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#338. Black German History and Culture in Research and Teaching (Roundtable)

1 reply, 1 voice Last updated by Maria S. Grewe 10 years, 1 month ago
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    Maria S. Grewe

    Please join us for the following special session roundtable:

    MLA 2014 Convention • Chicago • Presidential Theme: Vulnerable Times

    338. Black German History and Culture in Research and Teaching

    Friday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

    Presiding: Maria S. Grewe, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, City Univ. of New York


    Session Description:

    This roundtable examines the need to expand the field of Afro-German studies and presents innovative ways to include Afro-German history and culture in the German language, literature, and culture classroom. Presenters will consider how scholarship, interdisciplinarity, and on-the-ground alliance building intervene in the marginalization of Afro-German studies in the profession and in the classroom.


    1. “Presenting the Images of Blacks in Middle High German Literature in the German Language, Literature and Culture Classroom,” Reginald A. Bess, Claflin Univ.

    This presentation ties medieval literature in Germany to how students might well discuss their own identities. Certain works that highlight the thinking of “difference or “the other” during the sixteenth through the eighteenth century will be introduced along with a discussion of how to link the readings to the current day ideas and issues of race, ethnicity and mixed cultural heritage communities.

    2. “Voices from the German Front; a transnational discourse of African Americans living in Germany, ” John W. Long, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago

    African Americans living in Germany constitute a unique group in Germany. They have occupied a special place in German history and played a special role in Germany society from Post World War II to the present day. African Americans have lived and/or emigrated to Germany since the end of the American Revolutionary War. They include African American scholars and artists, such as W.E.B. Dubois, scholar and historian; and Marian Anderson, famous operatic star. African American soldiers in occupied Germany help change German society in the context of race relations. Their presence enabled Germans of African descent to obtain equality in German society.

    This paper is a segment of a larger body of work on African Americans who have rooted themselves in Germany. My paper, “Voices from the German Front, a transnational discourse African Americans living in Germany,” gives the participants a unique picture of African American expatriate experiences in Post-War Germany through their voices. My paper consists of narratives that capture the experiences of a selected number of African American expatriates. These narratives give voice to those silent African Americans living in Germany: their accomplishments, barriers placed in front of them, and how they successfully integrated into Germany society. They speak to borders, freedom, and boundaries of the African American experiences as émigrés in other countries.

    The narratives explore transnational discourses of race, identity, belonging, borders, and space, which give understanding to the experiences of African American expatriates and their integration into German society.

    These narratives examine who are these individuals. Are they African Americans who have inculcated German mores and behaviors and transposed themselves as German? Are they African Americans in spirit and culture, using Germany as a suburb of America, or African Americans who embraced Germany, but maintain their identity and roots to America? Lastly, has a new African American identity evolved that is a blend of African American and German culture? These narratives explore these questions through the words of African Americans living in Germany.
    The narratives selected will come from a compilation of 35 interviews of – African American expatriates living in Berlin, Germany. I have been compiling these narratives from interviews and questionnaires of expatriates in Berlin since 2008. Woven through interviews and letters, these narratives address a number of questions. Who are these individuals? Why did they decide to immigrate to Germany? What are the contradictions, ambiguities, and complexities arise in their daily lives? How do they identify themselves? How do they conceptualize their extent of integration in German society? How do they negotiate identity and race? How do they contest space and identity?

    The paper is significant because these accomplishments have not been recognized by German and American societies. There is a dearth of scholarly work on the African American living in modern Germany or Europe. African Americans living in Germany are missing from secondary and postsecondary textbooks. This paper also gives the participants an African American – centered perspective of modern Germany through the voices of these African American expatriates who have carved out successful and productive lives in Germany despite Germany’s problematic past in the areas of racism and xenophobia.

    Utilizing transnational discourses of race, identity, and spaces, this paper provides scholars and students new insights into issues of emigration and immigration of African Americans from the experiences of African Americans. Using the words of W.E.B. Dubois (1903), the noted African American scholar, The African American expatriates brought their “gifts of second sight [ … ] two souls and two thoughts” to their second home, whether it was Germany or some other country, negotiating space, borders, and identity.

    These narratives include among others: the experiences of a veterans, one who guarded the infamous Nazis, Rudolph Hess and two African American air traffic controllers, who worked for the German air traffic service; and the owner of a language translation service, who served as an English language coach for a former German Chancellor. Included is a television talk show host, who has one the most popular current event shows on the African Diaspora on German public television and a film festival producer; and a female musician, who has written and produced numerous jazz CDs while in Germany, and a veteran, who has been living in Germany, since the 1950s.

    In this paper, I discuss the rationale and methodology of the creation of these narratives; a working definition of transnationism, the placement of the African American in German society, and a short narrative of three African Americans living Germany.

    In summary, the African American experiences in Germany shed light on African American emigration and how they adapt and respond to their new environment.

