DAAD/GSA book prizes

The DAAD/GSA book prizes are funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and carry an award of $1,000. Under the provision of the DAAD grant, eligibility is restricted to authors who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States and Canada. Translations, editions, anthologies, memoirs, and books that have been previously published are not eligible.

Two prizes will be awarded: one for the best book in history or social sciences, and one for the best book in literature or cultural studies.

We are pleased to announce the 2022 Book Prize committees:

DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History/Social Sciences

  • Rita Krueger (Temple University, History, Chair)
  • Thomas Lekan (University of South Carolina, History)
  • Maria Mitchell (Franklinand Marshall, History)

DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Literature/Cultural Studies

  • Jason Groves (University of Washington, German Studies, Chair)
  • Barbara Mennel (Univeristy of Florida, German Studies & Film/Media Studies)
  • Sean Franzel (University of Missouri, German Studies)

Please contact the committee chairs for submissions; materials must be submitted by March 31, 2022.

2022 Prize Winners

2022 Winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Literature/Cultural Studies: Margareta Ingrid Christian, Objects in Air: Artworks and Their Outside around 1900 (University of Chicago Press, 2021)


Thoroughly original, elegantly written, and invigoratingly interdisciplinary, Objects in Air: Artworks and Their Outside Around 1900 is an engrossing study of the myriad material and conceptual continuities between artworks and their immediate atmospheres. Disputing both dominant understandings of the modernist artwork’s self-containment and the trajectory of aesthetic encounters as defined by empathy aesthetics, Christian exposes objects’ remarkable openness, extravagance, and relationality in art historical writing by Riegl, Warburg, Rilke, Laban, and others, and she thereby writes a new genealogy of environmental thought in German-language texts of the period. The originality of Christian’s work lies not least in her use of literary-critical readings of art historical and performance-studies texts to develop a larger argument about how the work of art is theorized in tandem with its larger Umwelt at this crucial early twentieth-century moment.

Through philologically and ecologically attentive readings, Chapter 1 exposes the thematic and lexical undercurrents of air in Aby Warburg’s dissertation on Botticelli and the afterlife of antiquity. For Warburg, Christian writes, air is the spatial expression of an artwork’s environment and environmentality. Moreover, as a medium through which various energies come into contact and intermix, air also offers a method for interdisciplinary writing. Linking Warburg up to Darwin and other contemporaneous environmental thinkers, Christian demonstrates the possibilities of interdisciplinary cultural studies scholarship that attends to the German language and multiple scientific and scholarly paradigms in equal measure. Chapter 2 also performs a literary-critical reading of art historical scholarship, here the writings of Austrian art historian Alois Riegl. In tracing the word Umgebung and its semantic relationships to other environmental figures throughout Reigl’s oeuvre, Christian offers new contexts— biological and climatological ones— for reading Riegl and his contemporaries.

These contexts developed in the opening chapters yield new insights into Rilke’s poetry and texts on Rodin, which are the subject of Chapter 3. Noting that Rilke’s interest in the relationships between artworks and their surroundings predates his familiarity with biologist Jakob von Uexküll, Christian meticulously traces Rilke’s encounters and engagements with aesthetic theories of the environment and shows his work preempts major currents of German aesthetic thought in the twentieth century. Moving from art history, to poetry, and to dance, Chapter 4 addresses the incorporation of the atmosphere in early twentieth century dance movements, principally in the work of Rudolf Laban, choreographer of open-air dances and theorist of the dancerly environment. Notably, this chapter also traces conceptual continuities between dance studies of the period and botanical studies, including Goethe.

Christian’s scholarship models an inspiring interdisciplinary exploration of how literary analysis can be applied to a broad spectrum of textual and visual objects. An intellectual pleasure to read, the book brilliantly advances unique and original lines of inquiry into how we think about literary, plastic, and performing arts and their environments. It thus has a transformative potential for the interlocking fields of art history, philosophy, and dance theory from the perspective of German Studies. In sum, Objects in Air provides an incisive and revitalizing study of a crucial cultural moment and pushes the boundaries of what scholarship in German Studies can be.

2022 Honorable Mention, DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Literature/Cultural Studies: Ann Marie Rasmussen, Medieval Badges: Their Wearers and Their Worlds (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021)


A fascinating study of late medieval visual literacy that cuts across disciplines including literary history, art history, archaeology, visual studies, religious studies and more, Medieval Badges: Their Wearers and Their Worlds is also a metareflection on scholarship on material cultures and worlds that elude our understanding. The disappearance and fragility of these badges, often made of cheap metal and with only ca. twenty thousand preserved specimens out of an estimated ten million manufactured ones, serves as a point of departure for reflection on the work we do as cultural historians with only partial access to the lifeworlds with which we are concerned. Unable to rely on the objects’ inherent gravitas, this study is also an object lesson in scholarly engagement with noncharismatic objects, given that surviving badges are as a rule tarnished and stripped of most all embellishment and whose significance for the period in question has been overshadowed by far larger and far more sophisticated objects such as cathedrals, tapestries, and illuminated manuscripts.

In Rasmussen’s book, badges become a portal to extended lines of inquiry into identity formation, communal belonging, and visual cultures in the late medieval world and beyond. The eight richly-illustrated chapters cover the materiality of medieval badges and their many affordances for symbolic visual communication. For example, the longest chapter, “What do Badges Do?,” covers the fascinating variety of badges’ social and political functions, including compelled badges for heretics and Jews. Chapters on pilgrimage, chivalry, and carnival reframe these well-known topoi in terms of questions of visual communication and literacy. The book also surveys the history of reception and the scholarly processing of these objects, which it proposes as the first mass medium in Europe.

