GSA Prize for the Best Essay in German Studies by a Graduate Student
This prize is awarded to the best unpublished, article-length manuscript written by a graduate student during the previous year. The prize winner is recognized at the annual banquet of the GSA, and a revised version of the essay will be published in German Studies Review.
2023 Recipient of the Graduate Student Essay Prize
In his essay, “The Reception of Homoeroticism in the Works of Karl May: A Case Study in the Intellectual History of Sexuality in Post-War Germany,” Christian Meyer brilliantly excavates and analyzes a high-temperature debate among scholars, writers, and Karl May enthusiasts about the disputed presence and ultimate meaning of homoeroticism in the life and work of Karl May. The author shows that this debate was shaped by larger changes in West German society, culture, and politics during the 1960s and the 1970s, particularly the movement to decriminalize homosexuality and changing understandings of the Nazi past, specifically the relationship between Nazism and sexuality. Meyer convincingly argues that the reception of homoeroticism in Karl May’s work can shed new light on the intellectual and cultural history of sexuality in postwar West Germany. He points to the important role that psychoanalytic ideas, shaped by the Nazis and vulgarized in postwar decades, played in the debate on May’s homoeroticism and in the continuing pathologization of homosexuality, even after it was largely decriminalized in 1969.
“The Reception of Homoeroticism in the Works of Karl May,” is a creative and ambitious essay. It is based on a robust and unique source base and engages intelligently with the relevant historiography. The committee congratulates Christian Meyer on his engaging and insightful contribution to the history of sexuality and Karl May studies in postwar West Germany.
Previous recipients of the Graduate Student Essay Prize
2022 Winner of the GSA Prize for the Best Essay in German Studies by a Graduate Student: Qingyang Freya Zhou (University of California-Berkeley): “‘A Temporality of Imminent, Never-Consummated Arrival’: Contemporary German Documentaries on North Korea”
2022 Prize Committee: Laurie Johnson (U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Committee Chair), Carl Gelderloos (SUNY Binghamton), and Jon Olson (UMass Amherst).
Zhou’s essay uses close readings of contemporary documentaries to re-assess socialist experiments in the 20th century, as well as to illuminate the status of political documentary in the 21st. The stakes of the argument and the importance of Zhou’s intervention into scholarship on contemporary documentary are immediately clear and Zhou’s transnational analysis (two Germanies/two Koreas) is especially noteworthy given that it is very difficult to do nuanced, accurate, in-depth transnational analysis that preserves important historical and cultural differences while also creating compelling synchronicities or affinities between the nations/places discussed. Zhou’s paper does just that, while it is also multi-vectored, as she considers affinities and ruptures between portrayals and perceptions of the two Germanies and the two Koreas in different eras. In other words, the paper is spatially and temporally complex while also displaying coherence and accessibility. The readings of the individual films are masterfully done; they are specific even as they develop broader themes (such as the similarities and differences between German and Korean notions of “home” and the ways in which the film My Brothers and Sisters in the North is and is not a Heimatfilm). The committee congratulates Qingyang Freya Zhou on this impressive contribution to transnational German Studies.
2022 Honorable Mention, German Studies Association Graduate Student Essay Prize:
David Takamura, University of North Carolina-Duke University: “Answering Egoism: Tieck’s Alternative Theory of Romantic Irony”
The honorable-mention essay by David Takamura is an ambitious, energetic defense of Ludwig Tieck’s literary work with irony. The committee was most impressed with the compelling ways in which Takamura reclaims literature as philosophy. The paper demonstrates admirable knowledge of Early Romanticism and its core concepts. By re-reading Tieck’s William Lovell, Takamura re-defines Romantic irony in ways that may well bring it closer to its Idealist origins. He persuasively defends irony against accusations of solipsism and subjectivism, something that the earliest Romanticism arguably also did. In so doing, Takamura resituates our understanding of Romantic irony (moving it most prominently away from its latest definitions by Friedrich Schlegel) and also shows that literature can be a place for an invigorating working-through of philosophical debates and issues.
