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Women in German Dissertation Prize Previous Winners
Kerry Wallach's (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) meticulously researched and compelling dissertation, "Observable Type: Jewish Women and the Jewish Press in Weimar," examines the intersection of gender and Jewishness in periodicals that helped women to negotiate between Jewish identity and the emergent Weimar "new woman." WiG members will be especially pleased to know how centrally an actual wig, here one that reproduces the classic Bubikopf, figures in Wallach's thesis. Its use enabled Orthodox Jewish women to maintain a clearly recognizable religious tradition that mandated head-coverings for women, while also performing covert styling that signaled an emancipated state. In articles and advertising imagery, Jewish periodicals encouraged women to engage in this doubly encoded act. Wallach uses the Bubikopf wig as trope to interpret a wide range of literature, film, and various forms of print media in which women's self-fashioning simultaneously masked and articulated a Jewish identity. She draws on an astonishing range of previously un-mined archival material to chart new territory in the fields of German-Jewish Studies and more generally Cultural Studies. Throughout Wallach demonstrates an impressive knowledge of Weimar discourses on Jewishness, gender, and the meanings of modernity. All three members of the WiG dissertation prize committee found her work to be highly engaging and fascinating, and we anticipate ultimately seeing it in print.
The WiG Dissertation Prize 2011 was awarded to Karina Marie Ash, University of California at Los Angeles, for her 2010 dissertation “Constructing Femininity in an Age of Celibacy.” The members of the award committee, Jennifer Askey, Lisa Hock, and Maggie McCarthy, note in their citation: “Constructing Femininity in an Age of Celibacy” makes a nuanced contribution to the current scholarly dialogue on the gendered experience of culture by examining the conflict many noblewomen felt between their role as bearers of noble children and their desire to life a religious, and therefore celibate life. Through close readings of male-authored texts that posit imaginative compromises for this feminine dilemma, your dissertation sheds light on the gendered experience of emotional, physical, and social expectations on the part of medieval women. One reader commented positively on [the] array of primary material, writing that, “Ash brings together literary texts, lives of the saints, religious and legal documents and theory not because that is what one does in the second decade of the 21st century to be hip, but because it makes scholarly sense to do so. And she offers extensive and nuanced close reading to persuade me that this is the case.“ Karina is currently teaching at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany. A revised version of her dissertation will be published under the title “Conflicting Femininities in Medieval German Literature“ by Ashgate in 2012.
The WiG Dissertation Prize 2009 was awarded to Katie L.M. Sutton, University of Melbourne, for her 2008 dissertation “The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany (1918-1933).” Birgit Tautz presented the prize to Katie at the conference, noting that Katie was probably the winner who had traveled the farthest to receive the prize. The members of the award committee, Rick McCormick, Mila Ganeva, and Birgit Tautz note in their citation: “The Masculine Woman” makes a substantial contribution to the current scholarly dialogue on gender and culture in the Weimar Republic. More importantly, the dissertation reaches beyond the confines of Weimar – through the important historical and theoretical insights it provides as well as through the dialogue it opens up between and across disciplines (as well as Wissenschaftskulturen in different countries and on different continents). Confidently argued and elegantly written, the dissertation “focuses on an important but under-researched aspect of what was included within the much larger (and well-researched) discourse on Weimar’s “New Woman”—namely that her threat to traditional femininity included an advocacy not merely of androgyny but indeed of an outright “masculinization” of women. [...] Sutton’s thorough, original, and differentiated study of a phenomenon within Weimar culture teaches us about more than Weimar—she notes continuities from the more liberal or tolerant Weimar attitudes that do not completely disappear in the much more oppressive culture of the Third Reich. This dissertation provides historical evidence of emerging queer identities that we tend to think have only evolved since “gay liberation” began in the late 1960s. Thus, in addition to its relevance for the study of Weimar culture, this dissertation contributes to the larger history of gender and human sexuality.” Having recently relocated to Germany from Australia, Katie came to Michigan from Potsdam, where she currently holds a post-doctoral position. She has begun working with Berghahn Books on revising her dissertation. We can look forward to a great read!