Along with being impeccably written with an accessibility and yet also a precision of expression that is enviable, this book is also a tremendous work of the imagination, taking readers into the thought processes and unanswered questions of an experienced researcher, including reflections on best practices for academic writing. In particular, the author engages in a series of thought experiments in what she calls “informed imagination”:  fictional vignettes, informed by extensive historical scholarship, of everyday late medieval life, which re-animate the badges and convey the lively relations in which they were entangled. Working with such tarnished objects, direct evidence of whose uses by wearers is virtually absent, Rasmussen skillfully restores their significance and capacity to exert a hold on the imagination and to be meaningful, as they once did for millions of people centuries ago.

Overall, this tour de force of material cultural studies and social history holds relevance for methodological self-reflection and humanistic ethos across German Studies. As such, it is deserving of recognition and readership by scholars who do not specialize in the late medieval period. While it offers in-depth and broadly synthetic research for scholars of the medieval period, it also advances potential paradigm shifts for the understanding of modernity and its association of mass media and mass production. Integrating creative vignettes that bring history to life, Medieval Badges explores new ways of representing research that have the potential to invigorate and reimagine the traditional medium of the scholarly book.   

2022 Winner of the DAAD Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences: Kira Thurman, Singing like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (Cornell UP, 2021)


Kira Thurman's deeply researched and brilliantly written historical monograph on German culture is both sweeping in scope and rich in texture and detail. Embedding the history of music in patterns of globalization, including sexism, racism, and colonialism, Thurman extends her study from the 1870s, when growing numbers of Blacks performed in Central Europe, to the post-World War II, competing German states. Challenging traditional breaks and periodization, Thurman offers a transnational reframing of American, Austrian, and German history, whereby Black musicians’ mastery of an art form regarded as quintessentially German challenged racialized distinctions between German and Black identity and culture.

Thurman’s global history of “musical Germanness” elegantly integrates strands of scholarship to transform our understanding of classical music and cultural practices in modern European history. The work is theoretically and methodologically sophisticated, employing theories of listening, sound studies, racial listening, and gender and sexuality. Thurman's work draws on and resonates with scholars arguing against the expectation that listening is a objective experience. Classical music has historically been “racially un/marked” – whitened more than any other musical form, universalized in a way that denied the limiting realities of race. Central Europeans racialized the music they heard, seeking where possible to explain virtuosity through Black musicians’ white ancestors. German-speaking listeners "tuned their ears for inaudible social cues and drew on racial discourses to make aesthetic judgments..." Thurman notably invokes Katrin Sieg’s theory of the “technologies of forgetting” to explain how the erasure over time of important figures in this history positioned Black performers as existing without precedent or context. By excavating the contributions of Black musicians who shaped the history of modern Austrian and German classical music in hitherto unrecognized ways, Kira Thurman recovers this lost history.        

Thurman’s chronological framing also powerfully encourages us to think about German history in new ways. Her transnational examination of the longue durée of modern classical music establishes historical continuities and the simultaneous malleability of Germanness over time. From this perspective, two historical ruptures – World War I and 1945 – represented less decisive breaks than moments of reconstitution and redeployment of racist tropes, even as political change opened and foreclosed opportunities for musical artists and others. Thurman’s transnational lens focused on German immigrants who trained Black Americans, both in the nineteenth century and again in the twentieth after refugees fled the Third Reich.  Central Europe as escape for repressed Black Americans represents just one chapter in the history of Black migration driven less by an idealization of the country of refuge, but by a desire to move away from the U.S. Thurman demonstrates the ways that the interwar period offered Black performers unprecedented opportunities to perform in Central Europe. But, these performers also faced rising anti-Black animus during the occupation by French colonial troops and the Black Horror on the Rhine campaign. Rather than a new beginning, the post-World War II era revealed continuities in the reading of Black bodies and sound on the part of Germans and Americans.  Black performance and fame also became an ingredient in Cold War competition. Nevertheless, as Thurman shows, despite the powerful racism in Europe and continued belief in the exceptionalism of German music, Black Americans continued to enjoy better opportunities in Europe than in the United States.

Not just casting a critical lens on the transatlantic movement of artists, we also have here a thorough exploration of the cultural and institutional practices that nurtured the classical musical education, knowledge, and expertise of Black Americans. Black Americans’ preference for German instructors in post-emancipation United States and the close teacher-student relationships they created fed into networks of financial and logistical support. These networks – what Thurman calls “Black internationalist cultural politics” – made it possible for African Americans to "imagine themselves in another country altogether," even as racist and colonialism discourses intensified. The book is replete with riveting stories and extraordinary personalities, including the “war of divas” in 1895 Berlin; the story of Claudio Brindis de Salas (the “Black Paganini”), whom Kaiser Wilhelm II reportedly made a baron; Roland Hayes’s affair with a Viennese countess; W.E.B. Du Bois’ trip to Bayreuth in 1936; Marian Anderson’s experiences as the last Black star in Vienna before the Anschluss, and the star of sold-out performances in 1950 in Berlin and Munich; the U.S. State Department’s use of Black classical musicians to counter Soviet criticism of American racism, and many others. Thurman sees new meaning in a variety of images and performances: Rudolph Dunbar conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in September 1945 while wearing a U.S. military uniform; Leontyne Price having a stone thrown through her hotel room window while performing at the Salzburg Festival in 1961; Wieland Wagner’s fashioning of Grace Bumbry as a Black Venus for the 1961 Bayreuth Festival; Paul Robeson’s 1961 visit to the German Democratic Republic to receive a peace prize and honorary doctorate at the Humboldt University; and the asylum claim and emigration of African American Aubrey Pankey.

