with complex topics in literary and cultural analysis. Upon completion, the thesis is defended in front of an orals board, which typically consists of two professors from the German Department, one professor from the Division of Literatures and Languages, and one outside reader. The grading standards are as follows: In order to receive an A, a student must have undertaken a sophisticated study and produced a truly coherent argument. An A+ may be awarded if the thesis is considered publishable. Theses that are lacking in one of these areas receive a grade in the B range. Theses that have serious flaws (e.g. because they are too short, too superficial, or too incoherent) receive a grade in the C or D range. It is very rare that a student who worked on the thesis throughout the year receives an F.