Connecting Literary Studies and Teaching Literature

In Germany, future teachers of foreign languages do not only develop their language proficiency, but they also study linguistics, literary studies and foreign language pedagogy (didactics, as it is termed in Germany). Since, at most German universities, all of these are autonomous disciplines, this raises questions of interdisciplinary correspondences, coordination and interrelatedness between all of them, even inside the same university department. This potential lack of coherence between the various strands of university study programmes poses a considerable challenge to university classrooms, teachers and students alike.

The Interdisciplinarity of Teacher Education in the Languages

At long last, this issue was recently addressed in a series of interdisciplinary conferences:

  • Perspectives of Teaching Romance Languages in Salzburg, Austria, in 2015
  • a symposium in Wuppertal, Germany, titled Coherence and Correspondence in University Teacher Education, organized by Prof. Dr. Baerbel Diehr in the summer of 2017
  • a panel named Mediating Literature? at the annual Romance Studies Conference in Zurich in 2017
  • this year’s annual Spring Research Conference on Teaching Foreign Languages, gathering at Rauischholzhausen Castle, Giessen/Marburg, Germany.

Most recently, the interdisciplinary conference titled

  • Controversial. Literary Pedagogy meets Literary Studies in Bremen, organized by Prof. Dr. Andreas Grünewald, Dr. Maike Hethey and Dr. Karen Struve

discussed strategies of how theory in the academic disciplines, language pedagogies and literary studies from across the philologies could be connected to the corresponding fields in other disciplines and languages.

Reflective Strategies

If any general conclusions can be drawn at all after the Bremen conference, it is a general insight into the need to develop a reflective practice of interdisciplinary academic research and strategies for this endeavour in university classrooms. The following could be the pillars of establishing such interdisciplinary correspondences in studying and teaching literature:

1 A theory-based study of literature: As Ellen Grünkemeier, Dagmar Stöfele and Jürgen Wehrmann demonstrated, theoretically founded approaches to literature do not only equip students with a repertoire of more systematic ways of reading literary texts, but they also provide them with insight into the relativity of readings and their dependence on underlying (often subjective) theories. There is an emancipatory dimension in such theory-based approaches since they allow future teachers to make their own critical judgements on readings presented in course books, curricula, school editions of literary texts and model interpretations.

2 Interdisciplinary dialogue and research: The Bremen conference produced rich evidence of the current lack of interdisciplinary attention between the various philologies and pedagogies regarding their respective theoretical foundations and approaches on the one hand, and the great potential of interdisciplinary collaboration and research on the other. Many of the recent developments in the language pedagogies benefit from concepts and approaches in the study of culture in the broadest sense, and, as the author of this blog argued in his keynote, literary studies could in a similar fashion also benefit from an openness towards new approaches in the field of teaching literature — whether that’s new and popular aesthetic literary forms (like short digital videos, fan comics or types of autobiography) or a broad range of signifying languages and practices employed by young people that require multiple literacies beyond verbal languages.

3 Literary Methodologies, like close reading as an analytical, wide reading as a contextualizing method or the systematic identification of intermedial references in a novel (as demonstrated in a case study by Benjamin Inal), provide students in university and in school classrooms with literary tools that have high transfer potential beyond the individual literary text that is examined. Methodologies can act as interdisciplinary bridges connecting literary studies and literary pedagogies and also the various philologies and languages.

4 Literature as a field of cultural practice: During a marvelous evening with Iris Radisch, editor-in-chief of Die Zeit literature and art section and expert in French post-war literature and philosophy, all of the participants and a large non-academic audience had the unique chance to experience how and in what sense literature can and must be regarded as an important field of cultural practice. This is why Carola Surkamp, in her paper on digital literature and literary practices, emphasized the pedagogical imperative to equip teacher students and young people in literary school classrooms with a discourse competence that makes it possible for them to participate and to critically position themselves in the field of reading and also producing literature, films and other, maybe even more innovative aesthetic artefacts.

Interdisciplinary awareness

The series of conferences (and corresponding publications) provides us with good reasons to hope that there is a new, reflective and critical interdisciplinary awareness emerging that may lead to new forms of dialogue, collaboration and interdisciplinary research and teaching in higher education. There is a lot to be gained for the literary classroom, in university and school education alike.

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet