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Unit information: Exiles and Migrants in German Literature in 2020/21

Unit name Exiles and Migrants in German Literature
Unit code GERM30058
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Davies
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Germany’s history has consistently been one of population movements: of emigration and exile, of immigration and asylum. Emigration overseas was ever-present in German life in the nineteenth century just as the recruitment of immigrant workers by the Federal Republic has shaped German culture today. Thousands of Germans escaped into exile from the ‘Third Reich’, and political circumstances also drove Germans from their homes during the French Revolution, in the ‘Vormärz’ before 1848, under the anti-Socialist laws of the 1880s and during the forty-year division of Germany after 1949.

German Exilforschung has traditionally worked on literature between 1933 and 1945; this unit will place the study of that focal period into a wider context, from the 1790s to the present. We will first analyse a series of personal and theoretical reflections on exile: these form a background to the unit and are the subject of the first piece of assessed work. From this basis the unit will then focus on selected, longer literary texts in detail.

This unit gives a historical survey of Exilliteratur but also asks fundamental questions about the nature of literature and of literary authorship. Is there really such a genre as ‘exile literature’, and if there is, then what defines it? What are the connections, if any, between physical exile and the idea of the intellectual as a social critic and outsider? To what extent has exile in the present been articulated through models of exile from the past – extending back as far as Cicero and Ovid – and what marks out the writings of emigrants in German today? Students will be expected to be proficient in German as source material will be in German.

The unit thus aims:

  • to provide a formal history of exile and migration, as ideas and realities, in the German-speaking world
  • to develop knowledge of literary texts that are rooted in, and representative of, that history
  • to enable students to develop their own critical insights into literature
  • to develop a critical awareness of literary genre
  • to enhance students’ linguistic skills by close reading of literary and critical texts in German.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. determine the significance of German-language exile writing in the history of German thought and culture;
  2. select and synthesise a range of statements on exile written in German;
  3. compare, in writing, a set of contrasting reflections on the experience and nature of exile;
  4. analyse a range of literary texts, independently searching for characteristics of theme and style;
  5. develop an independent evaluation of a literary work, relating it to other literary texts and to theoretical and critical writings.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Details

1 x 1500-word essay (30%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

1 x 3500-word essay (70%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Texts for study (further short texts will be supplied in a reader and/or on Blackboard):

Heinrich Heine, Jehuda ben Halevy (in Romanzero, 1851)

Veza Canetti, Die Schildkröten (1939)

W. G. Sebald, Die Ausgewanderten (1992)

Abbas Khider, Der falsche Inder (2008)

Introductory reading:

The Cambridge History of German Literature, ed. by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly (Cambridge, 1997), chapters 6-9

Simon Goldhill, ‘Whose Antiquity? Whose Modernity? The “Rainbow Bridges” of Exile’, Antike und Abendland 46 (2000), 1-20 (ASS Library: Serial PA3009.A5)

Jost Hermand, Culture in Dark Times: Nazi Fascism, Inner Emigration and Exile (New York/Oxford, 2013), esp. part 3.