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Twelve-year-old Fellowship Program Welcomes German Scholars to Duke

Amerikahaus 2008

Since 2007, German Ph.D. candidates have been coming to Duke through a partnership with the Bavarian American Academy in Munich

By Camille Jackson

German scholar Clara-Sophie Höhn’s nearly eight weeks on Duke’s campus last year helped advance her Ph.D. project to the next level, offering her the opportunity to engage with experts, use the university’s vast library, and benefit from its particular location in the American South.

“The most important aspect for me was that I was able to meet the people I was studying personally and get an impression of who they are and what motivated them to take part in one of the major social movements in the U.S.,” said Höhn whose thesis topic was on antiracism and the role of Southern white women in the civil rights movement.

“I am focusing on intersectionality as established by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw,” Höhn writes in her project summary. “It examines how social categories, in my case race, whiteness, gender, class, culture, and religion, overlap as well as intersect and therefore influence systems of oppression, discrimination, domination and/or privilege.”

Höhn is one of the most recent fellows to be selected for the Bavarian American Academy/Duke University Post-Graduate Research Fellowship, a 12-year partnership between the Duke Center for Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS) and the America House Munich – Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations.

The fellowship provides students pursuing a Ph.D. in fields such as law, history, and political science, a generous stipend, housing, travel assistance and the opportunity to spend up to 8 weeks on Duke’s campus.

This fall, Duke will welcome its 12th fellow, Axelle Germanaz, a Ph.D. candidate at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg in American studies.

“For me, the program is very important and impressive. All of the fellows report back on the incredible, helpful and enriching research environment, the ample resources, and the huge benefit of personal communication and intercultural exchange,” said Margaretha Schweiger-Wilhelm, the managing director of the Bavarian American Academy.

The program, which began in the 2007-08 academic year, was founded by the former directors of the Bavarian American Academy (BAA). Professor Kerry Haynie, REGSS director, oversees the program on Duke’s end.

The relationship between Duke and BAA began during a 4-day summer institute, “Ethnicity and Society in America,” held in 2008 at the America House Munich – Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations in Munich, Haynie was one of the U.S. faculty members who led discussions on the historical and intellectual dimensions of race in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

At the time, the Executive Director of the Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations, Meike Zwingenberger, was BAA’s managing director.

“Professor Haynie has been an outstanding source of information and help for the fellows, together with the local staff. All participants have reported that they received an enormous support at the center,” Zwingenberger said. “The Center (REGSS) has been an excellent partner for younger researchers in Germany working on urban studies, race relations, ethnic entrepreneurship, public policies, presidential election’s voting behavior and other themes connected to social science research.”

“The Fellowship program has been a successful intellectual partnership between the Bavarian American Academy, the Duke Alumni German-American Club, and REGSS,” said Haynie, who hosts the fellows in the physical office space of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity.

“The university is an ideal location for scholars working on topics related to race, ethnicity, intersectionality, race relations, and politics because of its excellent faculty, library, and archival resources. We have been able to provide the fellows with a base from which to do in-depth research and fieldwork, and connect with faculty and graduate students who have expertise in their research areas,” Haynie said.

“The relationship has been mutually beneficial. For example, the fellows introduce us to new perspectives and scholarship on topics related to the work of the Center. I’m especially pleased that this partnership provides Duke alumni in Germany with the means to remain connected to the university.”

Zwingenberger said that besides being a prestigious U.S. partner, Duke’s location in the Research Triangle, in North Carolina, and in the southern U.S. made the partnership especially attractive. She added that Duke’s Law School, Fuqua School of Business, Sanford School of Public Policy, as well as REGSS, provided “an excellent academic environment.”

Founded as a network of Bavarian scholars working in the social sciences and other fields to foster academic relationships with the U.S., the BAA sponsors individuals to pursue academic scholarship in the U.S. via fellowships for doctoral candidates. In addition to its partnership with Duke, BAA also sponsors fellowships at Harvard and Yale.

A German Duke alum based in Munich, Markus Nauheim, LLM ‘96, helped secure initial funding for the program to further support the academic exchange between Germany and the U.S.