The WIG Dissertation prize for 2008 was awarded to Anna Parkinson (Ph.D. Cornell University) for her dissertation, "Affective Passages: The Politics of Emotion in Postwar West German Culture." Parkinson examines current theories regarding the role of literature and film in affecting public spheres of mourning in post-war Germany through a series of close readings and theoretical analysis. Karen Remmler who, along with Jeanette Clausen served with me on the committee, noted at the WIG conference that "this is indeed a timely topic and the combination of contextual placement and theoretical originality make this dissertation an excellent example of superb writing, critical thinking and interpretation." --Linda Kraus Worley, Committee chair.
The winner of the 2006 Women in German Dissertation Award is Olga Trokhimenko (currently at UNC Wilmington, Ph.D. Duke), who will receive $500 for her dissertation on gender and humor in medieval culture, entitled " Women’s Laughter and the Performance of Virtue in Medieval German Discourse."
The prize committee reports, "The author reviews several theoretical orientations to the study of laughter/the performance of laughter as it is represented (in texts, in images), how texts attempt to elicit laughter, how laughter is interpreted or responded to—and how the response is gendered, i.e., control of women’s laughter corresponds to male control of female sexuality. She examines medieval religious, political, didactic, and literary discourses to uncover a tradition connecting laughter and “other activities of the female mouth” to sexual activity. She presents close readings of an impressive range of literary examples that reflect the contradictory messages to/about women (be virtuous and seductive at the same time). She concludes by examining the use of smiles on several sculptures depicting the wise and the foolish virgins to further support her arguments. The study focuses on intersections of gender with other categories of analysis, and it demonstrates solid and innovative interdisciplinary scholarship. It is an ambitious research project and we hope the author will continue to develop and refine the work she has done here."
This year the WIG Dissertation Prize winner is Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza. Her dissertation, completed in
2005 at the University of Toronto, has the title “’Da befiel sie Furcht und Angst’: Zur Funktion von
Geschlecht in den Judith-Dramen des 19. Jahrhunderts.” The dissertation impresses with its historical
depth. Its feminist approach is innovative, and the case study convinces the reader of the importance of the
figure of Judith for feminist discourse. The study makes inroads into research on the nexus of gender, fear
and anxiety, a hitherto fairly unexplored area in feminist literary analysis of 18th- and 19th-century texts. It
combines a sophisticated theoretical framework with detailed text analysis and historical and biographical
The Winner of the 2004 Women in German Dissertation Award is Jill Suzanne Smith, presently Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Modern Languages, Union College for her dissertation: Reading the Red Light: Literary, Cultural, and Social Discourses on Prostitution in Berlin, 1880 – 1933.
Jill Susanne Smith’s dissertation offers an innovative, original approach to the German discourse on prostitution. The scope of authors, media and sources consulted is as impressive as the carefully crafted, yet radical argument. This study challenges traditional as well as feminist positions on prostitution thus advancing the scholarship and our understanding of a highly ambivalent, yet crucial figure of modernity. In a tour the force, Smith offers the reader a sophisticated, well-written, and tightly-argued analysis of the representation of female prostitution at the turn-of-the-century and the Weimar Republic. Her dissertation is an excellent illustration of feminist scholarship that takes a traditional configuration of femininity and reads it anew. In that process, she invigorates our understanding of the history of Germany, our theoretical understanding of commodity, pleasure, desire, and agency, our conception of German culture, and our feminist casting of our own history. Smith’s work is based on sophisticated research, subtle textual close readings, equal attention to diverse discourses, and a strong and clear voice that is not afraid to veer off trodden paths in German Studies. She not only reads the figure of the prostitute against the grain but several canonical theoretical, literary, and political texts, making them productive in a critical feminist framework.
The 2003 award for the best dissertation by a WiG member was given to Katharina Altpeter-Jones for her dissertation, "Trafficking in Goods and Women: Love and Economics in Konrad Flecks Flore and Blanscheflur ." She completed her dissertation at the Duke University under the direction of Ann Marie Rasmussen in July 2004. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Lewis and Clark College.
Excerpts from comments by evaluators:
This dissertation has an original and convincingly presented argument, a sophisticated and coherent theoretical framework, and a clearly defined methodological approach. There is scholarly depth on a variety of planes: historical understanding of thirteenth-century economic developments, medieval European literature, theories of commodity and gift exchange, the resonance in feminist theory of Gayle Rubins work, the chosen German text in its literary tradition, appropriate relays between changing social hierarchies and imaginative literary representations. Altpeter-Jones is a highly skilled reader of texts, presenting her analyses with circumspect argumentation. Theoretical material (example: Bataille in Chapter 6) is thoroughly integrated into the text; her vocabulary of analysis (example: polyvalent language of exchange) is carefully formulated and presented and entirely compelling. The innovative male figure
It is a very intriguing reading of Fleck’s medieval text, which certainly breaks new ground by connecting very imaginatively discourses of literature and economics. The dissertation is well researched and a pleasure to read. It combines Cultural Studies, feminist theory, and economics discourses very successfully.
