New Centre for ’Modern and Contemporary Studies’ at JMU

The Faculty of Arts and the Humanities at JMU is becoming even more interdisciplinary: The new centre for "Modern and Contemporary Studies" provides new opportunities for collaborative research and teaching.

The aim of the new centre is to strengthen cross-faculty collaboration in the humanities and social sciences. It focuses on literature, culture and history from the time around 1770 to the present day. The spokespersons for the new research group are Professor Catrin Gersdorf, Chair of American Studies, and Professor Stephanie Catani, Chair of Modern German Literary History I.

Topics range from socio-ecological transformation to artificial intelligence

The new centre will focus on three main areas: Environment, Media and Ideas. The "Environment" area focuses on ecological issues from a humanities, social sciences, and cultural studies perspective. Researchers investigate the relationship between nature and culture as it has developed over time; and they study to what extend literature and art have influenced that relationship. Moreover, as Gersdorf points out: "The ecological challenges of the present demand more than just scientific and technological solutions. Only if we understand climate change as a cultural and social challenge as well will we succeed in our efforts of socio-ecological transformation."

The "Media" profile line examines new media and digital forms of storytelling. The expansion of media formats beyond pure text has not only characterised storytelling in the 21st century but is a tradition distinctive of the modern age, Catani and Gersdorf say. And: Bringing together present and historical perspectives will enable us to better understand such and similar phenomena. Their aim is also to incorporate the latest technological developments into humanities research. "This includes, for example, analysing texts based on artificial intelligence and image-generating models," Catani explains. "These now influence our ideas of reading and writing, creativity and originality as well as didactic concepts in teaching and research for example in the field of language and literature teaching as well as text and data analysis."

The research area "Ideas" is a shorthand for a cultural studies and history of ideas approach to the study of literature, culture and history. The focus is on how ideological concepts, philosophical and scientific ideas, or political positions shape literature, art and (everyday) culture. Catrin Gersdorf uses the example of "climate" to illustrate what this can mean in concrete terms: "Throughout history, people have reacted differently to climate challenges. This is one of the subjects studies by our colleagues in empirical cultural studies/ethnology, for example," says the Americanist. "But climate does not only have a history as a meteorological phenomenon, it is also an idea and philosophical concept. This is where the history of knowledge, but also literary studies and philosophy come into play."

Until now, the Faculty of Arts and the Humanities at the University of Würzburg has bundled research and teaching in two structural elements: the Würzburg Centre for Ancient Studies (WAZ) and the "Medieval and Early Modern Times" (mfn) research group. The Centre for Modern and Contemporary Studies will supplement these two established groups.

Ceremonial opening on 25 January 2024

The opening ceremony of the new centre will take place on 25 January, 2024 at 6 p.m. in the Toscana Hall of the Würzburg Residence. It is free of charge and is aimed at interested members of the public, colleagues, researchers and students. The Dean of the Faculty of Arts and the Humanities, Professor Thomas Baier, will open the event. Professors Catani and Gersdorf will introduce the new Centre. The highlight of the evening will be a reading by Elisabeth Bronfen, renowned literary and cultural studies scholar at the ETH Zurich. She will present her debut novel "Merchant of Secrets" (2023). Packaged as an espionage story, the novel is a fictionalized version of Bronfen’s transatlantic family story. After the reading, the audience will have the opportunity to engage in a conversation with the author and scholar. Further information on the event can be found on the Faculty of Arts and the Humanities website.