2021 Winner of the GSA Prize for the Best Essay in German Studies by a Graduate Student: Philip Decker (Princeton University): “Wagner in Moscow, Glinka in Berlin: An Exchange of Operas during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Years”
2021 Prize Committee: A. Dana Weber (Florida State University; Committee Chair), Eric Kurlander (Stetson University), and Ervin Malakaj (University of British Columbia).
Philip Decker was awarded the 2021 GSA Prize for the Best Essay by a Graduate Student for “Wagner in Moscow, Glinka in Berlin: An Exchange of Operas during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Years.” The essay concerns the brief period of rapprochement between the USSR and Nazi Germany 1939-1941. Decker brings this era to life through an innovative examination of a set of opera performances that call into question received understandings about the cultural transfer between the two countries at that time. The essay expands existing historiography by means of a nuanced cross-medial analysis of the productions’ complex political, artistic, and social contexts. It considers their emergence and reception and thereby uncovers how those involved found value in the cultural exchanges surrounding the productions and were genuinely invested in these exchanges. “Wagner in Moscow, Glinka in Berlin: An Exchange of Operas during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Years” challenges views that consider the period’s German-Russian relations as fundamentally insincere and self-interested. On the contrary, as Decker demonstrates, cultural exchanges—no matter how politically controlled—generated open-ended artistic outcomes not entirely subject to political lockstep. Decker’s command of big-picture historiography, which the essay carefully brings in conversation with individual artistic practices, impressed the committee. As did the author’s ingenuity and sophistication in developing the analysis that eloquently brings together transnational expertise and methodology to examine a complicated and controversial historical topic.
2021 Honorable Mention, German Studies Association Graduate Student Essay Prize:
Kimberly Cheng, New York University: “The Trial of Lam See-Woh: Chinese Men and German Women in Hamburg, 1933–1947”
Kimberly Cheng was awarded an Honorable Mention for the 2021 GSA Prize for the Best Essay by a Graduate Student with the submission “The Trial of Lam See-Woh: Chinese Men and German Women in Hamburg, 1933–1947.” This essay offers important insights about the history of racialization of Chinese men in Germany during the Nazi era and the first years after its end. It does so by carefully reconstructing the turbulent relationship between a Chinese man and a German woman by drawing on various official documents. The submission persuasively offers what would be an urgent study detailing the complexities attending interracial relationality that complicates assumptions about citizenship, gender, and race during this period. The committee was impressed with the meticulous archival work and contextualization of the documents.
2020 Prize Competition
Due to the pandemic, there was no prize awarded in 2020.
2019 Winner Announced
The GSA Prize for the Best Essay by a Graduate Student written in 2018 was awarded to Peter B. Thompson (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) for his essay “Wardens of the Toxic World: German Women’s Encounters with the Gas Mask, 1915-1945.” It will be published in a forthcoming issue of the German Studies Review.
Here is the prinze committee’s laudatio:
“Wardens of the Toxic World: German Women’s Encounters with the Gas Mask, 1915-1945,” brilliantly establishes the relationship between gender and the gas mask to show how women carved out military and technological spaces for themselves within the patriarchal world of Weimar and Nazi Germany. In cogent and persuasive prose, the author demonstrates the continuities of gendered expectations over time and the limited reach of the so-called New Woman, arguing that the specific needs of the state to educate the public about gas masks and proper procedures during air raids offered a different form of “emancipation” for women – one that took advantage of, instead of challenging, dominant norms. Impressive about “Wardens of the Toxic World” is its command of the complexity of the place of the gas mask in both real life and the social and technological imaginary of the period. Technical knowledge of chemistry and 21 industrial techniques is connected with analysis of political developments and cultural discourses culled from a wide range of primary texts and cultural objects, which are examined critically both in their own right and in the context of previous research. The author effectively brings together multiple strands of historiography into a whole greater than the sum of its equally fascinating parts.
Prize Committee: Sara Hall (University of Illinois at Chicago, chair), Stephen Lazer (Arizona State University), Peter McIsaac (University of Michigan).
2018 Winner Announced
The winner is Matthias Müller (Cornell University) for his essay, “Rifts in Space-Time: Carl Weiskopf in the Soviet Union.” The essay will be published in a future issue of the German Studies Review.
