German Literary Studies and the Nation

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© 2018, American Association of Teachers of German This paper argues that German literary studies was, from its inception, an entirely nationalist and nation-building endeavor, perhaps the quintessential nationalist project. Among the discipline's foundational premises are its belief in and commitment to a diversity of culturally individuated national communities (rather than one uniform humanity), a non-hierarchical plurality of vernaculars (rather than classical languages), and historically inflected and culturally expressive aesthetic forms (rather than transhistorically and transregionally valid templates of excellence). Three disciplinary activities of early Germanistik—Germanic historical linguistics, vernacular canon formation, and national literary history—are introduced as key instruments of nationalization. In conclusion, the paper claims that contemporary German Studies in the US, thankfully a reflective and critical enterprise, nonetheless remains institutionally completely dependent on the paradigm of the linguistically and culturally defined nation.






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Norberg, J (2018). German Literary Studies and the Nation. German Quarterly, 91(1). pp. 1–17. 10.1111/gequ.12055 Retrieved from

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Jakob Norberg

Professor of German Studies

Jakob Norberg’s research explores conceptions of community in German thought and literature. His first book, Sociability and Its Enemies (Northwestern 2014), examines the search for non-authoritarian forms of collective life after the end of the Second World War and focuses on thinkers such as Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, and Jürgen Habermas. The second book, The Brothers Grimm and the Making of German Nationalism (Cambridge 2022), shows how Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm viewed philologists as arbiters of national identity, even adjudicators of national territory, and therefore as experts indispensable to the modern nation state. A forthcoming book entitled Schopenhauer’s Politics (Cambridge) reconstructs Arthur Schopenhauer’s anti-nationalist, anti-collectivist political philosophy. His articles have appeared in venues such as PMLA, Arcadia, Cultural Critique, New German Critique, Textual Practice, Telos, and the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. More information about Norberg can be found on

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