“Duke is like the ‘Disney World’ of education,” Nauheim said. “I would love for more students to see and experience it. Studying in this type of stimulating environment makes you more curious, makes you really enjoy education, and you can learn about yourself too.

“We are really happy to be able to sponsor students and to encourage them to come to Duke,” Nauheim said. As the chair of Duke Germany, Nauheim helped make it possible for alumni to donate to the program under tax-exempt status. It has been the perfect vehicle for German alumni to show their school spirit.

“German Duke alumni feel very attached to the school. And the more talented and gifted students we can attract, the better. It’s important to be in this sort of company. The Duke brand is not yet as well-known as Yale or Harvard, so the program does a lot for the university’s reputation abroad. It is even more important in the current political environment to further the Transatlantic academic and cultural exchange.”

German universities do not have the same resources top, private American universities have, Nauheim explained, and students are in large classes with few opportunities to form relationships with professors.

At Duke, fellows are able to make use of the university’s cutting-edge resources and special collections of rare books and manuscripts, as well as the vibrant guest speakers and conferences on civil rights-themed issues.

“The academic profile of the Center has been especially attractive for Bavarian scholars working in the social sciences on comparative projects in political science, public policy, urban studies or on race relations in Germany and the U.S. It has provided a starting point for contact with renowned scholars from other U.S. universities.” Zwingenberger added.

Those connections helped Höhn greatly.

“The resource that was helpful the most during my stay at Duke were the personal contacts and conversations I had with various experts on topics that closely relate to my own research focus, such as Kerry Haynie or Wesley Hogan, director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies,” Höhn said. “Not only were these interactions highly valuable for discussion and the exchange of ideas, they also helped further develop my research approach. In a practical way, they assisted me with how I should organize my research plan during the time I spent at Duke.”

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Duke Fellow Explores U.S./German Cultural Differences

For Thomas Stelzl, a semester spent as a high school exchange student in Wisconsin seeded a strong interest in American culture, and how it differs from German culture and politics.

“I’m drawn to American Studies because of the U.S. influence in the world,” said Stelzl who came to Duke from the University of Passau in Bavaria for a two-month, post-graduate research fellowship sponsored by the Duke Club of Germany and the Bavarian American Academy.

“When I tell people I am in American Studies and they ask what it is, I say ‘cultural studies.’ Sometimes I get as a response, ‘American culture, does it exist?’” Stelzl said. “People think of culture as being this Shakespearean thing. It’s different in the U.S. There is a distinctive American culture very different from European and German culture.”

Stelzl’s research straddles several fields including American Studies, political science and intercultural communication. In Germany, he is a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate who teaches seminars in cultural studies and American literature, exploring iconic moments in U.S. history such as Watergate and 9/11.

At Duke, Stelzl has been able to focus on researching and writing his Ph.D. thesis, tentatively titled, “Cultural Bias in Post-9/11 German and American Foreign Policy – An Intercultural Comparison.”

Stelzl says that although Germany and the U.S. have a lot in common in terms of trade, human rights and shared values most of the time, there are moments when foreign policy doesn’t translate well — or not as well as we expected.

“Of course, there are hard reasons like different capabilities and interests, but a very important factor is cultural differences. For example, American exceptionalism. There is no German equivalent anymore,” he said. “In post-WWII Germany there cannot be an equivalent.”

Stelzl says the countries also differ in their tolerance for military action with Germans much more hesitant to use their military because of historical experience.

“When was the last time massive numbers of German military forces were unilaterally sent abroad? That’s something we don’t want to repeat,” said Stelzl who is being hosted on campus by Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender (REGSS). He will return to Germany in November.

“The fellowship is really helping because I have been able to get a lot of new input, and I can get away from the daily routine of my job and focus on my research for two months,” said Stelzl who has made use of library resources, attended lectures and panel discussions on campus, and also enjoyed festivities surrounding the inauguration of Duke’s president.

“My university won a prize for being the most beautiful campus in Germany. It’s a young university at the intersection of three rivers. But I think Duke can compete with the beauty of campus. It’s a bit like Disneyland for academics.”