    The major objectives of the paper are: 1) to introduce the African American living in Post World War II and re-unified Germany; 2) an invitation for the narratives to be used in the classrooms; 3) to introduce students and research to a research methodology that capture how groups outside of the culture milieu of another country negotiate space, borders, and identity.

    3. “Considering The Socio-Cultural Impact of Teaching Through and Not Around The Language of Flight and Border Crossing: Flüchtlinge, Immigranten, Ausländer – Die Leute von anderswo,” Janice D. M. Mitchell, Gallaudet Univ.

    The language of flight in German brings with it many complexities that are bound with its history of immigration, migration and border crossing throughout the western and eastern regions of Europe and the United States, as the result of colonialism spurred by two world wars. As a result, there are the socio-linguistic underpinnings that we can and should expect to probe with our students when they encounter such concepts of the ‘human interaction’ vocabulary around Flucht(flight, escape), Immigration(immigration), Migration(migration), und, Grenzen(borders) in the literature and media of 21st century Germany, which is emerging more rapidly than ever as accurate portrayals of present-day German society and other German-speaking nations within what is the German Diaspora.

    This paper is but a request for colleagues to give a glimpse into, not only the linguistically distinctly different lexicology of these concepts in German and English, but also consider how their meanings have evolved given the cultural dislocation of so many ‘ethnically- and culturally-other’ Germans throughout what can be called “The German Diaspora”, making 1] the case for cultural testimony as valid and established literature worth scholarly review for researchers and ethnographers, something extremely important for Afrogerman and Afroeuropean writers; 2] the case for classroom attention via the language where associations and ties can be made between Atlantic histories of our two countries and the Diasporaic links between African peoples in Germanic Europe and the Americas, and, 3] an agreement that rendering ourselves and our students interculturally competent in the area of transcultural empathy is essential both here and for study, travel and/or work abroad, and specifically as it applies in Germany.

    For German, the literature born out of millions of border crossings has been increasing rapidly, where before, we could but wish for such literature in both German and English for use in our classrooms. The African German and African American German experience has captured the scholarly eye of those African American Germanists working to project the images of Black Germans for our students of color to read about, see, and hear in the media now being produced; before the late 1980”s, with the appearance of what has become almost to be known as a cornerstone work launching such interest, Showing Our Colors: Afrogerman Women Speak Out, 1986/92, Opitz, Oguntoye, Schulz, many of us, too, who were drawn to German as a field of study, were just sad to say– as many of our white colleagues, who still are–, uninformed as to the long history that our African American scholars had been having with German universities for centuries, or, the long history that Germans had had with African scholarship and resonated as far back in Philosophy in the 17th-18th century with Wilhelm Amo, the great Black Thinker, as he was referred to and stretched to such personages as our own American scholars, Drs. W.E.B.DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, and also Mary Church Terrell. Even most recently, 2 we have honored our 1921 first African American Ph.D. in German here in the U.S., Georgiana Simpson, by creating the Georgiana Simpson Society of German Diasporic Studies, now an affiliate of the College Language Association, of which I serve proudly as its first President, and, as do 3 other round table members here today serve as Executive Board members.

    Determining the threads of blackness beyond our borders is as key for German Studies as it is for other target languages, as it is connecting students of color more globally to Europe, where they can also “see themselves”. Where for some who are teaching, this may not seem a likely place to begin to stir more interest in either beginning or continuing in German, either as a passing interest or a major field of study into the future, for those of us who once sat where today’s brown and black students sit today, who had no such literary mirrors offered us (even though Parzival et. al. in Medieval Literature did exist already!!) through which to see any connections to our pasts and that of Germany’s—positive or negative, it becomes the most likely place to begin. And, I submit, if respect for diversity is still an educational goal of our collective academic citizenry, then, why not begin in the classrooms, where we can foster such respect via the choices we make in our literary and media selections for study and discussion, and also take the time to better inform ourselves about their actual content in the context of what has been and is truly happening with the people who are the focus of these materials and/or research.

    4. “‘Tolerating Confusion’: Inscribing Black Male Voices in 20th Century German History,” Cerue K. Diggs, Howard Univ.

    Through the work of Afro-German and American scholars in the United States such as Tina Campt, Peggy Piesche, Leroy Hopkins, Alain Nganang, Rosemarie Peña, Sarah Lennox, Yara-Colette Lemke Muniz de Faria, Maisha Eggers and the Black German Heritage and Research Society, Afro-German Studies have become a field of increased interest in academia.

    This paper discusses enunciations of identities in three autobiographical works by Afro-German male writers, Gert Schramm, André Baganz, and Thomas Usleber. In a field where women have had a more prominent position, these texts mark an increase in the presence of Afro-German male writers in autobiographical genre. These recent publications are not yet translated and contribute greatly to our understanding of the African Diaspora in Germany.

    Mentored by Audre Lorde, young Black women began to articulate their identities in the 1980s, resulting in the publication of Farbe bekennen (1986). Since the founding of the Initiative Schwarzer Deutschen (Black German Initiative) the same year, women, from May Ayim through Noah Sow, have remained at the frontline of Afro-German activism and discourse.