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
This year the members of the committee were pleased to receive many strong essay submissions, but we all agreed that this essay stood out for a number of reasons.
Müller’s essay is commendable for his ability to present a sophisticated and complex argument about genre in a work that is well-organized and polished as well as accessible and thought-provoking for scholars across multiple disciplines. Müller provides readers with a clear roadmap of his paper and his essay evinces extensive reading and a solid command of primary and secondary sources.
Müller argues that Franz Carl Weiskopf’s writing about his travels in the newly-formed Soviet Union blurs the distinction between literature and history, evoking a notion of montage through the transgression of genre conventions of travel writing. Müller carefully shows how Weiskopf brings together the concepts of experience and expectation in an era of high anticipation and excitement for the new socialist project. Weiskopf was not simply narrating his experiences, but connecting a teleological interpretation of the past and the hopes for the future of the Soviet experiment. Müller’s essay demonstrates skillful close reading and interpretation through its comparison and contrast of Weiskopf’s positions on a number of key issues in travel writing: fact vs. fiction; subjectivity vs. objectivity; space vs. time with those of his contemporaries.
Importantly, Müller situates Weiskopf's work and approach to travel writing in the context of the period (1920s-1930s) and makes a persuasive case for continued cross-disciplinary scholarly interest in Weiskopf's ambitious project some 90 years later.
Prize committee: Margaret Lewis (University of Tennessee–Martin, chair), Holly Yanacek (James Madison University), Peter Yoder (Independent Scholar).
2017 Winner Announced
The winner is Claudia Kreklau (Emory University), for her essay on “Travel, Technology, and Theory: The Aesthetics of Ichthyology during the Second Scientific Revolution.” It will be published in a forthcoming issue of the German Studies Review.
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
On behalf of the GSA Committee charged with deciding the 2017 Graduate Student Essay Prize, we are delighted to present the Committee’s choice of the essay, “Travel, Technology, and Theory: The Aesthetics of Ichthyology during the Second Scientific Revolution,” by Claudia Kreklau, Emory University. The decision was very easy, with all judges independently coming to the same verdict.
Most immediately, the essay stood out for its clear organization, its accessible, lucid writing, and its deep level of research. Each of the reviewers independently noted that they could understand this essay even though the topic was beyond their own area of expertise. I would like to highlight that this—understandability—was a key reason for the unanimous nomination, because presenting research such that a wide audience can follow and find it interesting is a skill that is sometimes underappreciated in the academic world. Yet Claudia Kreklau achieved just that, and we hope she will continue to nurture that skill as she advances in her career.
The essay posits that knowledge of the world was tied to three things—world travel, technology, and aesthetics—specifically using the example of fish/fishes, and how knowledge and appreciation of fish/fishes increased during the second scientific revolution around 1800. For the overwhelming majority of human existence, the sea was perceived as threatening, and creatures inhabiting that world below water were seen as ugly and horrid. Early naturalists encountered fish only in their dead form—slimy, pale, and smelly—and so it is not surprising that early representations of fish, in books, for instance, reflect that unpleasant perception. However, as this essay shows, between 1780 and 1840, perceptions of fish changed. Technological advances in printing with color plates contributed to that, as it became possible to depict fish in life-like colors. Advances in seafaring technology and underwater exploration, making travel safer and allowing more easily to observe fish alive in their natural surroundings surely were just as important for this shift in attitudes.
The essay is based on a wealth of records and sources from all across Europe, including publications, scientific cabinet collections, and travel accounts. Whether one comes from the angle of the historian, or literary scholar, or naturalist, this essay offers innovative and persuasive perspectives on the intersection of the natural world with technology and human intervention. As Keklau shows, the emerging perception of the natural world shows many parallels in different cultural settings. Characteristic for central Europe is that here, attitudes toward the natural world were shaped by aesthetics and romanticism more than elsewhere in Europe.
Prize Committee: Professors Almut Spalding (Illinois College, chair), Margaret Lewis (University of Tennessee, Martin), and Jeffrey Luppes (Indiana University, South Bend).
