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Carl Hendrik Niekerk

Profile picture for Carl Hendrik Niekerk

Contact Information

Germanic Languages
2090 For Lang Bldg
707 S Mathews
M/C 178
Urbana, IL 61801



My teaching and research interests are broad and include German literature and culture since 1750, European perceptions of other cultures, music and literature, and also comparative Dutch studies (including Dutch colonial literature and responses to that literature in contemporary Indonesian writing).

For undergraduates, I teach a general education course on the “History of Sexuality and Literature” (CWL 272 / GER 270 / GWS 270) which is offered every fall (in English). In recent years I also have taught "Europe in Trouble" – a broad lecture / seminar class focusing on the development of European societies and cultures (north and south) since 1945 that includes weekly film screenings and is crosslisted with European Union Studies and Global Studies. I also frequently teach GER 211 (Advanced German Conversation and Composition 1), GER 332 (a topics course on German Literature and Culture), and GER 471 (Overview 18th- and early 19th-century German Literature and Culture). In all of my classes I emphasize the importance of cooperative and communicative learning strategies. My classes look at literature and culture in their socio-historical contexts and at the impact of art on society. In all of the classes I teach, I use other media (music, film) to document important topics and developments in culture and society.

For graduate students, I teach a variety of seminars on 18th- and early 19th-century German Literature and Culture, and on twentieth-century and contemporary Austrian literature and culture. Recent seminar topics have been: ’The Enlightenment and Other Cultures’; ‘Goethe’s Modernity’; ‘Postcolonialism and its Germanic Contexts’; ‘From Modernism to Fascism: Austrian Literature 1893-1938’ and 'Sexuality, Literature and Film since 1774.' I also cooperate occasionally with colleagues in Musicology on graduate seminars.

I am the author of a book that looks at the music of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) in the context of German cultural and literary history, focusing in particular on the Jewish-German cultural tradition (Reading Mahler: Text, Culture, and Jewishness in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna 2010 / paperback 2013). The central argument of this book is that Mahler’s literary interests were highly eclectic and need to be understood as a critique of the normative aspects of German culture, in particular the aesthetics of Richard Wagner. Instead of embracing a nostalgic Modernism as many of his contemporaries did, Mahler insisted on the cosmopolitanism and heterogeneity inherent to German culture. In 2005, I published a monograph on the eighteenth-century German physics professor, essayist, and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) who lived and worked in Göttingen. This book looks at the relevance of eighteenth-century debates in Natural History and Anthropology for understanding Lichtenberg’s work. In particular, I am interested in the connections between Lichtenberg’s work and that of his colleague at the University of Göttingen Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the founding fathers of German Anthropology. Reconstructing these discourses can help us understand the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of the German Late Enlightenment. My first book was a study of the construction of subjectivity in Goethe’s 'Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten' (1995) which I read in the context of – but also as a critique of – Goethe's ideas abut 'Bildung.'

I am currently working on a project that seeks to reconstruct the history of ‘back-to-nature’ thinking from the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael to the contemporary German author Christoph Ransmayr and filmmaker Werner Herzog. I am also continuing to pursue my interests in the history of European Anthropology and Ethnology and in the intersections of literature, culture, and music.

Additional Campus Affiliations

Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Professor, French and Italian
Professor, Program in Comparative and World Literature
Professor, Program in Jewish Culture and Society

Recent Publications

Niekerk, C. (2023). Colonialism and the Politics of Gender and Literature in the Netherlands Indies: The Story of the Nyai. In Gender and German Colonialism: Intimacies, Accountabilities, Intersections (pp. 66-84). Taylor and Francis.

Niekerk, C. (2022). Johann Gottfried Herder, Enlightenment Anthropology, and the Jew as a ‘Parasitic Plant’. Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 67(1), 20-36.

Niekerk, C. (2022). Zemlinsky contra mahler: Aesthetic modernism, the jewish body, and the violence of fairy tales. German Studies Review, 45(2), 203-221.

Johnson, L. R., Kraemer, A., & Niekerk, C. H. (2021). German Fairy Tales and Folklore in a Global Context. The German Quarterly, 94(2).

Johnson, L. R., Kraemer, A., & Niekerk, C. (2021). Introduction: German Fairy Tales and Folklore in a Global Context. German Quarterly, 94(2), 160-164.

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