Magisterial in scope, Thurman's work is richly sourced throughout, drawing on more than thirty archives in three countries, integrating photographs, concert programs, historical newspapers, musical scores, music criticism, interviews, private letters, memoirs, diaries, and university course catalogs into her analysis. In no less an achievement, Thurman has provided this complex, nuanced story of Black musicians in Germany in clear and sparkling prose. This is a work that is beautifully written and accessible – an important, path-breaking historical excavation that is told with lightness and verve.


Previous award cycles
  • 2021 Winner, 2021 DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Literature / Cultural Studies: 

    Alys X. George, The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body (University of Chicago Press, 2020)

2021 Prize Committee: Chunjie Zhang, Tobias Boes, and Kira Thurman


With a firm grounding in literary and cultural history and an exquisite sensitivity toward the multifarious richness within Viennese modernism, Alys George, in The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body (2020)elaborates the essentiality of the human body in literature, visual arts, and performing arts in a broad network. Challenging the well-established notion of homo psychologicus in Carl Schorske’s Pulitzer-Prize winning classic Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1979), George carefully demonstrates that the body, or homo physiologicus, functions as the materialist foundation and registers sociocultural practices of Viennese modernism in its moments of crisis. 

In writing a cultural history of the bodies of the African Ashantis, pregnant women, dead corpse, and dancers, George provides her readers unprecedented insights in reviewing fin-de-siècle Vienna and guides us on a wondrous journey through museums, gardens, dissecting rooms, theater stages, dance floors, writers’ studies, filming sites, painter’s studios, and newspaper archives. The book impresses through its meticulous research across multiple disciplines: not just literature, art history, film studies, and dance, but also medical history, anthropology, and gender studies. George offers persuasive close readings across a wide variety of genres and media that always remain attentive to the individual voices she studies, even as she places them within the larger chorus that made up the intellectual culture of their time. 

Notably, George thoroughly traces the representation of the body in the defamed “human zoo” exhibits around 1900 and argues that the writer Peter Altenberg as well as the Viennese audience, as newspaper reports documented, projected their desire and longing for a healthy body and an idealized lifestyle onto the African Ashanti. George also pays sustained attention to the role that women’s self-expression played in a culture that has often been defined as male dominated. If Freud infamously asked, “What does a woman want?”, then this book answers: “sovereignty over her body, and over her bodily self-expression, just like a man does.” Furthermore, George diverges from the well-trodden path of interpreting literature and culture from a perspective of some contemporary theories. Rather she profoundly shows that the historical discourse around 1900 already contains theoretical positions such as the understanding of network by Robert Musil. She thus uses a theory within its historical context to illuminate the naked truth of the body in Viennese modernism. It is historical study at its best. 

At the end of the book, George eruditely gestures toward the further development of the discourse of the body in literature and art after the modernist period. Combining both canonical works and less-known materials, George’s finely crafted cultural history opens new channels in the study of a well-established theme in German Studies and enriches the discussion about quintessential issues that have fundamental shaped the modern experience of being human, including the very foundation of our existence: our body.  

  • 2021 Honorable Mention, 2021 DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Literature / Cultural Studies: 
Tiffany N. Florvil, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2020)
Tiffany Florvil’s groundbreaking book, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement, brings together the fields of German Studies, Black Studies, and queer and feminist studies to brilliantly recreate a vibrant movement of Black feminist and queer activism that produced the Afro-German movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Standing firmly at the center of Black German Studies, Mobilizing Black Germany illustrates a rich and complex tapestry of cultural activity that is uniquely Black and German. Her book offers a model for how to write scholarship that places people of color at the center of German history and culture.

Florvil’s work is particularly striking for its commitment to uncovering the everyday lives and extraordinary cultural output of Black Germans, whom she calls “quotidian intellectuals.” Florvil effectively demonstrates how a group of mostly middle-class and lower-middle-class Black Germans “used their intellectualism and internationalism to acquire power and unsettle the late postwar German hegemony while offering new ways of being, feeling, and knowing.” Their work as activists, intellectuals, mothers, poets, and artists in founding organizations such as ISD (Initiativ Schwarze Deutsche) and ADEFRA (Afrodeutsche Frauen) was fundamental to challenging white hegemonies and transforming Black lives in Germany.

Above all, Florvil’s methodologies deserve the highest applause. To uncover the cultural work of Black Germans, Florvil turned to sources not housed in traditional archives. Florvil often sat in the kitchens and living rooms of Black Germans to examine their private collections and personal papers in order to make sense of how the Afro-German movement was both political and cultural. Florvil uncovered a wealth of Black German media as a result: magazines such as afro look, Afrekete, and Onkel Tom’s Faust offer a wealth of information to scholars in the future invested in analyzing Black cultural activity in Germany. In so doing, Florvil demonstrates how magazines such as Afrekete found their cultural and visual inspiration from Black lesbian magazines in the United States even while they advertised in mainstream German lesbian and women’s magazines in the 1980s and 90s. 