The 2002 award for the best dissertation by a WiG member was given to Bethany Wiggin for her dissertation, "Fiction, France, and Other Voices: Crossing German Borders in Fictional Narratives, 1680-1720." She completed her dissertation at the University of Minnesota under the direction of James A. Parente Jr. in December 2002. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Excerpts from comments by evaluators:
The dissertation brings a fresh perspective to narrative fiction in the period between 1680 and 1720, productively challenging commonly held assumptions and hegemonic literary history. It is a well researched historical dissertation with a strong and productive argument. B.Wiggin shifts the terrain of analysis to center on gender norms and the disciplining of sexuality in the oft-told history of bourgeois individualism, investigating a key transitional period in the history of the novel. The research also provides a rich contribution to the history of reading, a vital segment of cultural history. The argument is original, and the readings are persuasive. Wiggins own style is a pleasure to read, sophisticated and clear.
This dissertation reflects the WIG mission statement in its feminist approach to the topic, which focuses on the intersection of gender/sexuality and class in the selected narratives. It is above all a creative and self-confident revision of the German novel around 1700 with emphasis on the “Roman gallant.” The exploration of cross-cultural connections (German/French) during that time expands the revision of the genre at hand. The dissertation is well-written, well researched.
The 2001 award for the best dissertation by a WiG member was given to Wendy C. Nielsen for her dissertation, "Female Acts of Violence: French Revolutionary Theater in British and German Romantic Drama." She completed her dissertation at the University of California/Davis under the direction of Gail Finney in September 2001. She is currently working in the writing center at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Wendy was present at the recent conference to receive the award.
In her letter of nomination Gail Finney wrote:
Dr. Nielsen’s dissertation is a wide-ranging comparative study of German, English, and French romantic dramas about female figures who commit violent heroic acts against the literal or metaphoric backdrop of the French Revolution, above all plays by Christine Westphalen, Karoline von Günderrode, Olympe de Gouges, Elizabeth Inchbald, Heinrich von Kleist, and Percy B. Shelley. Exemplifying feminist scholarship at its finest, this study consummately reflects the values embodied in the Women in German Mission Statement. Whereas in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Europe violent women were typically marked as outcasts because they were regarded as opponents of the republican ideals that had motivated the Rench Revolution, Dr. Nielsen contextualizes female violence by investigating the ways in which it is staged to confront ideological issues of the day. By historicizing female violence, she demythologizes it.
Dr. Nielsen contextualizes female violence in two main ways: by discussing the plays she treats against the background of key contemporaneous aesthetic, philosophical, and political writings (by thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft), and by studying the dramas of lesser-known female playwrights in the light of work by their more renowned male contemporaries, e.g., Westphalen’s tragedy Charlotte Corday is read through the thought of Schiller and Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Günderrode’s Hildgund is juxtaposed with Kleist’s Penthesilea. This rich, prismatic approach to a topic that has received only scant attention adds much to our understanding of the relationship between violence, gender, and drama in the decades around 1800."
In their letter, the competition judges wrote the following words of praise.
"With erudition and insight this dissertation plumbs the significance of revolutionary violence for the social history of women’s rights and the symbolic capital of their acts in three markedly different national contexts. The theater, events, and ideas of a nascent modernity come alive as keen feminist analyses are brought to bear on violence in the age of reason, virtue, and sentimentality. Challenging some commonplaces in Enlightenment, Romantic, and even feminist scholarship, this intellectually ambitious work both recovers key moments of women’s modern history and advances a newly critical understanding of the central role that feminism has to play in analyzing modern concepts such as freedom, citizenship, justice, and especially violence in the name of national virtue. This historically focused study of the period around 1800 thus speaks to our contemporary concerns as well."