    In the 1990s Black German male rappers found in hip-hop culture a favorable platform for activism. An ensemble of rappers called Brother’s Keepers collaborated on a rap song called “Die letzte Warnung” (The Last Warning/2001) in response to the murder of Alberto Adriano, a young legal immigrant, husband and father of Mozambican origins by skin heads.

    Hans Massaquoi’s Destined to Witness (2001) afforded Afro-German studies a glimpse into an earlier era of Black German History: the Hitler years. This paper dwells on autobiographies by Black German authors that bridge the gap between Massaquoi and Brother’s Keepers. Gert Schramm’s Wer hat Angst vor dem schwarzen Mann? (Who’s afraid of the black man? 2011) is the story of an Afro-German who, like Elie Wiesel, survived the Buchenwald concentration camp. André Baganz (Endestation Bautzen II: Zehn Jahre lebenslänglich /Final stop Bautzen II: Ten years on a life sentence, 2010), and Thomas Usleber (/The colors under my skin, 2002) were born in the 1960s, but on different sides of the Berlin Wall: Baganz in the east and Usleber in the west. Their narratives represent divided and reunited Germany from Afro-German perspectives.

    My objectives are threefold: First of all, I hope to introduce these texts to a relatively new audience. Secondly, I will underscore moments of identity formation and resistance in these narratives. Thirdly, this is an invitation for further consideration of them for classroom use and as a means of expanding the fields of German/African Diaspora Studies.

    5. “Teaching Inclusiveness: Voices of Africans and Afro-Germans in upper-division courses on modern German culture,” Elisabeth Poeter, Stetson Univ.

    Survey courses on German cultural history generally highlight the history of intellectual creativity, artistic endeavors, and signifying practices in German speaking countries and relate these practices to long-term social change as well as opposition to certain kinds of change such as gendered relations, and the presence of non-German minorities. This shift away from the teaching of a traditional canon of cultural artifacts is in no small part due to conceptual changes in German cultural studies that stress the intersection of cultural productions and perspectives and their intersection with changes in economic structure and political culture (Burns 1995; Kolinsky/van der Will 1998; Tipton 2003). Yet, questions concerning content, structure and learning outcomes of courses on modern and contemporary German culture continue to occupy a prominent space in pedagogical and methodological considerations, particularly the teaching of minority cultures and the question of race in German political and cultural discourse that contest dominant cultural narratives.

    Grounded in teaching experiences and drawing on theoretical considerations of cultural/political border/lines and the concept of hybrid identity, this paper will explore the pedagogical challenges in teaching survey courses on modern German culture. It departs from posing questions about traditional notions of a fixed German national identity as an ethnic identity, and a country that is located within fixed geographical demarcations. Within this frame, the paper’s focus will be on the voices of Black Germans either absent in introductory/survey courses on German culture, or occupying only a marginal space. It suggests ways in which the inclusion of the history of Black Germans challenges the dominant political and cultural narrative of the “German question” in regards to the very question of whether there is a German identity and if so what this identity might be. My presentation will include examples drawn from various media (visual arts, film, literature, and political/cultural essay) to address the problem of the cultural (dis)location of Afro-Germans in modern German culture. It will also consider issues of course organization, context and learning outcomes geared towards providing students with the analytical tools to read and understand cultural narratives as a space of conflicting, competing and/or consensual identifications that are continuously challenged in any given historical moment.

    6. “The Rebel with a Cause: The Intersection of Afro-German and Youth Culture in the German Classroom,” Amanda M. Sheffer, Catholic Univ. of America

    Narratives about Afro-German culture have been criticized for their tendency to focus on the autobiographical story, such as Abini Zöllner’s Schokoladenkind (2003). On the contrary, I suggest this format, focusing on the character’s Bildung, contributes to the protagonist’s development of self-identity, but also allows for the audience to share in this educational experience. Many of our own students relate to these coming-of-age struggles while learning about a new cultural context.

    In this presentation, I draw on my current book project focusing on German youth culture and second generation citizens with a migration background. I have adapted part of this research into a unit for the intermediate German classroom on Armin Völcker’s short film Leroy räumt auf (2006, 18 minutes), which follows the title teenage protagonist coming to terms with his identity. As Afrodeutscher, Leroy deals not only with the problems of coming of age and relationships with his girlfriend, Eva, but also confronts his African heritage through the depiction of African-American Popular Culture, such as the film Shaft. Leroy knows more about classical music than rap or funk. In fact, he speaks German as his first language and plays Beethoven on his cello. This short was so popular it was made into a longer film version in 2007 named Leroy. Drawing on post-identity theory, I will present and show short clips, some materials I created for the classroom, and part of my continuing research in the book project.

    • This topic was modified 10 years, 1 month ago by Katina Rogers. Reason: Fixed typo in title at user's request

    Maria S. Grewe

    A PDF version for printing is available at:


    File name: “Abstracts: #338. Black German History and Culture in Research and Teaching”

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