In the wake of an ongoing global BLM movement that took place not only in Ferguson or Minneapolis but also in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna, Florvil’s scholarship comes at the perfect time. Her book, Mobilizing Black Germany, is rewarding because it reveals to us all of the wonderfully rich and beautiful ways in which Germany belongs to a global Black diasporic experience.
  • 2021 Winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:

    Thomas M. Lekan, Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti (Oxford University Press, 2020)

    2021 Prize Committee: Benjamin Marschke, Jörg Echternkamp, and Astrid M. Eckert.


    Thomas Lekan’s book takes the reader on a transnational journey from the ruins of Frankfurt’s bombed-out zoo to the savannas of East Africa. At the center of Lekan’s study stands Bernhard Grzimek (1909-87), a household name in Germany for his long-running television show, Ein Platz für Tiere (1956-87, the German equivalent of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom), and his Oscar-winning documentary, Serengeti darf nicht sterben (1959).  As Frankfurt’s first postwar zoo director, the charismatic Grzimek, turned the city’s animal park into an instrument of conservation, an endeavor that eventually led him to the homeland of many of the zoo’s popular mammals. There, in former German East Africa, he single-mindedly pursued his quest to carve out a “gigantic zoo” by pushing local politicians and international nature conservation agencies into creating a national park, the Serengeti. What was lauded by the contemporary West German public as a noble and selfless endeavor is expertly contextualized by Lekan as a project that collided head-on with the needs and desires of newly independent African states and became entangled with the political tensions of decolonization and the Cold War. This is the work of a Germanist “going global,” a book that stands out as a postwar German history but represents our academic discipline equally well in the fields of environmental and African history.

    As Lekan demonstrates, Grzimek had established his academic credentials as a veterinarian scientist and made his career when the biological sciences were pervaded with eugenic thinking. Alongside the vast majority of (West) Germans, Grzimek rehabilitated himself as a “good German” after the war. Behind his avuncular image, however, lay a “notoriously cantankerous personality” (7) and someone who sought to deny his role during National Socialism and his disdain for his fellow human beings through select “good deeds,” such as the adoption of a black Besatzungskind.

    One of the many strengths of this book is that Lekan pays particular attention to the unreflected ideological baggage that Grzimek injected into his postwar activities when he mused, for instance, about the limits of the savanna’s “carrying capacity” for the herds of cattle and goats tended by local Maasai as well as the alleged dangers of unchecked fertility among Africans. By advocating for the removal of the Maasai herders from the savanna, Grzimek peddled a particular vision of nature protection that Lekan aptly calls “fortress conservation.” It called for the “evacuation” of humans (Africans) from wildlife habitat.  This vision betrayed not only a disregard for autochthonous environmental sovereignty but was also premised on a profound misunderstanding of the savanna’s ecology; far from being a wilderness, the East African grasslands had long been cultural landscapes precisely because of the presence of the nomadic Maasai. As Lekan shows, Grzimek’s (mis-)understanding of East African nature was shaped by misanthropy, malthusianism, eugenics, and declensionist anti-modernism.

    Lekan explores other telling blindspots in Grzimek’s approach to conservation in Africa, namely the many colonial legacies that the German zookeeper chose to overlook, an approach he shared with the leadership of the international nature conservation agencies with whom he collaborated. Grzimek and his son Michael flew their famous zebra-striped airplane over Tanganyika (formerly Deutsch-Ostafrika). Absent in their considerations of the ecology of the region were the colonial origins of big game reserves, founded for the pleasure of European colonizers and their enthusiasm for trophy hunting. Grzimek pretended that nature conservation was apolitical, and he saw himself as an “honest broker,” even if his activism meant collaborating with unsavory politicians like Idi Amin.

    Despite the focus on Grzimek, however, the book should not be mistaken for a biography. The significance and timeliness of Our Gigantic Zoo lies in how it incorporates German contemporary history with environmental and colonial history by placing Grzimek’s activism on behalf of the Serengeti in the broader historical context of the first-world conservation and environmental movements: The book highlights their origins in colonialism and racism, and erstwhile NSDAP member Grzimek is emblematic of “avocado” environmentalism: green on the outside, brown on the inside. It problematizes these movements’ insistence that Africa’s wildlife was a “world heritage” whose preservation exceeded the competence and therefore trumped the sovereignty of (newly independent) African governments. It also highlights the inability of these international “green networks” to back up their demands with financial support; ultimately, Tanzania became stuck with the cost of protecting the “world heritage” that external conservationists sought to protect, because the tourism revenue that Grzimek had promised never materialized on a scale required to finance the park.

    Lekan tells a fascinating, ambivalent, and highly relevant story. Grzimek’s legacy of raising funds and awareness for African wildlife is unsurpassed, however, Lekan complicates the cozy image of Grzimek among those who watched his TV shows by highlighting the problematic origins and many unintentional consequences of the activism of this “charismatic megascientist.” What is more, his study is an impressive example of how a variety of new material systematically organized by a transnational perspective can make a valuable contribution to modern German history.

  • Honorable Mention for the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:

    John P.R. Eicher, Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age (Cambridge University Press, 2020)


    John P.R. Eicher’s Exiled Among Nations surprises readers with its broad scope, innovative approach, and irresistible appeal.  In tracing the trials and tribulations of two communities of Germanophone Mennonites who migrated from Russia to ultimately settle in Paraguay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book presents an in-depth investigation of cultural, national, religious, ethnic, and racial identity.  One group voluntarily departed Imperial Russia in the 1870s, settled in Canada, and then left Canada in the 1920s to put down roots in Paraguay as the “Menno Colony.”  The other group was forced out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, briefly took refuge in Germany and China, and then alighted in Paraguay as the “Fernheim Colony.”  Though the two colonies abutted each other, they remained separate, both in administration and worldview. Exiled Among Nations is an exemplary work at the nexus of German studies and global history, not only tracing its research subjects over three continents, but also focusing upon and problematizing their self-identification and ascription as “German” during a time of hypernationalism. 

