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Unit information: Political Poetry: 1745–1945 in 2017/18

Unit name Political Poetry: 1745–1945
Unit code GERM30062
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Debbie Pinfold
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit is taught by Dr Ellen Pilsworth.

Examining poetic texts from across two centuries of German history, this unit investigates the place of political poetry in literary study. Aesthetic theorists since Schiller have maintained that political poetry is somehow inferior to 'true' art because of its grounding in mundane, everyday reality. Where is the line between political poetry and propaganda? What is at stake for a poet when they choose to tackle political subject matter? And why did poets still choose to 'risk' their reputations in engaging with political ideas in their works?

Within German Studies, ideas about literature that is politically engaged tend to be associated with the era after 1945. This course, on the contrary, will show that political engagement in literature is no post-modern phenomenon. Texts examined will include poetic responses to the Seven Years' War, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Restoration period, Vormärz and Wars of Unification, the Weimar Republic, the First World War, Interwar Period, and, finally, the Third Reich.

Authors covered will include Anna Louisa Karsch, Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, Rudolph Zacharias Becker, Frank Wedekind, Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Hasenclever and Baldur von Schirach, alongside texts from Nazi songbooks for children and essays by Günter Grass, Gottfried Benn, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Theodor W. Adorno.

Unit Aims

  • To introduce students to selected poetic texts spanning two centuries, set within their general historical context. Study of poetic texts will be interspersed with readings of key theoretical or ideological texts (or excerpts thereof).
  • To encourage students to work in an interdisciplinary fashion by engaging both history and aesthetics.
  • To facilitate students’ engagement with aesthetic theories concerning ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and to encourage them to think critically about issues of aesthetic categorisation and canonisation.
  • To develop skills of close reading, critical analysis of secondary material, and independent research, building further on work in second year and on the year abroad, and to nurture the skills to undertake postgraduate study in a relevant field.

To provide opportunities for group work, collaborative presentations, and peer review, and to develop students’ confidence in their ability to express original arguments orally and in writing.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, successful students will have:

(1) Demonstrated, to a standard appropriate to level H, knowledge of how selected poets in German engaged with key political developments and events from ca. 1745–1945;

(2) Articulated an advanced understanding of key issues and debates around political poetry, informed by literary and theoretical texts;

(3) Developed and deployed advanced topic-specific skills and methodologies: independent literary interpretation, close reading, critical engagement with secondary literature;

(4) Demonstrated advanced skill in the selection, synthesis, evaluation and analysis of relevant topic-based material, appropriate to level H;

(5) Presented independent judgements in written and oral form, in an appropriate style and at a high level of complexity;

(6) Demonstrated the ability to make an individual contribution to a collaborative task.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar weekly.

Assessment Details

1 in-class presentation in pairs or groups (30%), testing ILOs 1-6

1 written assignment of 3,500 words (70%), testing ILOs 1-5

Reading and References

Texts for Study: Selected poetic and theoretical texts for each week will be made available to students at the beginning of term.

Introductory Reading:

Hans-Martin Blitz, Aus Liebe zum Vaterland (Hamburg, 2000)

Ida Blom, Karen Hagemann, and Catherine Hall, eds., Gendered Nations: Nationalism and the Gender Order in the Long Nineteenth Century. (Oxford and New York, 2000)

George Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleon'ic War through the Third Reich (New York, 1975) Walter Hinderer, ed., Geschichte der politischen Lyrik in Deutschland, 2nd ed. (Würzburg, 2007)