My research investigates concepts of sex and gender in German literature and culture, concentrating on the nineteenth through the twenty-first century. My current work examines ethnographic, philosophical, philological, and literary discourses in order to trace the history of the notion—popular today—that there is a meaningful relationship between language and gender.
My book project, Articulating Difference: Sex and the Study of Language in the Long Nineteenth Century, argues that we are not the inventors, but rather the inheritors and adaptors, of the notion that gender and language are interrelated. From speculation about the patriarchal origins of language, to research on “women’s languages” and studies of grammatical gender, to literary imaginations of “feminine” sign-systems, ideas about sexual difference have undergirded theories of language for centuries. In particular, the book shows the way that assertions about the relationship between language and gender shaped how language was understood and studied in the long nineteenth century, a period that saw extensive theoretical reflection on language as well as the beginnings of modern linguistics. As philosophical and scientific texts came to insist on the importance of sex for language itself, they also developed a language of sex—a way to construct and evidence the differences between women and men. By examining how the relationship between language and sexual difference has been imagined historically, the book situates recent discussions of gender and language within a new historical framework, showing that they are part of a long practice of thinking these two categories together.
In addition to the history of language and gender, I am also interested in contemporary literature and the politics of form, which I explored in a recent article on Jenny Erpenbeck.
In 2019, I started the Chicago German Studies Colloquium with Alice Goff (History). The colloquium now meets as a Scholarly Seminar at the Newberry Library: https://www.newberry.org/german-studies-seminar
Work with Students
Students working with me have written on topics such as: motherhood in postwar German literature; sexuality in Realism and Modernism; women’s writing; and representations of the Holocaust in German history textbooks.
- “The Ambivalent Didacticism of Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen.” The Germanic Review 94:4 (2019): 345-362.
- “The Sex of Language: Jacob Grimm on Grammatical Gender,” MLN, forthcoming April 2021.
Recent Graduate Courses:
- Gender and Language
- Robert Musil: Altered States
- Problems in the Study of Gender and Sexuality: On “Women’s Writing”
Recent Undergraduate Courses:
- Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik: Poetry and Crisis
- The Letter in/as Literature
- Readings in World Literature