    Eicher has not only painstakingly researched the complex stories of these two meandering groups, but also presents an innovative method of understanding their self-identities and group cohesion by examining the “mythologies” that informed their worldviews.  Both migrating Mennonite groups interpreted their collective experiences, current situations, and broader world events in light of biblical stories, especially in terms of salvation, Babylonian captivity, or deliverance to a promised land. 

    Exiled Among Nations shows how, against the backdrop of the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the coming of the Second World War in Europe, the Mennonites’ multiple intersecting identities precipitated a crisis.  For the members of the Menno Colony, who had chosen freely to move to Paraguay, it was at least a temporary and temporal promised land. They sought to pretend that international politics were irrelevant to their lives and stymied the attempts of government agents who sought to pigeonhole them as “Germans” (who would support Nazi Germany) or as “Mennonites” (who would align with their fellow co-religionists in North America).  Even as these Auslandsdeutsche studiously maintained their German cultural identity, they rejected any ties with the government in Germany, and even as they held to their religious convictions, they rejected any allegiance to Canada (equated with Babylon), from whence they had come, or the USA, which sought to unite Mennonites worldwide.  For the refugees in the Fernheim Colony, Paraguay was their Sinai, and the Nazi conquest of eastern Europe and Russia inspired the hope that they might find a new promised land there.  At least some of them embraced völkisch ideology and claimed “Aryan” bloodlines, and they actively sought to regain German citizenship and repatriation to Europe for their group.  For them the defeat of Germany, the dashing of their hopes for deliverance, and the uncertainty of their future was yet another trauma, which led to tensions and violence among them.  Eicher also places these two groups in the larger context of German emigrants in Latin America, a group which was generally misunderstood by the regime in Germany (which sought their support), and the Allies’ governments (who believed Nazi propaganda that Auslandsdeutsche were potential fifth columnists). 

    Exiled Among Nations’ wide topical, temporal, and geographic scope and theoretical sophistication are especially impressive because the book remains relatively brief (<300 pages), and it is Eicher’s first monograph (his revised dissertation).  It deserves a readership far beyond those interested in the history of Mennonites. 

    2020 Prizes Announced

The German Studies Association is pleased to announce the following prizes, which were awarded at the Virtual Forty-Forth Conference in Sept.-Oct. 2020:

DAAD Book Prize for Best Book in Germanistik and Cultural Studies published in 2019:

Winner: We congratulate Tobias Boes, Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics and the World  Republic of Letters (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019).

Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:

Tobias Boes’s Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics and the World Republic of Letters (2019) is an  outstanding transnational study that charts the construction of Thomas Mann as “Hitler’s most  intimate enemy” in the world literary space. By drawing on several archives in Germany and the United  States, Boes presents great insights into how the German author who took refuge in the US came to  acquire a canonical status among both American and global Anglophone readership. The framing  opens up significant new directions of conceptualizing authorship and connecting the German canon  to questions of world literature. At stake are not only the public construction of an author, especially  under the conditions of exile, when one’s readership largely knows the work only in and as translation,  but also the role of ‘middlebrow’ aesthetics in American taste, which is embraced not only as a popular  strategy, but a genuine badge of honor. Boes’s book thus becomes much more than the study of  Thomas Mann (the man, and the author). Through its compelling research and inviting writing style,  the study draws a vivid picture of how a figure such as Thomas Mann and his writings are mediated  in the American public sphere.  

Boes’s readings of Mann and his literary works are refracted by exile, translation, the American  book market, book series such as the Armed Services Editions during the Second World War, and the  lectures and statements that Mann made during his stay in the United States. Boes successfully  documents the course of politicization of a once self-proclaimed non-political man, who, by being a  German in the US, comes to understand the significance of books as weapons in the war against  Fascism. Rather than portraying Mann as the perfect world literary author, Boes remains aware of  Mann’s problematic political stances on issues of anti-Semitism and race, thus underlining the  tensions, contradictions, and inconsistencies that also entail the evaluation of an author in the world  literary space.  

Particularly striking is the fact that Thomas Mann’s War is a book that could only emerge from  the archives and erudition of many interconnected fields in literary and cultural studies, yet succeeds  in reaching an audience that goes well beyond the walls of the academy. In a time of global fascistic  and systemic racist formations – as well as the re-invigorated struggle against them – Boes’s study  unpacks the complex social and public mechanisms that go into both making and unmaking them. It  also signals possibilities for critical public humanities scholarship within the field of German Studies.  

Honorable Mention: Carl Gelderloos, Biological Modernism: The New Human in Weimar Culture (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2020) 

Carl Gelderloos’s Biological Modernism: The New Human in Weimar Culture is an erudite,  meticulously researched scholarly contribution that sheds new light on the history of ideas surrounding  biology, organic life, and nature as formative forces in modernist projects, right and left. The study contributes truly innovative perspectives to our understanding of Weimar literature and culture by way  of masterful close readings of individual texts that simultaneously weave an impressive web of  connections: larger conceptual questions about aesthetics, media, and genre are sutured to the history  of science, disciplinarity, and the life sciences. Gelderloos maps this fraught historical terrain in a  sophisticated way that complexifies - but does not muddle - straightforward political distinctions, as 

it facilitates a rethinking, in particular, of the traditional association of biological thought with fascist  antimodernity in German studies. 

The book focuses on the Weimar Culture of the early twentieth century, tracing how Biology  as an emergent discipline opened up new ways of conceptualizing form, development, and history.  Gelderloos draws on and interweaves bodies of knowledge from a wide range of fields such as biology,  philosophy, photography, and literature to explore constructions of the “new human” in concert with  the significance of aesthetics and technology and, thereby, offers a deeper cultural understanding of a  tumultuous period in German history.  

