David E. Wellbery is LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson Professor at University of Chicago, where he chairs the Department of Germanic Studies and is a member of the Committee on Social Thought. A renowned scholar of the German tradition, he has published numerous books and essays on Lessing, Goethe, Kleist, Schopenhauer and many others.
Interview by Chris Fenwick
Professor Wellbery, you’re visiting Berlin as a guest speaker at the ZfL, so it’s perhaps appropriate to begin with a couple of questions about internationalism in academia. Do you think that German and US academics have different approaches within your own field of German Studies? What do you think are the major differences between German and US universities?
First of all, let me say something about internationalism in general, which I see as really having accelerated over the past five years. The conference I’m involved in here is co-organized by colleagues from Potsdam, Tel Aviv and Chicago, and I have a bit of a hand in the organization too. This is rather typical of today. Just before coming here I had a guest from the University of Curitiba in Southern Brazil who is working on a very interesting project, making digitally available all of the German-language publications in Brazil in the nineteenth century. This is the kind of thing we could also do in the US and I am interested in pursuing such possibilities. Moreover, his project is co-supported by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, so you get a kind of triangulation there, which I think is typical. Again and again I’m experiencing at conferences that Asian students are listening in, if not participating. It’s only going to be a generational question before we see more of their participation, which I think is really good.