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Institute Format


About the Institute

Prior experience has shown that an intensive, but relaxed atmosphere provides an excellent environment for scholarly exploration and exchange, as for forging teaching and research collaborations and long-term professional relationships. The Institute presents a balanced program of film screenings, scholarly presentations, and workshops. Workshop sessions follow varied formats, in order to be more stimulating and engaging; workshops may include film or music clips, or short presentations of artworks, and a portion of many workshops is spent in relaxed, small-group discussions. Three workshops focus on pedagogical skills, and time is set aside for participants to meet with faculty and for individual or small-group work, culminating in an opportunity to discuss curriculum and research projects with the group as a whole.

The Institute syllabus is structured in rough chronological order, as a way to provide a historical overview of cultural developments over the course of the Cold War. Within this overarching framework, guiding questions and themes are drawn from recent scholarship in our four core disciplines. In musicology, early post-Wall research on the GDR (1990s to early 2000s) focused on the impact of ideology on the music composed (and censored). In the last ten years, in contrast, scholarly interests have broadened to include the GDR’s unique contribution to opera films, the role of Germany’s cultural heritage, and non-classical genres, such as jazz, punk, and rock music. Exceptionally, in the GDR prominent composers wrote music for both film and concert hall, making film music one of the more important of these neglected repertoires. Parallel to film history scholars, musicologists are now also exploring issues of continuity and change, musical memory and nostalgia, and the role of minorities and women. Finally, work is being done to recuperate repertoires lost in the 1990s.

In art history, scholarship on East German art continues to be influenced by some Cold War-era stereotypes: while some assume that there was no modern art in the GDR at all, others privilege non-traditional media—such as performance, installation art, and Super-8 film—because of the assumed “dissident” stance of these artists. In fact, however, East German visual arts represent a rich field for exploring work in a range of styles and media, in response to questions about: historical continuities and ruptures with the art of earlier centuries and decades; the impact of Nazism, the Holocaust and WWII on artworks; ties to artistic developments in the socialist East and the capitalist West; the role of minority and women artists; and the ties of visual artists to those working in music and film.

US scholarship on the cinema of East Germany, primarily within German studies, has become quite diversified over the last ten years, while Institute faculty member Seán Allan has been leading parallel research efforts in the UK. Concurrently, the DEFA Film Library has helped make GDR cinema better known to English-language audiences. Although certain GDR films have long been acclaimed as artworks in their own right, masterpieces continue to become available with subtitles. Many other Institute films are virtually unknown, selected to highlight cultural trends, the contributions of specific composers or artists, or the treatment of art and artists as subject matter. This last category—Künstlerfilme (artist films), including newsreels, documentaries, and feature films—made up a significant part of the East German DEFA Studio’s output. Much more than conventional “biopics,” their internationalist aspirations and wide-ranging historical perspective made them highly contested vehicles for debates about cultural policies and new paradigms for socialist art in post-war Europe.

About the Institute