In its historicizing argument, Biological Modernism indicates a range of connections to  contemporary discussions around Ecology and the Anthropocene, and thereby opens German Studies to a broader field of transdisciplinary investigations in our own historical moment.

DAAD Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences published in 2019:

Winner: We congratulate Astrid M. Eckert, West Germany and the Iron Curtain:  Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands (Oxford University Press, 2019). 

Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:

Astrid M. Eckert’s West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and  Culture in the Borderlands achieves what all innovative history aspires to do: open new sight  lines that advance both conceptual and empirical knowledge. By focusing on the newly created  borderlands that divided the two postwar Germanies, Professor Eckert’s study brings into sharp  focus how the Cold War saddled a congeries of regions and towns with the common fate of a  border region. Situated along the political frontier of a global ideological divide, these West German locales – from the Baltic Sea to Bavarian villages – underwent dramatic economic,  political, and environmental change over the course of the Cold War—and beyond. The Iron  Curtain’s domestic and international politics transformed these areas of central Germany into  Randzonengebiete: peripheral regions whose socioeconomic development accorded neither with  the storyline of the “economic miracle” nor with the political narratives of Bonn and West  Berlin. The brilliance of Eckert’s book lies in demonstrating how these peripheral areas – constituting one-fifth of the FRG – assumed a centrality in ways they never had before. Despite  its backwater status as the “east of the west,” the borderlands exerted substantial force in  reconstituting the West-German state. By reimagining the cultural landscape of West Germany’s social and political development, Eckert’s extensively researched study marks a signal  contribution to the fields of German and European history. 

Local and regional history is certainly not new to German historiography, yet West  Germany and the Iron Curtain combines exceptional sensitivity to a wide range of local issues with a commanding knowledge of the Cold War’s broader history. Rather than replacing history  “from above” with an emphasis on grassroots agency, Eckert considers the intricate relations  between local practice and the economic, environmental, and military initiatives undertaken by  national and regional authorities. By recovering an overlooked border culture, the study  amplifies our understanding of the FRG’s social diversity, from 1945 into the new millennium,  beckoning us to reconfigure the cultural geography of West Germany and its drivers of change.  Indeed, Eckert’s periodization is itself notable. Just as she chooses to focus on the newly  constructed postwar political frontier, raising anew the concept of borders as a sociological  phenomenon, so too she challenges customary periodization, stretching her study from the  immediate postwar and zonal Germany, through the two Cold-War Germanies, and into  reunification. In doing so, she demonstrates the dynamism and volatility of circumstances across  a half century—precisely in a region that contemporaries perceived as provincial and behind the  times. 

By entwining politics, economy, culture, and the environment, the book introduces a new  synthetic narrative to the Cold War. The opening chapters deftly explore the political economy  of aid. The construct of the borderlands, and its perception as a single geographic unit, emerged  as an effective means to garner economic support for regions left behind during the economic  boom of the 1950s. By branding themselves as Randzonengebiete, these heterogeneous  communities (and their equally diverse landscapes) successfully lobbied for loans, subventions,  and start-up initiatives, which local politicians successfully sustained over a half century. The  concept of borderlands further promoted various forms of tourism. If the attraction of a quiet country idyll of yesteryear lured one kind of visitor, others sought the frisson of gazing upon  dangerous border fortifications of the other Germany—an interpretive frame promoted by state subsidized “political education” trips. The tensions that inhered in such constructions of the  Federal Republic’s border contributed to the identity of the borderline Heimat, perhaps the  quintessential German homeland of the Cold War. Even today, Eckert reminds us, the former  border remains a memorial landscape of otherness. 

Subsequent chapters on environmental policy, transboundary nature, and Gorleben, the  now-famous site of popular protest against nuclear power, amount to the first environmental  history of the German-German border. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Eckert shows that  transboundary pollution ran generously in both directions; keeping the FRG “clean” often meant  contributing to dirty air and water in the GDR. But the weaknesses of East-German  environmental protections loomed large for the borderlands; they not only uncovered a failing  industrial infrastructure but also framed the dilatory tempo for reaching an environmental accord, which was only signed two years before the fall of the wall. Eckert offers no triumphalism after  unification. The land surrounding the Werra river remains a brownfield to this day, and other  long-lasting effects continue to plague the land. She equally resists any redemptive message  when assessing the accidental animal sanctuary that the wall’s no-man’s land unwittingly  created. If birds thrived, terrestrial animals met far less salutary fates—not least through the  proliferation of land mines. Furthermore, the incongruity between natural habitats and political  borders did not end in 1989. The long-term impact of the cold war on flora and fauna transcend any conventional periodization of the Cold War; rather, one must speak of a longue durée of environmental change. The book’s last chapter is a tour-de-force analysis of the Gorleben  protest movement, which Eckert recasts as a border issue, uniting it with the book’s political,  economic, cultural, and environmental themes. By foregrounding Gorleben’s borderland status,  the anti-nuclear protest blurred the boundaries between geographic, ideological, and national  identities, and its success partly derived from the site’s location, which heightened cold-war  tensions. Throughout all these chapters, Eckert is alive to the lived social experience of  borderland actors and the evolving conditions that acted upon them. Clear-eyed and true to her  sources, Eckert furthermore displays a resolutely critical approach in judging regional, national,  and international governance.  

