German-funded center opens doors at U

by Erin Ghere

The University’s Center of German and European Studies, an interdisciplinary academic center, held opening ceremonies Friday afternoon.
In conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the center will create interdisciplinary courses and workshops for the universities and surrounding communities.
More than 100 people listened to speakers describe the two-site center, funded by the German Parliament, Friday afternoon in the Humphrey Center.
“The center’s mission is to be a hub of interdisciplinary graduate student and faculty research into the new Germany in the new Europe,” said Thomas Cook, associate to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
The new Europe has arisen in the past decade, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunion of Germany.
The center will explore the role of Germany in this new Europe and educate the next generation of German and European specialists.
In pursuit of these goals, the center has established a core group of University faculty members to focus their attention on the center. University faculty will work together with Madison faculty to create the center’s interdisciplinary courses, seminars and other opportunities for graduate students.
These faculty include members of many University departments, including agriculture, economics, geography, history, political science, public affairs, management, sociology and law.
“The collaborations draw from departments in both universities and into the community at times,” said Jack Zipes, director of the new University center.
The seminars will be offered concurrently at both universities through distance education, allowing graduate students to work with peers from the other institution.
To create the center, the universities submitted a plan to the German Academic Exchange Service in fall 1997.
The University and Madison competed against 10 other universities for the collaborative center, Zipes said.
“A number of top-tier institutions competed to have this center placed on their campuses,” Cook said.
The University’s center is only the fifth such center in the United States.
The University of California-Berkeley, Harvard University, Georgetown University and Brandeis University house the others. In addition, there are two centers in Canada, one in the United Kingdom and one in Paris. The Madison site opened Thursday.
Christian Bode, secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service, said officials hope to open five more centers around the world, including centers in Moscow and Beijing.
“This will be the last center of its kind on the North American continent,” Bode said. “The center will be a member of an exclusive club that will continue to expand outside North America.”
Several other representatives from the Federal Republic of Germany were present at the opening ceremony, including Karsten Voigt, the coordinator of the German-American Cooperation, who gave the keynote address.
Voigt said the country’s five centers have been established to bridge the gap between Europe and the United States.
“We are interested in America being interested in Europe, and we can learn from American perceptions,” he said.
He said part of the German identity is the atrocities of Adolf Hitler during World War II. But the new generations of Germany want to move on from the past.
“The old and new Germans together created a new state of democracy that can have a future,” Voigt said.
It is that new Germany that wants to share with the United States, he said.
“We need to communicate about the basic fundamentals of our societies,” he added.
The center was established in 1998, when the Madison-Twin Cities proposal was selected by the German government.
Although the opening ceremony was belated, the center has already established four research collaboratives. Plans are underway to offer courses during the next two years.
The center established a program for local K-12 German and social science teachers this summer. Center officials are also considering establishing a German immersion school — a first for Minnesota — and a lecture series highlighting German and European studies.
“A land-grant, public university has a responsibility to improve K-12 education through outreach,” University President Mark Yudof said during his speech at the opening ceremony.
Cook said the center will overlap some with the University’s Center for European Studies, but the two institutions have different focuses and funding sources.
The Center for German and European Studies is located in 309 Social Sciences Building on the West Bank.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and welcomes comments at She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.