What is perhaps most exciting and stimulating about German Studies is its interdisciplinary. It isn’t limited to a single field or aspect of history, philosophy, literature, art, and so on. Rather, it is a door to a series of conversations on all these categories in a language that has its own fundamental ontological quality, and the speakers in these conversations include some of the most brilliant minds of all time. While its not always necessary to be able to understand many of the ideas and read texts in translation, an understanding of the German language allows one to participate in these conversations and engage with the texts at a more meaningful level. In this sense, German Studies is a perfect major for someone who can’t decide one single area of study because so many are interesting, and wants to come out of school having learned a foreign language, which is unfortunately something that too few Americans do.
I first started learning German because, while I had studied Russian in high school, I never got to the level of truly having learned it. Many of my friends and I had taken an interest in Ezra Pound and James Joyce at the end of our time in high school, writers whose vigorous engagement with many languages in their works put our own language abilities to shame. Of course, I didn’t end up learning one of the “Ezra Pound favorite languages,” but was also in the midst of a long-lasting Nietzsche obsession, thus German it was. German Studies classes at William and Mary introduced me to a very rich philosophical tradition that includes Nietzsche and so many more thinkers that have radically changed the way I see the world. A few shoutouts go to, but aren’t limited to: Novalis, Spinoza (not German but very influential in Germany), Walter Benjamin, Marx, Heinrich Heine, Friedrich Hölderlin, and the enfant terrible of New German Cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is hard to think of how many of these I would have been exposed to had I not studied their language.