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GER4016 : The Future: Between Utopia and Dystopia

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Bernhard Malkmus
  • Owning School: Modern Languages
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module investigates paradigmatic shifts in how time has been conceptualized over the past 250 years in European cultures, with a particular focus on the idea of the future. We will investigate how concepts of the future have changed in the light of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the current global ecological crisis, and how these changes have shaped our perception of and engagement with the present. We will engage with a selection of contemporary literature and visual arts, for example Ingeborg Bachmann, Max Frisch, W.G. Sebald; Neo Rauch, Werner Herzog, and Berlin School movies. Excerpts from Enlightenment philosophy, 19th-century science writing, and 20th century political theory in the German language tradition will provide historical contexts.
With contemporary thinkers such as Aleida Assmann, Eva Horn and Lucian Hoelscher we are asking ourselves: What kind of future do we have as humans in an increasingly anthropomorphic world?

Outline Of Syllabus

I. Digitisation
Man and machine, Politics of the digital revolution

II.       The History of the Future
Textbook: Lucian Hölscher, "Die Entdeckung der Zukunft"
Central changes of Western concepts of the future since 1750
Primary texts by Kant, Hölderlin, Haeckel, Freud

III.       The Globalization of the Future
The global dissemination of Western concepts of the future
Primary texts by Benjamin, Arendt, Anders, Beck
Films by Fritz Lang and Christian Petzold

IV.       The Anthropocene
Seminal theories on humanity as a geological agent
Visual reflections: Werner Herzog, Neo Rauch, Andreas Gursky
Literary reflections: Ingeborg Bachmann, Max Frisch, WG Sebald

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:003 out of 10 lectures synchronous online (if the circumstances mandate it, more)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:003 out of 10 seminars synchronous online (if the circumstances mandate it, more)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1167:00167:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The mixture of lectures and seminars will provide the opportunity for students to (1) acquire lecture-based in-depth knowledge of the significance of key characteristics of the sources and materials studied, and (2) to use this knowledge as a basis for classroom discussions of the key sources and the issues raised in the scholarship, thereby encouraging students to apply the general critical abilities and contextual knowledge they acquired to the specific examples on the syllabus. Lectures will provide students with an introduction to the main issues covered by the module. Seminars will be used for student-active discussions, thus enabling students to develop their interpersonal skills and to practise their ability to articulate ideas.

Synchronous online teaching will be used to supplement the ‘present in person’ teaching experience and allow students to deepen their acquired knowledge and skills in structured guided work on specific materials on the syllabus. The blended learning mode of teaching showed to be very effective as it allowed students to reflect in their own time.

This online component will also be used to explore new collaborative learning formats among small groups of students (2-3 individuals). Part of this format will be the preparation of a non-assessed oral presentation on a subject of their choice relating to the issues explored in the module. This will develop students’ oral presentation skills and, additionally, enable them to practise constructing coherent and reasoned arguments. (Depending on the situation, these presentations will be dispersed across the semester under ‘present in person’ circumstances or bundled as an online conference if the circumstances mandate it.)

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination601A3024-hour take-home paper in English
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M70A 2500 word essay to be written in German and submitted at the end of Semester 1
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MPractice essay of about 1000 words, set around weeks 4-6
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The assessed essay will allow students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the module’s main topics, and to produce a reasoned and coherent argument in writing. The essay will be based on individual study and encourages students to carry out independent critical research. In addition, the essay will enable students to show evidence of the following skills: bibliographical work, word-processing, footnoting and referencing.

The take-home exam will allow students to demonstrate a comprehensive and contextually embedded understanding of the knowledge acquired throughout the semester, an ability to structure and interconnect information to produce coherent arguments in writing, and versatility in applying it to specific new contexts.

Reading Lists