The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


The year 1940 was one of deep and general anxiety on college campuses and in departmental offices. War had broken out in Europe in the fall of 1939, and it was quickly evident that, whether our country became a belligerent or not, the historical upheaval in Europe would profoundly affect academia. In 1940 the faculty of the department consisted of about a dozen men distributed over the senior and junior ranks. Professor H. W. Nordmeyer had assumed the headship in 1935 and was to hold this position through the tumultuous 1940s and the growing enrollments of the 1950s until his retirement in 1960. In addition to a full program of undergraduate courses, the departmental faculty was able to offer a complete series of graduate courses and seminars leading to advanced degrees.

Such was the department's situation at the time of our Page  167entry in the war. It was not possible to anticipate the immediate effect of this event on the University and the department. Older faculty members, recalling the virtual abandonment of German studies during and after World War I, feared a repetition. Surprisingly, and perhaps as an indication of a growing cultural maturity in the nation, it did not happen in 1941-45. To be sure, there was a large decrease in the number of male students because of their entry into the armed forces. Younger faculty members were affected also: Professor Otto G. Graf, for example, soon joined the armed forces, eventually attaining the rank of major in the Intelligence Services.

By 1943 the nation was involved in a truly global war in Europe and the Far East. Successful waging of such a war demanded not only the men and implements of war but also the intellectual resources of the nation. Accordingly a number of thousands of army and navy men were sent to college and university campuses for a great variety of specialized and newly created courses which were devised by various departments and schools of the University. The departmental staff was almost totally involved in this Army Specialized Training Program — intensive courses in language and area studies taught to members of the armed forces in small groups. Indeed, the available personnel of the language departments needed to be augmented by faculty from other departments and even by qualified war refugees. And so for a brief period in the University's history there was the exciting and sometimes amusing spectacle of the eradication of sacrosanct departmental and disciplinary boundaries: philosophers taught history, classicists taught German and French, professors of literature taught government and social organization. And although the whole prodigious enterprise lasted only a short time, curricular change and innovation, which became so prominent in succeeding decades received initial impetus and a trial run during 1943-44. Language faculties enjoyed a totally new and unexpected prominence. With the end of the war began an enormous expansion of college enrollments which was to affect profoundly all of higher education in the country.

Two factors which became operative during the 1950s and 1960s necessitated additions and changes in the curricular offerings of the department. The influx of so many new Page  168faculty members, each with his own specialized competence, enabled the department to broaden its curricular appeal. The department now had the students in sufficient numbers to justify these new offerings. To the older established courses, additions were made, particularly in the graduate program: more work in medieval literature, new courses in the 16th and 17th centuries, prose fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries, literary criticism, modern and contemporary literature. Almost no existing course remained as it had been and the demands for new courses stimulated a deeply satisfying and beneficial faculty increase in scholarly publication.

During the decade of the 1960s two modest programs in other Germanic languages were added: Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, Old Norse language and literature) and Netherlandic. The Scandinavian work was made possible by the addition to the staff of Professor Alan Cottrell and Claiborne Thompson; an arrangement with the Netherlands' Ministry of Education provided the department with a visiting scholar annually to conduct the work in Netherlandic.

With the close of the 1950s came the retirements of the two remaining senior men, Professors Wahr and Nordmeyer. Professor Wahr, in a career of more than 40 years, guided generations of students through modern and contemporary German literature. Professor Nordmeyer who led the department through difficult times for 25 years, still found time to contribute substantially to scholarly literature. Professor Clarence K. Pott succeeded him as department chairman until 1971. He in turn was followed in the chairmanship by Professor V. C. Hubbs, who served until 1976.

In 1965, the regular faculty numbered well over 20; over 30 graduate assistants taught the hundreds of undergraduates in the course work of the first two years. There were more than 70 undergraduate concentrates and from 70-80 graduate candidates for master and doctor degrees. Since 1940 the department has awarded 106 doctoral and 364 master degrees.

Through its staff the department also contributed substantially to those programs which cut across departmental lines. When the late Professor of Classics, Clark Hopkins, Page  169introduced, and supervised for a number of years, the Great Books Program, the German Department staff was involved in it from the beginning; at its peak as many as five members taught sections of these courses. On the graduate level, the department welcomed the students of Comparative Literature to its courses. For 14 years Professor Graf was the Chairman of the committee which directed this interdisciplinary program. He has also for 18 years been similarly involved as the Director of the Honors Program of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In recognition of his yeoman services, an Honors Scholarship has been established in his name. The revived emphasis on foreign languages which the war had brought about resulted in a number of activities, some sponsored by the federal government. In 1959, for example, the University was host to a summer National Defense Education Act Institute; the University's modern language departments naturally played a major role in this effort and Professor Graf was named its director, supervising the work of 109 high school teachers of modern languages.

Other activities more directly connected with the German Department were the collaborative effort with several other universities (Wayne State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) in establishing a very successful Junior Year Abroad in Freiburg, West Germany. Out of this a Deutsches Haus was established on our own campus as was the Max Kade Visiting Professorship under the terms of which the department has been enabled to bring a number of distinguished foreign Germanists to the campus on a yearly basis. Professor Hubbs was chiefly instrumental in securing this professorship for the department and the College, and in 1963 Professor Harald Scholler undertook the organization of a Conference on Medieval Studies which attracted a number of scholars from home and abroad of international stature.

The growth of the department in staff and number of students, which had begun during the chairmanship of Professor Nordmeyer, continued at an increased rate during the years of Professor Pott's tenure.