Mission Statement

The German Department’s mission is to engage a wider audience of students within the Barnard Community. Its curricular program and cultural events serve a large and diverse academic community on the Barnard and Columbia campuses. The Department is committed to creating venues for students, faculty and the public interested in the many facets of cultural life in the German-speaking countries or communities.

As an active contributor to campus life, the Department has constantly initiated new venues—from readings, lectures and film screenings to excursions—to supplement and enrich its annual course offerings. In disciplines such as Art History, Philosophy or History, a familiarity with the German language is an asset; in interdisciplinary areas such as Comparative Literature or European Studies, German often serves as the main or second language of study.

It is the goal of our department:

  • to teach the German language in a professionally reflected manner through a clear sequence of courses
  • to help attain and expand knowledge of Austrian, German and Swiss literatures through reading exemplary texts in theme- or period-oriented courses
  • to make familiar with characteristic features of Germanophone cultures by raising awareness of their geographical diversity and their historical richness in introductory survey courses
  • to give students the rhetorical and intellectual tools for moving confidently between two languages’ cultural traditions by offering exercises, sketches and other forms of active participation from elementary to advanced levels of expression
  • to create a learning environment that instills appreciation for critical thought and is conducive to acquiring a clearly defined set of skills, from language proficiency to interpretive adroitness and intercultural literacy

Students taking courses in German can expect to acquire a proficiency in the language; a broad knowledge of literary genres and traditions; a methodological know-how in reading cultural manifestations; an understanding of key moments in the history of the German-speaking parts of modern Europe; and an awareness of contemporary social issues.

While students of German become familiar with themes, theoretical frameworks and traditions typical of the discipline, they also develop and refine skills with application well beyond the field of German Literature and Culture, including:

  • the ability to analyze, interpret and critically discuss texts and related media
  • a competence in carrying out both guided and independent research in the humanities
  • an aptitude to articulate critical insights in a cogent and convincing manner
  • the capacity to adopt intercultural awareness and transnational perspective through translational practices and comprehension of different cultural expectations

Structure of the Program

In close cooperation with the Columbia Department of Germanic Languages, the Barnard program provides sequenced undergraduate courses in German language, literature, and culture, catering to a variety of student needs and interests.

The program comprises the following:

  • Individual language courses offer classroom instruction from beginners to fourth-year level
  • Full-immersion courses allow for accelerated language acquisition and theme-oriented cultural literacy courses for advanced learners of German
  • Courses requiring no knowledge of the German language offer introductions to German literature and concepts of culture; to specific areas of German intellectual life and political history; and to masterworks of German film
  • Upper-level survey courses offer introductions to selected areas of German literature and culture

All language courses offered at Barnard and Columbia are designed to guide students from their current language proficiency levels through well defined stages in writing, speaking and comprehension so that students will reach an advanced college-level literacy in German and enhance their knowledge of German literature and culture, depending on which one of the two tracks of program they have chosen.

Assessment Tools

The German Department has adopted various methods of providing feedback to students about their learning progress and measuring levels of performance. In the first two years of language acquisition, frequent quizzes, standardized oral and written exams are the main components of testing student achievement. On the advanced level, students learn about their performance through regularly evaluated writing samples, from frequently assigned homework assignments to portfolios and short essays, as well as regular assessments of their oral contributions to classroom discussions to classroom presentations and responses to oral exam questions.

While each instructor might differ in defining course goals, the Barnard Department of German has firmly established a common practice: on the upper level, it is reasonable to expect three essays, accumulating approximately 16 pages per semester, written in German, in a literature or culture course. In courses taught in English, essays can be a bit longer, accumulating no more than 20 pages per semester, depending on the nature of the assignment. Barnard 3000-level courses include a three-hour in-class final examination in which the overall comprehension of the course material is tested.

Students who complete the elementary and intermediate courses can expect to reach the ability to function in everyday situations in a German-speaking environment and to have a solid basis for studying German language, literature, film and culture at the upper-level.

Students who complete advanced language, literature, film or culture courses will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultural life in German-speaking countries, past and present; they will be able to comprehend spoken and written German to the level of understanding expository, journalistic and literary texts; they will have reached or will be well on their way to reaching the linguistic and cultural capacity for engaging in complex forms of intellectual discourse, both in written and spoken German.