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Guest professor lectures on German post-war literature

On Friday, March 11, The Women’s Center hosted a lecture by Jennifer Askey, Associate Professor of German at Kansas State University.

Askey analyzed how authors created the “myth” of the German nation after the Thirty Years War and how it was taught to children in the late 19th century.

“This creation occupied the efforts of school teachers, curriculum boards, school book publishers and authors for decades at the end of the 19th century,” Askey said. “The effort wasn’t limited to literature and school materials for children. The late 19th century literary market teemed with novels and stories that thematized the German nation, the German people, their history and their customs.”

One of the most popular historical authors of the 19th century was Gustav Freytag (1816-1895). He wrote Bilder aus der deutschen vergangen heit (Pictures from the German Past) and Die Ahnen (The Ancestors).

These works were often referenced in children’s history books and often imitated.

“The Bilder was considered a rare German work of history that could be read and understood by women. Educators and book publishers also found Freytag’s work was comprehensible to young people,” Askey said.

The reference and imitation of Freytag’s works reveals cultural attitudes about education during this time period in Germany.

“This practice reflected the general belief that women and children, women of any age being a near derivation of a young child, learned best through a process of emotional identification with the subject material, and they should not be burdened with names, dates, battle plans, time lines as might be found in the history books for the all male gymnasium [or all male secondary education institution].”

Askey’s lecture also examined the works of two other German authors who wrote for children. Brigitte Augusti wrote for a predominately girl audience, while Oskar Hocker wrote mostly for boys. The differences in the way these two authors tell the stories of the Thirty Years War reveal a great deal about the culture of Germany at the time of their writings.

“It should come as no surprise that these historical novels reflect the dominate gender ideology of the late 19th century,” Askey said. “Augusti’s novels for girls showcase an emotional role for girls and women in the cumulative family and nation that insists on the importance of the feminine domestic role in the transfer of critical national character traits and moraes. Hocker series provides more historical fact than Augusti’s as well as more depictions of battles and troop movements, more vignettes involving generals and soldiers. His protagonists are young men who yearn for opportunities to make a difference in the field of battle.”

While the lecture describes literature of the late 1800’s about a war over 350 years ago, it is still relevant to how literature is used today.

“I think what is interesting to me is that a lot of thought was put into how to explain trauma, violence and the ugliness of war to young people,” Askey said. “Since we still live in a world with violence and ugliness if you’re not interested in the thirty years war, you can just read the newspaper. How are we going to tell those stories to children? Do we care if those children are boys or girls? Does that change the way we’re going to tell that story and what does it say about us as a community?”


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