Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sabine Rothemann, IES Abroad Freiburg

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Dr. Sabine Rothemann has been teaching at IES Abroad Freiburg since 2013. She holds a Ph.D. in German Literature from Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, and studied German, Philosophy, and Romance languages and literature in Tübingen and Paris as well. Dr. Rothemann writes essays on literature, politics, and society in magazines, and has co-edited a three-volume book publication about the literary history of European modernity. In addition to her numerous magazine articles, she’s published poetry and prose in reputable literary anthologies.


IES Abroad: What course can IES Abroad students take with you in Freiburg, Germany?

Dr. Sabine Rothemann: I teach CP/LT 411 Modern German Literature 1900-1945 in the Freiburg Language & Area Studies Program. The course focuses on some of the most significant authors and developments in German literature from the turn of the century until 1945, in particular, the literary movement Modernity.

IES Abroad: Your Modern German Literature course engages students analyzing not only the German literature, but also German language. What types of activities do you incorporate to make sure those with less knowledge of German understand the historic context of what they’re reading?

studying abroad in Germany

SR: I approach this the other way round, starting with abundance: It is not a question of emphasizing the background knowledge that is lacking, but rather of including fragments that the students have encountered regarding European culture, history, and literature. Frequently students are acquainted with several tales from Franz Kafka. It is highly interesting—the new and enriching light with which they regard Kafka’s tales after the seminar, in particular the tale “The Metamorphosis”.

By activating the students’ knowledge of American history, it becomes increasingly clear to them to what extent their history is also part and parcel of European history. It is always lucrative to include the history of transatlantic migration in class and focus on reciprocal migration movements.

As a support it would be a great advantage for the students to read Wolfgang Schmale’s A Transcultural History of Europe – Perspectives of Historical Migration in Europe and the Transatlantic Region of America, which is available on the web.

IES Abroad: Do you have any other recommended readings for students before they come to study abroad in Freiburg?

SR: Yes, two more important and very informative publications are:

  1. Silvio Vietta: Europäische Kulturgeschichte. Eine Einführung, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München 2005
  2. Alf Lüdtke (Hrsg.): Amerikanisierung. Traum und Alptraum im Deutschland des 20. Jahrhunderts, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 1996

IES Abroad: While all students in the Freiburg – Language & Area Studies Program are required to have four semesters of German, not all are at the same level. How do you go about both supporting and challenging your students in their language learning?

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SR: Each new language acquisition leads to an increased awareness of a person’s native language. It is translated and both languages are compared to one another. This is the starting point.

From my extensive experience in teaching the German language, I am very aware that even in a pure language course it is not just a matter of learning a foreign language, but above all, experiencing and relaying cultures. In a seminar on literature, which in the best sense of the word is also a language seminar, it is all the more important to be responsive to the cultural characteristics in Europe with reference to transatlantic regions. On the basis of examples from the visual arts, theater, and music, themes rooted in antiquity arise, which refer back to diverse interpretations influenced by history. Students develop a feeling for varying occidental themes which depend on the epoch, and a feeling for historical observations on Europe.

Through the action of combining traditions and elements of language, the existing heterogeneous language levels gradually fuse together from their chaos, which can be described as a linguistic Babylon. In this way the path is well paved for dealing with literary texts. The students are required to include their varying realms of knowledge in our discussions, whereby of course I support them linguistically with their contributions. It is very important to me that newly learnt material is connected to a positive feeling. The seminar offers the opportunity to approach complex and hitherto encountered texts and to confront them with humor and spontaneity.

study abroad in freiburg

A central point of my tuition consists in discovering and learning something new with humor and inquisitive astonishment. My intention is for students to come to the seminar full of verve and zest. Their readiness and will to experience something new is intrinsically dependent on the atmosphere in the seminar.

A prevailing tone that is relaxed and cheerful, yet still highly concentrated, creates a dynamic which enables the participants to listen and respond to one another constructively. This simplifies the task of analyzing texts which are still completely unknown to them. By means of my guiding moderation we collect the threads of the various questions regarding comprehension together with personal contributions and bundle them into structures, in order to finally weave a carpet together for a deeper understanding.

IES Abroad: What has been the most interesting question you’ve received from an IES Abroad student in your Modern German Literature course? What was your response?

SR: I particularly remember one student asking whether modern German literature still includes expressionist and experimental language. Unfortunately, I had to answer in the negative, and said that nowadays there was far less experimentation with the language and that the story and coherent prose had again come to the forefront. This was a shame, as authors were no longer well informed about past literary movements and literary forms.

I added that this could be attributed to the fact that writers feared the more they knew, the more likely it would be that their own inspiration would be impeded. Instead it could be possible that knowledge of past literary movements could advance creativity. A highly interesting discussion on examples of modern American literature then followed.

IES Abroad: What do you hope students take away from your course, and from their time studying abroad in Germany?

Freiburg, Germany

SR: Plenty of stimulation and new insights. I always hope to encourage independent thinking through my seminar.               

IES Abroad: What is your proudest career achievement?

SR: In my many years working as a professor, I have repeatedly experienced the fact that the relaying of content is primarily dependent on the way the material is taught and is affected by the personality of the professor.

My main success is the ability to create moments of sudden insight for the students and to release them again with newly founded perspectives for their studies and their career goals. I am extremely fortunate to be able to combine instruction with my work as a journalist and author.

Take Dr. Rothemann’s German Literature course when you study abroad in Freiburg, Germany!

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