The 2000 award for the best dissertation by a WiG member was given to Kerstin Barndt for her dissertation Sentiment und Sachlichkeit. Schreib-und Leseweisen der Neuen Frau am Ende der Weimarer Republik. Kerstin Barndt completed her dissertation at the Free University of Berlin; she holds a position at the University of Michigan and is currently on leave in Berlin. To her--and our collective--regret, Kerstin was unable to attend the WiG conference and accept the prize in person, but with a three-month old nursing baby, the trip from Berlin to southern Arizona was a bit too taxing at such relatively short notice. Thus, Kerstin had asked a friend and colleague, Professor Susanne Zantop (Dartmouth College), to accept the prize on her behalf. As it turns out, Susanne will be in Berlin in December, so she will be able to give the award certificate and the $500 check to Kerstin in person. On behalf of the Women in German Prize Committee and the collective membership of Women in German, I, as chair of the Committee, congratulate Kerstin on this award. I also extend our appreciation and thanks to Kerstinís dissertation advisorsóKlaus R. Scherpe, Claudia Albert, Hermann Haarmann, Irmela von der Luehe, and Anita Rungeófor their mentoring and intellectual guidance.
In his nominating letter, Kerstinís dissertation director, Professor Klaus Scherpe (Humboldt University) describes Kerstinís dissertation as follows:
Kerstin Barndt explores, and contributes to, a number of interlocking concerns at once. Far from limiting herself to a recapitulation of recent research on the links between the literary ìNew Objectivityî and the ìNew Womanî at the end of the Weimar Republic, Barndtís dissertation takes an interdisciplinary approach to literary study. Noticeably inflected by her background in Anglo-American Cultural Studies and current debates on popular culture, her project productively reworks some received dichotomies in German Studies. Her readings of three novels by Irmgard Keun and Vicki Baum are situated against the backdrop of womenís history and culture since the beginning of the century, suggesting that literature always needs to be studied in its gendered historical and sociological contexts. Furthermore, Kerstin pays detailed attention to the long-standing imbrication of womenís culture with popular culture, specifically as it plays out in the publishing industry of the time. [...] [B]y shedding new light on the (limited) variety of subject-positions available to women readers at the end of the Weimar Republik, Barndt reveals the importance of the reader as she is courted not only by authors, but also by publishers, advertisers, and political parties. In order to substantiate this claim, Kerstin is able to present substantial original research in archival sources ranging from contemporary journals and magazines to daily newspapers and individual letters by readers.
And this is how the judges described the reasons for their selection of Kerstin Barndtís dissertation for the 2000 award:
Barndtís dissertation is an original contribution to the ever-growing body of work surrounding the discourse of the so-called ìNew Womanî in the literature and culture of the Weimar Republic. It is no easy feat at this point to contribute something new to the analysis of this well-researching topic: but Barndt has accomplished this. In part it is because she successfully demonstrates how new perspectives in the past ten years on Weimarís ìNew Objectivityî need to be confronted with feminist research on the discourse of the New Woman in popular literature and culture. Important recent work on New Objectivity has been done by scholars like Helmut Lethen and Martin Lindner, who for the most part read it as a predominantly masculine phenomenon. But this, Barndt demonstrates, can only be done by ignoring the role of women writers and readers in the development of a ìmiddlebrowî popular literature between high bourgeois art and mass culture at the end of the Weimar Republik.
Barndtís contribution to a new understanding of the ìNew Womanî continues the work begun by pioneering scholars like the historian Atina Grossman and film scholar Patrice Petro. Indeed, what Petro attempted in her book Joyless Streets with her theoretical conceptualization of, and archival research on, the role of the female spectator in Weimar cinema, Barndt attempts to do with the female reader in her analysis of popular novels by Vicki Baum and Irmgard Keun. Her readings are exemplary for the theoretical knowledge of current debates in culture studies she brings to them as well as for original archival research on the literary marketplace at the end of the Weimar Republik. Equally impressive is her skill at combining these elements into persuasive and close readings.
Her dissertation breaks new ground in the ongoing attempt to examine the relationship of gender to the development of popular culture in modernity.
The 1999 award for the best dissertation by a WiG member was given to Temby Caprio from the University of Chicago for her dissertation entitled "Womenís Film Culture in the Federal Republic of Germany: Female Spectators, Politics and Pleasure from the Fifties to the Nineties." On behalf of the Women in German Prize Committee and the collective membership of Women in German, I, as chair of the Committee, congratulate Temby on this award. I also extend our appreciation and thanks to Tembyís Doktormutter, Professor Katie Trumpener of the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, for her exemplary mentoring and guidance.
