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Unit information: Modern German Thought and Thinkers in 2018/19

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Unit name Modern German Thought and Thinkers
Unit code GERM10038
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Debbie Pinfold
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Richard McClelland.

This unit introduces students to the study of German philosophy through key landmarks in German thought from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Students will be encouraged to develop their close reading skills through intensive engagement with significant texts in the original German and to expand their understanding of individual philosophers through independent research. Through critical engagement with the core text for the unit (de Berg and Large below, which presents exclusively male philosophers and which will be supplemented by the unit director) the unit will also encourage students to consider critically the concept of the canon: to understand how the canon is constructed and how it might be expanded. The unit aims to develop students’ skills of critical analysis and synthesis, informed discussion, and the presentation of their ideas in a structured manner, both in writing and orally. It consists of a series of 11 seminars, 9 of which will be focused on different individual philosophers.

The unit thus aims:

  • To develop a critical understanding of key figures and developments in the history of German thought
  • To develop an understanding of canon construction and the implications of the canon
  • To develop students’ sensitivity to key principles and tools for the analysis and understanding of German thought
  • To develop students’ ability to to select, synthesise and evaluate relevant material and to present it engagingly in oral form
  • To inculcate good practices and attitudes in study at university level, including: precision, curiosity, creativity, independence and imagination
  • To enhance students’ capacity to engage closely and critically, in oral discussion and in writing, with primary material and with scholarship
  • To develop key technical skills for university study, notably in research, close reading, independent analysis and reasoned debate.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, successful students will have demonstrated:

  1. Knowledge of key figures in German thought and their historical, intellectual and political significance as appropriate to level c.
  2. Skills of textual close reading and sophisticated analytical skills and methods appropriate to Level C.
  3. Experience in obtaining and critically researching relevant scholarship (via the library and IT resources) and an ability synthesise the results of this research in precise, independent arguments, in writing, oral presentations, and class discussions.

Teaching details

One 1-hour Lecture per week.

One 2 hour seminar per week

The seminars will include short, informal lectures, student presentations, group work, and full class discussion, and will provide students with opportunities to prepare for the summative assessments.

Assessment Details

Assignment 1: One class presentation (maximum 5 minutes per person) to include a handout not exceeding 1 side of A4 and a slideshow presentation (50%; tests ILOs 1 and 3).

Assignment 2: One 1,500 word portfolio of three short responses to extracts from texts discussed in the seminar (50%) (tests ILOs 1-3)

Reading and References

Henk de Berg and Duncan Large (eds), Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas: An Annotated German-Language Reader (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012)

Steve Buckler, Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011). Online. Available at:

Linda Zerilli, "Feminist Theory and the Canon of Political Thought." In The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Online. Available at:

Paul Gilroy, "Multiculturalism and Postā€colonial Theory." In The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Online. Available at:

J.G.A. Pocock, "Theory in History: Problems of Context and Narrative." In The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Online. Available at: