Wednesday, February 4, 2015
A well-timed semester in Leipzig, Germany provides Professor Stephen Brockmann new ideas for the classroom.
Brockmann spent the fall 2014 semester at the Institute for German Literature, studying East German literary culture of the late 1940s and 1950s as a Fulbright Scholar. The Fulbright Program is a prestigious system of merit-based grants for international educational exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
"These fellowships make it possible for faculty to spend significant time abroad so that they can conduct research in the locations crucial to their projects," said Susan Polansky, head of CMU's Department of Modern Languages in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "Faculty members in the department have returned to campus to integrate their research into exciting and creative new courses."
Brockmann was particularly pleased at the timing of his venture.
"The semester coincided with the 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolution — centered in Leipzig — that brought an end to the East German dictatorship and the resulting fall of the Berlin Wall," he said.
Brockmann witnessed commemorative celebrations for both events, the first attended by the heads of state of Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland and the second attended by a million people.
"This enabled me to observe first-hand how the Germans are commemorating the most significant historical change in the last half century," he said.
He's excited to bring the experience back to his classroom.
"This will certainly have a positive impact on my teaching about contemporary Germany, since so much was going on while I was there," Brockmann said. "The research I did will also have an impact, especially the next time I teach a course on East Germany."
Brockmann's research, primarily done in the German National Library, will contribute to a book project on East German literary and political history during the first decades after World War II.
"I made new discoveries about the relationship between writers and the East German state," he said. "In particular, I found that playwright Bertolt Brecht played a major role in critiquing and attacking the narrow-mindedness of cultural bureaucrats in the Communist party over the course of the 1950s."
The semester in Leipzig was Brockmann's second Fulbright opportunity. He previously was a 2011 German Studies Seminar participant in Berlin and Brussels.
"Steve's Fulbright experiences have advanced his strongly interdisciplinary scholarship on German literary and cultural studies, film studies, history, politics and national identity," Polansky said. "He has enriched our curriculum with his courses "Nazi and Resistance Culture" and "History of German Film."
Other CMU faculty members have enhanced their academic experience through recent Fulbright awards, including Peter Adams, professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy, and David Shumway, professor of English.
The Fulbright Program also extends grants to students. More than 50 CMU students and alumni have participated.
It's an adventure certain to be shared by many more.