Astrid M. Eckert’s presentation of the borderlands as a fundamental geographic unit of  the Cold War, and her deft analysis of its constitutive process in the postwar decades, breaks new  ground in historiography. Written in crisp, pellucid prose and based on years of exacting archival research, the work provides students, scholars, and a general reading audience with a new  understanding of West Germany during the Cold War. Eckert’s wide-ranging study demonstrates  not only the past and current importance of the German-German borderlands, but also their  lasting significance and consequences for future generations. A model of historical scholarship,  Eckert’s opus is likewise a broader cautionary tale about the cultural, political, and economic  consequences of borders and walls. The GSA/DAAD book prize committee offers its warmest  congratulations to Professor Eckert for this outsized achievement. 


DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Germanistik or Cultural Studies committee: Professor B. Venkat Mani (University of Wisconsin—Madison, bvmani@wisc.edu),  Professors Claudia Breger (Columbia University) and Paul Fleming (Cornell University). Their addresses are shown below.

In 2020 the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences committee chair: Professors James Brophy, Ofer Ashkenazi (Hebrew University) and Belinda Davis (Rutgers University). 

2019 Prizes Announced

Committee: Kathleen Canning, Eli Rubin, Tanya Kevorkian

2018 Prizes Announced

The German Studies Association is pleased to announce the following prizes, which were awarded at the Forty-Second Conference in Pittsburgh on 28 Sep:tember 2018

DAAD Book Prize for Best Book in History and Social Sciences published in 2017:

The winner is Jesse Spohnholz (Washington State University), The Convent of Wesel: The Event that Never Was and the Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:

Leopold von Ranke von Ranke famously called on historians to explore how things actually were, “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist.” In his well-argued, probing study, Jesse Spohnholz guides the reader through what would have been Ranke’s nightmare: the history of an event that never existed. At one level, this is a deft bit of detective work, drawing on archival material scattered across what was then the northwestern corner of the Holy Roman Empire, leading Spohnholz to the striking conclusion that the purported Convent of Wesel, long regarded as a founding event in the history of the Dutch Reformed Church and Republic, never took place. Along the way, he adroitly calls attention to the highly ambiguous, porous nature both of the German-Dutch borderlands and of the religious identities constructed there in the latter half of the sixteenth century. But this is not just a detective story; Spohnholz also scrutinizes how a history of this non-event was constructed and maintained well into the twentieth century. The result is a remarkable series of reflections — about archival structures and the authority historians grant archives, historical narratives, and memory cultures in both German Europe and the Netherlands — that raise profound questions about historical method and the public appropriation of historical “truth.” Finally, by focusing on the long-term evolution of the historiography on the “Convent of Wesel,” Spohnholz achieves that rare feat: a study that successfully and usefully brings the early modern and modern eras into conversation with another.

Prize committee: Anthony J. Steinhoff (chair, Université du Québec à Montréal), Carina Johnson (Pitzer College), Michael L. Meng (Clemson University).

DAAD Book Prize for Best Book in Germanistik and Cultural Studies published in 2016 or 2017

The winner is B. Venkat Mani (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Print Culture, and Germany's Pact with Books (Fordfham University Press, 2016).

Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:

B. Venkat Mani’s Recoding World Literature is a fantastic exploration of his term “bibliomigrancy.” His treatment of the physical and virtual circulation and consumption of world literature masterfully uses a variety of approaches and examples from world literatures—while remaining anchored in the German tradition—to institutional history, history of publishing, and Weltliteratur. Mani’s book is entirely original, makes excellent use of a well-researched archive, and employs a strong voice. It is truly outstanding: vast in scope and insight and covers broad intellectual ground. Recoding World Literature seems both of the present and historically sweeping. It’s the kind of book that will re-frame a lot of conversations. Venkat Mani leads the pack owing to his integration of German literature and culture within the world paradigm and his treatment of the mobility of texts across media and geography. It is a smart and forward-looking book. He engages new media and electronic texts within the print context and makes it relevant for us all. It is an ideal GSA prize winning book because it is ambitious, very well written, and nuanced in its research.

Prize committee: Mara Wade (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, chair), Marco Abel (University of Nebraska–Lincoln), Vance Byrd (Grinnell College).

2017 Prize Announced

The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor Greg Eghigian (Pennsylvania State University) is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the best book in history or social sciences published during the years 2015 and 2016. His book The Corrigible and the Incorrigible: Science, Medicine and the Convict in Twentieth Century Germany was published by University of Michigan Press in 2015.

Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:

Greg Eghigian’s book, The Corrigible and the Incorrigible: Science, Medicine and the Convict in Twentieth Century Germany, traces scientific, medical, and administrative approaches to criminality, policing, incarceration, efforts at rehabilitation, and therapeutic practices across 20th century Germany. Impeccably researched, fluidly written, beautifully crafted, and measured in tone, this study is driven by a desire to probe the “correctional imagination”—namely, an aspirational project, both punitive and rehabilitative, that mobilized notions of “good and bad, normal and pathological, corrigible and incorrigible” to shape the management of criminal behavior and the fate of offenders. Revising Foucault, Eghigian astutely emphasizes the chronic disparity between ambitions and reality: the plans of those with power always fell short. Nonetheless, the sum of such efforts had a lasting impact and produced “influential visions of crime, the criminal and human nature.” Eghigian's work shows, among other things, how rehabilitation efforts could emerge as much out of anxiety about the threat of recidivism as out of optimism or progressive social science.