2016 Winner Announced
The GSA is proud to announce that this year's Graduate Student Paper Prize for the best paper in German Studies written in 2014-15 is awarded to Ariana Orozco, University of Michigan (now at Kalamazoo College): "The Objects of Remembrance: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Short Stories Alongside Contemporary Exhibitions of East German Material Culture." The essay will be published in a future issue of the German Studies Review. The GSA congratulates her for her excellent achievement and thanks the selection committee for its outstanding work.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
Ariana Orozco's well-argued and well-formulated essay, “The Objects of Remembrance: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Short Stories Alongside Contemporary Exhibitions of East German Material Culture” compares memory practices and objects of everyday life in museum exhibits and literature. Contrasting the 2012 exhibit “Fokus DDR” at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the 2011 exhibit “aufgehobene Dinge” at the Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR in Eisenhüttenstadt, the essay also demonstrates how Jenny Erpenbeck's two short story collections Tand (2001) and Dinge, die verschwinden (2009) narrate everyday life in East Germany through material culture and the intrusion of personal memory.
2015 Winner Announced
The GSA is proud to announce that this year's Graduate Student Paper Prize for the best paper in German Studies written in 2013-14 is awarded to Katharina Isabel Schmidt (Yale University) for her paper “Unmasking ‘American Legal Exceptionalism’: German Free Lawyers, American Legal Realists, and the Transatlantic Turn to ‘Life’, 1903-33.” Ms. Schmidt's paper will be published in a future issue of the German Studies Review. The GSA congratulates her for her excellent achievement and thanks the selection committee for its outstanding work.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
Katharina Isabel Schmidt’s paper “Unmasking ‘American Legal Exceptionalism”: German Free Lawyers, American Legal Realists and the Transatlantic Turn to ‘Life’, 1903-33,” employs a transnational methodology/transatlantic gaze to historicize the paradigm of American legal exceptionalism by way of comparing the American Legal Realist movement of the late 1920s, credited with fundamentally transforming American legal theory and practice, with the German Free Lawyers, a partially parallel reformist movement which failed to develop a comparable impact on the jurisprudential mainstream. The exploration of this configuration, and the factors contributing to it, is hugely impressive in its intellectual breadth and depth. Schmidt’s complex argumentation attends to political, socio-historical and institutional factors alike, and her sovereign presentation combines both broad historical strokes with attention to individual texts and transatlantic reception processes. With its transnational and transdisciplinary reach, this paper is exemplary for the kind of scholarship the German Studies Association aims to foster.
The GSA is proud to announce that this year's Graduate Student Paper Prize for the best paper in German Studies written in 2012-13 is awarded to Amanda Randall (University of Texas at Austin) for her paper "Austrian Trümmerfilm: What a Genre’s Absence Reveals about National Postwar Cinema and Film Studies." The prize selection committee was chaired by Professor Katherine Aaslestad (History, University of West Virginia). The other committee members are Professor Daniel Magilow (German Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Professor Larry Ping (History, Southern Utah University). Ms. Randall's paper will be published in a future issue of the German Studies Review. The GSA congratulates her for her excellent achievement and thanks the selection committee for its outstanding work.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
Amanda Randall's original, well-framed and comparative essay on post-war German and Austrian film “Austrian Trümmerfilm: What a Genre’s Absence Reveals about National Postwar Cinema and Film Studies” re-conceptualizes the genre of Trümmerfilm and highlights the scholarly biases about divisions between national cinemas. In addressing a relatively under-explored area of film history falling between the Third Reich and the new German cinema of the 1960s, Randall’s essay offers a compelling argument for a comparative re-reading of German and Austrian cinemas that pays attention to “their aesthetic, narrative, and symbolic strategies, as well as their conditions of production and undergirding ideologies.” Ms. Randall demonstrates that such an approach enables us to expand the concept of Trümmerfilm and with it, the scope of postwar film history. Her well-written essay carefully considers both German and Austrian historiography clearly pointing out the artificial divisions cultivated by national scholarship and the conventional periodization of Trümmerfilm as she reframes the category of analysis to extend its analytical possibilities. Ms. Randall provides strong evidence of wartime and post-war devastation represented in both national cinemas to seek a broader understanding of post-war film that understands Trümmerfilm as that which connects the audience to the war experience in order to foster a comparative cultural analysis.
