About

In 2010 Christiane Weller, Franz-Josef Deiters and Axel Fliethmann, three current members of the German program at Monash published a book about “50 Years of German Studies at Monash University”, a unique project among all German programs in Australia and probably any language program at an Australian University. It looks back at the influence the German program at Monash had in the academic build up of language programs across Australia and features the outstanding academics that have defined the German program. Many of those contributors have either worked at Monash or have received their PhD from the German program to then go on and have national or international academic careers. Michael Clyne (Prof. @ Monash University and later the University of Melbourne), Barbara Einhorn (Prof @ University of Sussex), Rita Felski (Prof. @ University of Viginia, USA), Peter Morgan (Prof @ University of Sydney), Marko Pavlyshyn (Prof @ Monash University), Kate Rigby (Prof @ Monash University) or Anne Cutler (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmwegen, The Netherlands), to name just a few.

The following excerpts are taken from one of the introductory texts of the published volume and were written by a now retired colleague, who had joined the German program in its beginnings, Prof Philip Thomson, who later became the founding Head of our School.

“German Studies has existed at Monash, in the active sense, for as long as the university itself. Teaching and research began in the German Program of the then Department of Modern Languages in that same year. A Chair of German was established in 1962, with Leslie Bodi appointed as Foundation Professor in 1963.

The Department of German (as it became) was a friendly and harmonious place. By this I certainly do not imply any absence of argument, robust debate and even conflict. On the contrary, discussions about all manner of things, from new course offerings to the relative merits of newly emerging German authors, were typically carried out in a robust fashion, with raised voices, indignant protests and even virtual insults being completely normal. More than one dean, witnessing the German Department in discussion around a table in the staff club, has worriedly approached its senior members later to enquire whether German had any real chance of survival at Monash. Despite the violent arguments, grudges were very rarely held, and laughter of an equally violent kind was common.

Before the 1960s, people did not do doctorates at Australian universities.  Postgraduates in languages sometimes did a doctorate in Europe. Under Leslie Bodi it became a requirement that all young academics either possessed a PhD on appointment or began one immediately. This development, which quickly became the norm across Australian universities, was symptomatic of the rapid professionalisation of academic life, which was reflected, in the case of Monash German, in the development of serious language courses in which curriculum design and teaching methods were based on sound linguistic principles and often underpinned by applied research on the part of the colleagues who taught these courses.

The German program never subscribed to the traditional narrow conception and practice of Germanistik, which survived the upheavals of 1968 more successfully than is perhaps commonly thought. Here too we were in a small minority: of the eleven departments of German that then existed in Australian universities, only New South Wales, where John Milfull headed an energetic group, was engaged in the sort of German studies that Monash was committed to, broad-ranging, interdisciplinary and contemporary.

Monash was a leader in the inclusion of German linguistics as a major part of its program too. From 1963 Michael Clyne led this part of the enterprise, before moving to the Department of Linguistics in 1988 as Professor. Clyne pioneered the study of migrant languages, and was a key figure in the promotion of multiculturalism in Australia. When work in the area of migrant studies finally became formalised in the Centre for Migrant Studies, Clyne became its foundation director.

German at Monash made Austria, Switzerland and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) important aspects of teaching and research, resisting the near-universal tendency to equate contemporary German culture with the culture of the Federal Republic (West Germany).

Relations with the various German higher education bodies – Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung – have been consistently lively and productive. It is significant that Dr Heinrich Pfeiffer, the distinguished and long-serving Director of the Humboldt-Stiftung, the most important and prestigious German research institution, was awarded an honorary doctorate at Monash in 1994; and appropriate as well, since no fewer than nine members of German Studies at Monash have been recipients of Humboldt Foundation fellowships and other awards over the years. Three of its past or present members (Bodi, Clyne and Veit) hold the German Bundesverdienstkreuz and Michael Clyne was awarded the prestigious Jakob und Wilhelm Grimm-Preis. Four colleagues are Fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

The DAAD has been particularly important to foreign Germanistik as the provider of scholarships for undergraduates and graduates to fund study at German universities, and as the organiser of the system of ‘Kurzzeitdozenten’, in which distinguished professors from German universities take up short-term visiting posts in Australia. Monash has benefited greatly from both these schemes, and has managed to secure a high rate of representation among scholarship holders. The same desire to maintain productive contact with German institutions is reflected in our close collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural institute.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that the cohesiveness I described before has lasted. It is in the nature of academic life that egos clash, powerful ambitions produce jealousies and strife, career needs and aspirations get in the way of genuine friendship. Past and present members of German Studies at Monash not only still speak to each other (in English and German, and characteristically in a mixture of the two), they enjoy cordial relations, and a remarkable number of them are close friends.”

Philip Thomson, German Studies at Monash University, in: Passages: 50 years of German Studies at Monash University, edited by Franz-Josef Deiters, Axel Fliethmann and Christiane Weller. St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag 2010.