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UNC Hosts Joint Humanities Workshop with Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

May 1, 2016
UNC Global
People sitting in chairs indoors and talking

Kumi Silva (UNC), Guido Zurstiege (Tübingen), Gabriel Trop (UNC), Eckart Goebel (Tübingen), Lily Tonger-Erk (Tübingen), Klaus Sachs-Hombach (Tübingen)



A delegation of sixteen faculty members and graduate students from Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany spent the week of April 2, 2016, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to participate in “Risky Understanding: Ambiguity and Multimodality in the Context of the Aesthetic and Everyday Life,” a week-long workshop organized by UNC German literature professor Richard Langston and Tübingen media studies professor Klaus Sachs-Hombach.

The joint workshop brought together scholars and graduate students of communication, media studies and German literature from both institutions to explore the theme of “risky understanding” as it applies to both the aesthetic dimension and everyday communication.

“Sachs-Hombach and his colleague Frauke Berndt, former professor of literature at Tübingen, had written extensively on the question of ambiguity, and ‘risky understanding’ presented itself as an analog concern ideal of interdisciplinary dialogue,” said Langston. “Our primary objective of the workshop was to frame an initial conversation that anchors the humanities at the center of collaborations between our institutions.”

“Risky Understanding” is the inaugural workshop of Taking Stock of the Humanities series sponsored by UNC and Tübingen that seeks to bring scholars working in fields across the humanities. The interdisciplinary, annual workshops will evaluate the current status of disciplines in the humanities, identify points of common concern for other disciplines and delineate what makes their own practices unique and important to academia. The workshops will also grapple with questions of innovation, technology-guided approaches and how directions in disciplines intensify or inhibit international collaboration.

Lawrence Grossberg (UNC) and Eckart Goebel (Tübingen) gave keynote talks at the Ackland Art Museum.
Lawrence Grossberg (UNC) and Eckart Goebel (Tübingen) gave keynote talks at the Ackland Art Museum.

Primarily funded by the University of Tübingen with support from UNC Global, the Departments of Communication and Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the Graduate School at UNC, this first workshop featured presentations, performances, film screenings and roundtable discussions. Topics ranged from multilingualism and multimodal communication among non-humans in literature to explorations of risk in performance artists and analyses of the inserted laugh feature track in television comedies.

In addition the group spent time at the Ackland Art Museum, both for a reception as well as a special tour from Carolyn Allmendinger, director of academic programs, who presented objects relevant to the workshop’s theme.

“Already at the start of our workshop it became clear that participants from both institutions were asking similar questions,” said Sachs-Hombach. “By the end of the week, we identified the ethical dimension of understanding and its attendant risks as a shared concern that we now seek to address at the 2017 workshop. Our next step is to convene working groups linking scholars from both institutions, narrow the focus of the workshop to take place in Tübingen, and prepare for the publication of an interdisciplinary volume of scholarly essays.”

UNC’s partnership with Tübingen began in 1986 when a student exchange program was initiated. Over 100 students have since participated in the exchange, and faculty and students in biology, Germanic languages and literatures and American studies have long been engaged in collaborations. Since 2014, the universities have been working to expand the partnership, and new initiatives have developed in the humanities, as well as in areas in the health affairs and sciences, such as malaria and infectious diseases, pharmacology and environmental sciences and water. Tübingen President Bernd Engler previously spent a year at UNC as a research fellow in American studies, and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt is a member of Tübingen’s International Advisory Board.


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