2013 Winner Announced
The GSA is proud to announce that the winner of this year's Graduate Student Paper Prize for the best paper in German Studies written in 2012-13 is awarded to Carl Gelderloos (Cornell University) for his paper "Simply Reproducing Reality: Brecht, Benjamin, and Renger Patzsch on Photography." The prize selection committee was chaired by Professor Anthony Steinhoff, Université de Montréal. The other members were Professors Perry Myers, Albion College, and Maiken Umbach, University of Nottingham. Mr. Gelderloos's paper will be published in a future issue of the German Studies Review. The GSA congratulates him for his excellent achievement and thanks the selection committee for its outstanding work.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
With his well crafted and insightful essay, "Simply Reproducing Reality: Brecht, Benjamin, and Renger Patzsch on Photography," Carl Gelderloos casts new light on contemporary debates over visual culture by reassessing some of the initial discussions on aesthetics, visual representation and technology during that iconic moment of cultural modernity, Weimar Germany. Highlighting the central place of a self consciously modern photography in Weimar era discourses on aesthetics and culture, Mr. Gelderloos brilliantly constructs a debate between Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht, on the one hand, and a noted proponent of Neue Sachlichkeit in photography, Albert Ranger Patzsch, on the other, in order to expose the considerable reluctance of Weimar's cultural critics to embrace photography as a form of modern art and as an acceptable medium for representing reality. A fascinating contribution to our understandings of the conceptualization of nature and technology, with important implications for scholars of film, literature and theater, Mr. Gelderloos's essay also sharpens our awareness of the considerable gains, but also challenges, involved in bringing photography into the practice of writing history.
2012 Winner Announced
The GSA is proud to announce that the winner of this year’s Graduate Student Paper Prize for the best paper in German Studies written in 2011-12 is awarded to Ari Linden (Cornell University), for his paper “Beyond Repetition: Karl Kraus’s ‘Absolute Satire’.”
The prize selection committee was chaired by Professor Kathrin Bower (University of Richmond), and included Professors Jennifer Miller (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville) and Zoe Lang (University of South Florida). Mr. Linden’s paper will be published in a future issue of German Studies Review. The GSA congratulates him for his excellent achievement and thanks the selection committee for its outstanding work.
Here is the text of the committee’s laudatio:
"The 2012 GSA Graduate Student Essay Prize committee is pleased to announce the winner of this year’s competition: Ari Linden (Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University) for his paper “Beyond Repetition: Karl Kraus’s ‘Absolute Satire’.” In his sophisticated and well-argued essay, Mr. Linden contrasts Karl Kraus’s dismissal of Heinrich Heine's writing as inauthentic satire with his praise for the work of Johann Nestroy in order to illuminate Kraus's concept of "absolute satire." For Kraus, satire must exceed the historical moment in which it was conceived so as to retain its currency over time, a quality he attributes to Nestroy but not to Heine. Linden then turns to Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit to explore Kraus’s own approach to satirical writing. Linden reads Die letzten Tage both as a satirical indictment of World War I and as a kind of handbook on satire as a literary form. He deftly combines a judicious selection of theoretical positions to evaluate Kraus’s use of satire as well as the criticisms leveled against him. Linden’s paper offers precisely the kind of historically contextualized, theoretically grounded, and critically astute analysis that characterizes the best German Studies scholarship and the committee congratulates Mr. Linden on his excellent work."
Graduate Student Essay Prize: Call for Nominations
2023 Prize Competition Announced
The prize for the Best Essay in German Studies by a Graduate Student will again be awarded in 2023. The deadline for nominations and submissions is 15 May 2023. Papers should be 6,000-9,000 words in length (including foot-/endnotes). Manuscripts may be submitted in English or German, and must not have been published in any form or have been accepted for publication. The winner will be published in the German Studies Review.
Nominations, self-nominations, and submissions should be emailed to the committee chair via the link below.
- Christopher Molnar (History, University of Michigan-Flint, Chair)
- Alice Weinreb (History, Loyola University Chicago)
- Kristie Foell (German, Bowling Green State University)
Questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.