DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies
The DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies is funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), awarded annually by a GSA committee, and carries an award of $1,000. The winner receives the prize during the banquet of the GSA Annual Conference.
2022 Recipient of the DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies
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.
Previous recipients of the DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies
2021 Winner, 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, 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.
2020 Prizes Announced
The German Studies Association is pleased to announce the following prize, which was 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/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in Germanistik or Cultural Studies committee: Professor B. Venkat Mani (University of Wisconsin—Madison, firstname.lastname@example.org), Professors Claudia Breger (Columbia University) and Paul Fleming (Cornell University).
The DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Germanistik and Cultural Studies published in 2018 was awarded to Professor Nicola Behrmann (Rutgers University), for her book Geburt der Avantgarde – Emily Hennngs (Wallstein Verlag, 2018).
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
This year’s German Studies Association prize for the best book in Germanistik and Cultural Studies is awarded to Nicola Behrmann’s Geburt der Avantgarde – Emmy Hennings, published by Wallstein Verlag in 2018. The book establishes Emmy Hennings as a central figure of the avant-garde. Through her, it traces a female genealogy of the movement. Situating Hennings in relation to figures as diverse as Benjamin, Ball, Huelsenbeck, Lasker-Schüler, and Tzara, the book also draws attention to now forgotten women artists. Its theoretically sophisticated, bold, and persistent questioning of the possibilities of literary historiography, the structural exclusion of women from the avant-garde, as well as the role of écriture feminine opens up promising new avenues for future work on modernism. Geburt der Avantgarde carefully reconstructs Henning's biography to question the concept of the archive, its limits, and its potential. By highlighting the fragility of our canon, Nicola Behrmann develops a language to make the scarce traces of Emmy Henning’s presence speak. Shereflects on the difficulty of including performance rather than print in our accepted historiographic narratives. The outline of Henning’s contribution becomes visible in the figures of a voice behind the mask, an ephemeral event, a gift. While speaking to a variety of audiences interested in literary studies, media studies, performance studies, inter-arts, gender studies, historiography, and modernism, the book does not sacrifice sophistication for readability: it is highly engaging and eloquent. Above all, it is an example of and a testimony to the sociopolitical and existential relevance of archival humanistic inquiry.
Prize Committee: Johannes Türk (Indiana University, chair), Matt Erlin (Washington University in St. Louis), Fatima Naqvi (Rutgers 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).
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.
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.
DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies: Call for Nominations
The 2022 award cycle is now closed - details for the next award cycle will be posted to this website by mid-February 2023
2022 Prize Submissions Open
It gives us a great deal of pleasure to announce the 2022 competition for the DAAD/GSA Book Prize in Literature and Cultural Studies of the German Studies Association. This extremely prestigious prize is funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and carries 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.
We are pleased to announce the 2022 Prize Committee for the DAAD/GSA Book Prize in Literature and Cultural Studies:
- Jason Groves (University of Washington, German Studies, Chair)
- Barbara Mennel (University 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.