Based upon archival research that spans three regimes (National Socialist, East German, West German), sophisticated in its use of theory, and masterful in its deployment of an impressive range of multi-disciplinary scholarship, the book is written in engaging prose and clearly articulates its substantial intellectual and historiographical contributions. Prof. Eghigian’s nuanced analysis is sometimes surprising and always thought-provoking, undermining conventional views and narratives regarding the Third Reich and its relation to developments in the Weimar, Cold War, and post-Cold War eras. His insights, moreover, transcend the German context, shedding light on conceptions of “criminality” as well as penal and therapeutic practices in liberal democratic states. Erudite and ambitious, this book demonstrates what a specialized historical study of Germany has to offer other fields. It is an exemplary piece of scholarship that makes an original contribution to German historiography and speaks beyond the German context to interrogate the ways that criminality and the human capacity for improvement have been – and continue to be – understood and addressed in the broader North Atlantic world of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Prize Committee: Professors Heide Fehrenbach (History, Northern Illinois University, chair), David Ciarlo (University of Colorado—Boulder), and Daniel Riches (University of Alabama.


2016 Prize Announced

The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor Matt Erlin, Washington University of St. Louis, is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the best book in literature or cultural studies published during the years 2014 and 2015. His book Necessary Luxuries: Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770-1815 was published by Signale/Cornell University Press in 2014.

Here is the text of the committee’s laudatio:

Matt Erlin’s Necessary Luxuries: Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770-1815(Signale/Cornell University Press, 2014) is an engrossing, elegantly written, and carefully argued work. Erlin approaches “luxury” as a Foucauldian field of discourse, and combines readings from the period’s economists, social theorists, and critics to flesh out the contours of the debate surrounding the term. Close readings of important novels show the ways in which they positioned themselves within this discourse as positive, even necessary, luxuries. The book elucidates an important moment in German culture – the end of the Enlightenment and the rise of consumer culture – with implications for other national cultures, as well as for our understanding of subsequent developments in Germany. As the Digital Age calls the significance of literature into question, Erlin’s approach prompts a useful rethinking of long-held assumptions.

2015 Prize Announced

The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor H. Glenn Penny, University of Iowa is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the best book in history or social sciences published during the years 2013 and 2014. His book Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800 was published by Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press in 2013.

Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:

Glenn Penny’s book Kindred by Choice crosses time and space in exemplary fashion. His work is rooted in German communities – whether Biedermeier readers marveling at the Leatherstocking Tales, or German settlers in New Ulm, Minnesota, in the 1860s, or East and West German hobbyists camping out in teepees. His work is also rooted in American Indian communities – those who chose to honor German curiosity and enthusiasm by taking part in a long-enduring trans-Atlantic exchange. In a series of well-written, methodically rich chapters, Penny asks us to rethink the attitude of condescension commonly displayed toward German fans of Karl May or Wild West shows. For many Germans, the “elective affinity” for American Indians was a serious and respectful engagement, and it showed remarkable continuity across the political ruptures of the 20th Century. The committee applauds Penny’s provocative, revisionist account for its contribution to German Studies, above all its lucid interpretation of how the encounter with American Indians inflected German identities and German values over time.

2014 Prize Announced

The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor Marco Abel, University of Nebraska–Lincoln is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the best book in literature or cultural studies published during the years 2012 and 2013. His book The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School was published by Camden House in 2013. The prize committee consisted of Professor Stephan K. Schindler, University of South Florida (Committee Chair); Professor Gerd Gemünden, Dartmouth College; and Professor Deniz Göktürk, University of California, Berkeley. The GSA wishes to thank the committee for its hard and outstanding work, and congratulates Professor Abel for his excellent achievement.

Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:

Marco Abel's monograph analyzes the films of the so-called Berlin School, a group of contemporary German directors whose innovative style of filmmaking constitutes a new film movement that artistically confronts the legacies of the New German Cinema of the 1970s. Filmmakers such as Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan, Christoph Hochhäusler or Angela Schanelec, just to name a few of the most significant, have created a "minor cinema" that opposes the stylistic conventions and political complacencies of post-Wall mainstream German cinema. With its unusual style of realism and its provoking use of images, montage, and story-telling the Berlin School Cinema resists easy identification and demands a self-reflexive and engaged audience.

Abel's book impresses through its theoretical ambition, wide-ranging archival research--including in-depth interviews with many of its key directors--and lucid analyses of films, making a convincing case why these films matter. Understanding this body of work as a counter-cinema, Abel scrutinizes the political dimension of Berlin School films, which refute the facile ideology of the heritage film and the shallowness of conventional social dramas. While the majority of Berlin School films are firmly focused on the here and now, Abel reveals how they must nevertheless be read as erudite commentary on postwar and particularly post-Wall Germany. This newest wave of German cinema has attracted its fair share of critics, but Abel can claim to have written its definitive account. The Counter-Cinema of the Berlin School has the makings of an instant classic.

2013 Prize Announced

The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor David Ciarlo (University of Colorado, Boulder) is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the best book in history or social sciences published during the years 2011 and 2012. His book, Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany, was published by Harvard University Press in 2011. The prize committee consisted of Professors Carl Caldwell, Rice University (chair); Monica Black, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Benjamin Marschke, Humboldt State University. The GSA wishes to thank the committee for its hard and outstanding work, and congratulates Professor Ciarlo for his excellent achievement.

Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:

In Advertising Empire, David Ciarlo masterfully connects several different historiographies in order to get at how commercial imagery developed in Germany, how it was wrapped up in national and international colonial projects, and how it shaped German perceptions of race. By looking carefully at the images used in advertising how and when they were patented, how they were used and borrowed he shows the role of American images of black minstrelsy, British colonial and commercial images, and commodity expositions in eventually creating a set of images that persist to this day (such as the "Sarotti moor"). The book stands out for its methodological sophistication, creative and extensive use of evidence, and clear structure and argument. Last but certainly not least, it stands out for its clear writing: even when he is describing the most complex semiotic or cultural theories, Ciarlo does so with a light touch and careful phrasing that renders the difficult accessible to a wide audience.