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Seeing Europe Through a Complex Lens

April 26, 2017

GSD graduate student Moritz Meutzner has long been interested in examining German and European history from a transnational perspective and studying language and culture through a multidisciplinary lens. The University of Minnesota has been the perfect place for him to develop those interests.

While pursuing a major in cultural history and a minor in linguistics in his native Germany at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, Meutzner enrolled in the Transatlantic Seminar, a partnership between Viadrina and Minnesota and sponsored by UMN’s Center for German and European Studies. The international and interdisciplinary program proved to have a profound influence on Meutzner’s academic career, as it included two-week exchanges for students of each campus to visit the other. While in Minnesota, Meutzner began to see himself continuing his studies here. One year later, he had enrolled in GSD’s master’s program in Germanic studies.

Meutzner appreciates the fact that GSD provides a tight-knit family within the greater university community. “There is constant intellectual exchange, with students and faculty members working closely together,” he says. “Your academic development is shaped by the strong support of others.” Not only has Meutzner found a supportive and engaged academic community in GSD, but its diverse mix of American and international scholars and its strong ties with other departments and centers across the University have made it an excellent place for him to pursue his academic interests.

Meutzner is currently working on his dissertation project on the history of German and German-Jewish philologists exiled from Nazi Germany to Turkey and the United States. Focusing on the case of the literary historian Erich Auerbach (1892-1957), who wrote his most influential works on European literature while in Turkey and the US, his research examines the intellectual exchange between German émigrés and Turkish and American scholars. Meutzner studied Turkish at the Free University Berlin and engages with the topic of European-Turkish relations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For his PhD project, he conducts research in Istanbul and national archives in Germany and the US. Studying German exile as a transnational process between Europe, the Middle East, and the US, Meutzner focuses on the complex conflation of these histories and thus explores German history as a case study for broader questions in the critical humanities today.

In 2014, Meutzner served as the assistant director for the German Play, a long-standing departmental tradition dating back to at least 1940. He has a vocational background in theater lighting and interest in drama, theater, and media theory, so this was a natural collaborative outlet for him. Meutzner draws connections between pedagogy of both theater and foreign language learning, noting that questions that arise onstage are often very similar to those of acquiring a new language. Since both theater and language-learning involve performative skills, he believes that awareness of performativity can help students develop their ability to speak a new language. Students start learning languages by repeating phrases and sentences and need to “fake it ‘til they make it,” not unlike an actor learning a new role. Meutzner is interested in ways that theatrical training can enhance language classes and how it might help students to connect their linguistic skills with life outside the classroom.

Meutzner is looking forward to further developing his research and teaching experience in GSD while working towards finishing his dissertation in 2019. In his eyes, the academic community in GSD and across the University of Minnesota campus has provided him not only with many great friends, but also with the exploratory space and the professional training to successfully pursue his career in the international humanities.