In her nominating letter Katie Trumpener describes Tembyís dissertation as follows:
[Temby Caprio's dissertation] is nothing less than a new (and badly-needed) history of women and cinema in Germany. Beginning with the culture and reception of womenís films and womenís filmmaking throughout the 40s and 50s, the dissertation goes on to describe the emergence of early feminist culture in West Germany, the films shaped from its discussions and debates, their impact and implications for art cinema and for more mainstream film culture, and finally the partial survival of such feminist paradigms in the self-consciously post-feminist films of the 1990s.
Temby's work reopens a number of extremely important questions first raised in Germany (but never resolved) in the early years of feminist film scholarship. She is especially interested in the questions of the womenís picture, of womenís stake in "conventional", "normative" melodramas, of the role, more generally, played by womenís magazines, and the womenís press, in the reception of post-war German cinema, and of what kind of impact rearly feminist filmmaking actually had on mainstream women filmgoers.
And this is how the judges described their reasons for their selection of Temby Caprio's dissertation for the 1999 award:
Temby Caprio's "Women's Film Culture in the Federal Republic of Germany: Female Spectators, Politics and Pleasure from the Fifties to the Ninetimes" makes a fundamental contribution to the history of postwar cinema as well as to the history of feminist culture in the Federal Republic. Investigating the history of womenís cinema in the FRG as the history of womenís film culture, Caprio redesigns accepted paradigms of research. Her project is both broad in scope and nuanced in interpretive analysis. Theoretically sophisticated and methodologically circumspect, Caprio combines analysis of social structure with a sensitivity to aesthetic concerns. Well versed in relevant scholarly discussions in both English and German, she has written a well-crafted dissertation that is a pleasure to read. Her work is historically grounded and differentiated in its analyses. It incorporates new material as well as provocative investigations of more canonical films within the framework of a history of womenís film culture that does justice to contradictions and discontinuities as well as common structures and negotiations.
For those of you interested in reading "the real thing," you will be happy to know that an article based on Tembyís work in this dissertation is about to appear in the forthcoming issue of the Women in German Yearbook.
As a matter of fact, the Women in German Dissertation Award is Temby Caprio's second academic award: In her first year of teaching she received one of the few teaching awards given to graduate students at the University of Chicago, one in which undergraduate students nominate a particularly excellent and inspiring teacher. Before and beyond awards, however, Tembyís dedication to her work in all its facets is evident in the fact that, in addition to her work as a scholar and a teacher, she has been an active participant in the practical work of supporting and expanding feminist film culture, locally and globally, over the past five years.
The second Women in German Memorial Fund Annual Prize for a Dissertation by a WiG Member was awarded to Mariatte Denman (UC Davis) on Friday night at the WiG 1998 Conference. The prize is endowed by the Women in German Memorial Fund and awarded in memory of treasured WiG members now deceased.
The title of Mariatte’s dissertation is: Staging the Nation: Representations of Nationhood and Gender in Plays, Images and Films in Postwar West-Germany (1945-1949). Her Doktormutter is Anna Kuhn (UC Davis). The panel of judges for this year’s prize were Jeannine Blackwell (University of Kentucky), Nancy Kaiser (University of Wisconsin), and Ursula Mahlendorf (UC Santa Barbara). Congratulations to Mariatte and thanks to the judges and Marjorie for all of their hard work.
The first Women in German Memorial Fund Annual Prize for a Dissertation by a WiG Member was awarded to Helga Thorsen (University of Arkansas, Little Rock) on Friday night at the WiG 1997 Conference. The prize is endowed by the Women in German Memorial Fund and awarded in memory of treasured WiG members now deceased.
The title of Helga's dissertation is: Re-negotiating Borders: Responses of German and Austrian Middle-Class Women Writers to Medical Discourses on Sex, Gender, and Sexuality at the Turn of the Century and her Doktormutter is Ruth- Ellen Boetcher Joeres (University of Minnesota). The panel of judges for this year's prize were Barbara Becker-Canterino (Ohio State University), Jeanette Clausen (Indiana/Purdue University), and Margaret E. Ward (Wellesley College), and the administration of the prize was done by Marjorie Gelus (California State University, Sacramento). Congratulations to Helga and thanks to the judges and Marjorie for all of their hard work.