Tracy undertook her undergraduate studies in German Literature, Politics and Sociology at the Humboldt University, Berlin. She has an MA and PhD in German from Durham. Her research and scholarship interests focus on aspects of German history, literature and culture from the mid nineteenth-century onwards, including: colonialism, travel writing, nationalism, cultural memory and protest movements. She also supervises undergraduate dissertations and undergraduate research projects on study abroad in the above areas. She also teach modules in language, interpreting, literature and culture.
- Could you please tell us what you do at Durham University? What does your research entail?
I did my undergraduate degree in Germany and post-grad in Durham. I had a great experience and did my MA in research and I worked on my topic of travel writing and German identity. I wrote about Afrikareisende. They basically call themselves travelling scientists and they wrote about their experiences. I looked at different generations of writers and their different takes on their experiences in Germany. I did my PhD in Durham so I could build on my research interests and cut into the area of colonialism and German colonial history and linking that to travel writing as well. I was quite lucky to stumble across something that was just starting to gain quite a lot of academic attention so I could build on that. As part of my PhD I did a bit of teaching as well to get some experience. I did some teaching of language classes and then when this finished I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with my skillset and get a job at Durham!
- What do you lecture in at the moment?
At the moment I am coming to the end of a module called ‘Identity and Politics’ in Germany. Part of the material is linked to another interest of mine which is protest and resistance movements. This is a first year module and we are looking at the depiction of resistance movements in German film. Over the last 60-70 years looking at different pockets of resistance and what that tells us about different German values at the time of resistance and what the portrayal of this resistance can tell us about German identity today.
- Which film do you like best in your module?
I enjoy taking about them all equally, there is one film about Sophie Schöll and the white rose resistance movement. Most students are familiar with this already but we look at it from a slightly different angle. My favourite one is Ostpunk! which is about punk subculture resistance movements in East Germany.
- I see also that you are Chair of the School’s Language Provision Committee and Durham Representative of the North East German Network, could you please tell us about what these initiatives are.
The Language Provision Committee is a really useful committee which addresses school wide issues to do with the provision of language teachers. It is important that we have school wide initiatives and increased communication between colleagues. We also have shared practice sessions where colleagues present on aspects of teaching and scholarship research. The North East German Network, which I will be taking over direction of in January, is a collaborative initiative with Newcastle University. Once a year all of the directors will meet up and it’s about promoting everything to do with German Language and culture with everyone. It emphasises the links between the academic community and those with a genuine interest in Germany who may not speak the language. Anything interesting like Christmas Markets will be passed on to promote German language and culture to as many people as possible.
- Is there a native number of German speakers that like in the North East?
Yes, there is quite a community and initiatives like this promote inter-action and there are regular meetings. There is a sense of consolidating community also also branching out and encouraging other people to get involved.
- Why do you think to this day that for people living in the UK learning both the German language and culture is still important?
There isn’t such a tradition in England about learning languages but we know about the wider transferrable skills and we also appreciate our own history and culture more when you learn languages and learn how to interact with other people. From learning languages you learn about culture and can understand other people’s perspectives and other ways of approaching things.
- Obviously there is a lot of history between Germany and England, do you think learning a language is more than just being able to talk, and do you think it helps us to understand other cultures and historical events better?
It depends on how you learn it and how you look at the materials, as this will alter your perception. This is the same for every language I feel. You can interact more with personal experiences with those who have been through this particular period of history. I think what is quite interesting is thinking about people who are learning German, from some teaching I did recently in a school about colonialism and how it is being remembered in Germany, is how children can engage with German language and culture and by learning it they can realise how important it is to look back at the past and be open and honest when addressing it.
- Very insightful thank you. Now back to some focus on your research. Is there anything that you would be very keen to teach one day?
I would say at the moment I am moving into the areas that I am also interested in, slightly moving away from colonialism to more protest and resistance movements. I am branching out into more modern aspects of this, so I would like to intensify what I am doing at the moment and go into resistance that is less documented and bring more things to public consciousness.
- Do you have any publications coming up for your research, or a recent publication?
Everything that I have published I am very proud of. There is a huge sense of relief and joy. The most recent article which was published in September in an international journal- Mobility Studies Journal- and it was about travel writing and the process to get it published was very rigorous.
- So we move on to some aspects about German culture, what is your favourite thing about German culture?
That is a very hard question! I would have to say my favourite thing about Germany would have to be Berlin and the contrast between the amazing culture and opportunities in Berlin because there is nightlife contrasted with beautiful countryside which is almost untouched. It hasn’t really attracted so much tourism yet and is something which people should get the chance to see. There are beautiful lakes and surrounding villages. Please venture outside! There is also a great attitude of openness and directness in Berlin which I think is very refreshing!
Interview by Emily Kilner