Prominent initiatives like the “Rhodes must Fall” movement have heightened the awareness of the need to engage with the continuing legacy of colonialism in the education sector more broadly. At Oxford in particular, calls to decolonize the structures and curricula are growing increasingly common. Modern Languages have long played a central role in postcolonial critique and political discourse, but the entanglement of German and German studies within colonial discourses is often discounted, which makes it all the more difficult for those who wish to address these issues. We also know that now more than ever these efforts can seem like a token gesture unless genuine change follows.
This is not a fig-leaf. The problems facing German Studies are serious. Our subject attracts a low proportion of BAME students and Oxford is doing worse. There are complex reasons for this, including the decline in language teaching in the state school sector. But as scholars and teachers we are also aware of the impact, which unconscious biases within our research agendas and teaching curriculum may have on the experiences of underrepresented groups in education. We need to develop inclusive teaching practices and curricula that do not exoticize or tokenize the representation of minoritized individuals in German-speaking cultures.
Many of us work on writers and artists from diverse backgrounds but we also acknowledge the need to normalize this work and these topics to avoid reinforcing marginalization. Niches of diversity can serve to maintain the status quo and then initiatives like this one will become tokenistic. This project documents our growing awareness that the German curriculum is in need of opening up to marginalised voices and alternative critical narratives of cultural history if our subject is to speak to an ethnically more diverse student body. By engaging with the colonial legacies and continuing discourses of alterity and marginalization in the institutions of German-language literature and culture, this is a first small step towards reforming the curriculum at a local level.
Our project was originally conceived as an initiative to bring academics, writers, and artists from diverse backgrounds together in Oxford so that we can learn from them. Like much else, the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that academia works and has produced heightened levels of precarity among the writers and artists with whom we planned to engage. It is clear that this pandemic has disproportionately affected BAME populations across the globe for various reasons, including the already marginalized BAME-writers, early career researchers, university and school students, whom we had planned to invite to Oxford. Although only a small offering, the resources on this website respond to this crisis. Because decolonizing and diversifying German Studies must start by reaching new audiences inside and outside the university, we hope that this may also be an opportunity to do so with new materials and in new ways.