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Scribner Seminar 100, Section 34

Projecting History:

Redefining National Identity in Post-Wall German Cinema

Professor Mary-Beth O’Brien
PMH 406 x5216
Office Hours: Tues. 5.30-6.30pm,
Thurs. 2-3 and by appointment
Peer Mentor: Kendra Asplund


Fall 2006
Tues and Thurs 11:10-12:30 in BO 380
Film Showing 7:00-9:00pm in BO 380

Course Description:
With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the Cold War officially ended on German soil. The demise of the German Democratic Republic has paved the way for a redefinition of Germany as a modern state. But how can a divided country whose common jingoist, genocidal past has rendered nationalism deeply suspect begin to conceive of itself as a viable and future-oriented unified nation? This seminar looks at recent German cinema to explore how idealism and political dissent have shaped post-World War II German history and the construction of national identity after reunification in 1990. Students will watch and discuss films about the continuing rift between East and West. We will examine films that present the GDR as an Unrechtsstaat, a fortified prison state replete with police surveillance, scarcity, censorship, and the lack of basic freedoms, and others that promote Ostalgie, a stubborn nostalgia for the East and the missed opportunities of communism. We will also analyze films about the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) or Baader-Meinhof Gang, which illustrate the crushing effect of National Socialism on the ‘68 generation as well as their rebellion against the excesses of the capitalist consumer paradise. Finally, we will study a group of films about the emergence of “creative chaos” as a strategy to protest against the loss of utopian dreams. At the root of our endeavor is to investigate how post-wall German cinema continuously accentuates that history is never an objective past reality just waiting to be uncovered but always mediated and given significance as a constructed narrative. We will explore the notion that historians assemble the past into a coherent and meaningful story through narration, the conscious act of selection, arrangement, and control. Moreover, we will address the postmodern preoccupation with ruptures, discontinuities, and absences to question the master narrative that sees the period 1989-1990 as the inevitable triumph of capitalism over communism.

Learning Goals:
Students will gain fundamental knowledge of the post-World War II German history, the development of German cinema after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the debates surrounding the construction of a shared national identity since reunification.

This Scribner Seminar aims:
To provide students with a basic understanding of recent German history and culture. Themes include the history of the GDR; socialist realism and real existing socialism; the worker’s revolt; the building of the wall; political dissent under communism; the economic miracle in the FRG; the development of terrorism in the FRG; the student movement and peaceful protest; the peaceful revolution of 1989; the fall of the wall; reunification; and the current political and social climate.

General Goals of all Scribner Seminars:
• distinguish among, and formulate, the types of questions asked by different disciplines
• read critically, and gather and interpret evidence
• distinguish among the evidence and methodologies appropriate to different disciplines
• consider and address complexities and ambiguities
• develop the habit of mind of making connections among ideas
• recognize choices, examine assumptions and take a skeptical stance
• formulate conclusions based upon evidence
• communicate those ideas to others both orally and in writing
• relate the results to each student's educational goals

Specific Goals of this Scribner Seminar:
• To develop critical and comparative reading skills by introducing students to both primary and secondary sources
• To enhance the ability to read and think critically about scholarly writing by examining a variety of texts from different theoretical and interpretative perspectives
• To develop better oral and written communication skills
• To foster an awareness of the importance of debate in scholarly writing and knowledge

• Class and Film Screening Attendance, Participation in Discussions (10%)
• Oral Report (10%)
• Three Film Analyses: three essays of 5 pages each (45%)
• Final Research Paper: an essay of 10 pages (35%)

Fourth Credit Hour:
The flexible fourth credit hour will allow us to meet individually to discuss your progress at Skidmore, work on the mechanics of writing, review effective learning strategies, and learn about each other’s interests and intellectual passions. As a group we will venture into Scribner Library together and evaluate various print and electronic resources. In addition, we will meet with participants in other Scribner Seminars to discuss and debate common issues, readings, or theoretical perspectives.

Required Films:
The following films will be shown once a week on Tuesday evenings from 7-9 in BO 380 starting Thursday, Sept. 21st and attendance is required. All films are in German with English subtitles. Since several of the films are zone 2 (Europe), you will need to see the films in the scheduled film hour in BO 380.

1. Berlin is in Germany (Hannes Stöhr, 2001)
2. Der Tunnel (The Tunnel, Roland Suso Richter, 2001)
3. Das Versprechen (The Promise, Margarethe von Trotta, 1994)
4. Raus aus der Haut (Shedding Skins, 1997, Andreas Dresen)
5. Die Stille nach dem Schuß (The Legend of Rita, 1999, Volker Schlöndorff)
6. Baader (2002, Christopher Roth)
7. Was tun, wenn's brennt? (What to Do in Case of Fire?, 2002, Gregor Schnitzler)
8. Goodbye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
9. Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei (The Edukators, Hans Weingartner, 2005)

Required Texts:

Jarausch, Konrad and Michael Geyer. Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories. Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN: 069105936.
Landy, Marcia, ed. The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media. Rutgers University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0813528569.
White, Hayden. The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8018-4115-1

Selected Readings will be distributed in class.




Creative Thought Matters.
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