Expand Your Notion of “We”
Collaboration between the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies and the University of Oxford is enabling a sustainable, international research network.
Jan 24, 2019
Whether lyrical self-representation in pre-modern literature, conversion poetry in the 19th century, autobiographical poetry of social realism, or the Scandinavian autobiographical literary tradition – poetic texts can have many autobiographical facets. The links between poetry and autobiography were the topic of an international conference in April 2017 at St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford. The conference was organized by Marie Lindskov Hansen, a doctoral candidate in Scandinavian studies at the Department of Northern European Studies of Humboldt-Universität and at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School (FSGS), together with a team of two other early-career researchers. The event is an example of the close collaboration between the FSGS at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Oxford. The researchers of both institutions have been in close collaboration since 2011.
Marie Lindskov Hansen’s current project also demonstrates the momentum that has developed from her many years of maintaining an institutionally-embedded network of contacts: during a lecture on Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård at the University of Oxford last spring, she made contact with colleagues from all over Europe. “And now I am planning another conference with two colleagues from Oxford for autumn 2019; this time on my dissertation topic ‘autofiction,’ which is experiencing a boom both within scholarly research as well as literary production.” Interest among experts in the field is already very high, and publishers have already offered to publish the conference results. “This network is a great help for further research,” says the literary scholar. “It’s good to escape the ‘anechoic chamber’; exchange with other actors in the same field gives momentum to one’s own work.”
An opportunity to establish long-term active contacts
The Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School, supported by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments since 2007 and based at Freie Universität Berlin, is a structured doctoral program. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin joined as an important collaboration partner in 2012. Young researchers can apply to the doctoral program with a literary research project. There are no cultural or linguistic boundaries here: the focus can be on texts from European, American, Arabic, or Asian cultures.
Until 2017, scholarships were awarded to complete the program coursework and prepare a doctoral thesis; since 2018, the Graduate School has been awarding part-time doctoral research positions as well as shorter project scholarships and grants, in addition to doctoral positions for candidates with their own funding. “Our collaboration with the University of Oxford is an important part of our program,” emphasizes FSGS Director and Professor of Modern German Literature at Freie Universität Berlin, Jutta Müller-Tamm. “Our doctoral candidates are given the opportunity to network and to establish long-term contacts that advance both their work and international literary studies in general.”
The members of the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School have an excellent infrastructure at their disposal. They are integrated into an international and interdisciplinary network of research and teaching and can put together an individual program tailored to their particular project. “Together with professors, they organize conferences and workshops, invite international guests and, in doing so, help to shape their curriculum,” explains Müller-Tamm. “The interdisciplinary year-group colloquia during the winter semesters, during which the projects are presented and the progress of the work discussed, are obligatory. Associates and guests of the school present their research for discussion in the weekly lunch forum.” A one-semester stay at an international partner university – including the University of Oxford – is part of the program. Every year, guests from the partner institutions also come to the graduate school. “Fortunately, the slightly varying structures of the universities don’t really affect this close collaboration,” says Müller-Tamm. “Visiting doctoral candidates participate in university life to the full; thematically and methodically.”
Berlin’s literary scene also attracts visiting doctoral candidates.
One of them was Izabela Rakar. The literary scholar from the University of Oxford came to Berlin for the first time in 2011 as part of her bachelor’s degree program at Humboldt-Universität. From 2014 to 2016, she was a visiting doctoral candidate at the FSGS. In her doctoral thesis, Rakar dealt with the poet Thomas Kling, who died in 2005: “My stay in Berlin was really important; besides the contacts I made at the FSGS, I had a chance to do research and explore the literary scene of the city.” After such positive experiences in Berlin, Rakar eagerly returned to the FSGS in 2017 as a postdoctoral researcher, with a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She says, “The working environment here is very pleasant.” The focus of her new project is on poetry and sound-oriented work, taking into account poets with an international background. She is especially looking at the relationship between word and sound and new ways of dealing with it in the digital environment. Here, too, work in an international network develops its own momentum: in November 2018, Rakar organized a conference together with doctoral students at the FSGS. Its title could – with a twinkle in your eye – also be understood as a poetic motto for the work of the graduate school. It reads: “’Breit doch dein Wir aus’: Interaktion und Kollaboration in der Lyrik” [Expand your notion of “we”: Interaction and collaboration in poetry].