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German conference to examine ‘transitions’

Leading scholars in German studies from New York and Pennsylvania will meet at Binghamton University on April 9-10 for the first Upstate New York German Studies Colloquium.

“You meet at a conference in Florida and wave to each other in passing, but you hardly ever talk,” said Harald Zils, visiting assistant professor of German and Russian Studies and one of the colloquium organizers. “The idea of the conference is to see where we have common foci and whether there are some synergies: What are other people researching? Can we be useful for each other?”

Faculty members in the German and Russian Studies Department came up with the colloquium concept last year, Zils said.

“We are the largest German program within SUNY,” he said. “Geographically, it’s perfect. And the size and reputation of Binghamton University is also ideal to host this kind of conference. … Hopefully, this will become a tradition.”

The theme of the bilingual colloquium is “Transitions/Übergänge” and will feature two days of presentations and discussions. Claus Altmayer from the University of Leipzig, one of Binghamton’s partner universities in Germany, will deliver the Larry Wells Memorial Lecture at 5 p.m. Friday, April 9.  Altmayer will discuss “transitions of identities” in Germany between east and west after unification. He also will lead a workshop on patterns of cultural interpretation at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 10. Altmayer’s keynote address will take place in the Anderson Center Reception Room. Other presentations will be held in UU-120.

Discussions will examine topics ranging from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and the boy band Tokio Hotel to how “the five Cs” (culture, communities, communication, connections and comparisons) are used in translation courses.
“German studies is a very broad field,” Zils said. “Scholars are now interested in a colorful variety of topics.”

Zils’ topic is arguably the most locally relevant of the weekend. He spent last semester transcribing the writings of Edmund Goldenberg, a longtime family physician in Binghamton. Before coming to the region, Goldenberg was a prisoner in the Ebensee concentration camp and also was in a displaced persons camp there. Zils’ presentation examines prose sketches written by Goldenberg from 1947-49 as he attempted to find “safe ground through creative writing.”

“What I’ll do is talk about the journey he takes from the concentration camp to becoming a stabilized personality in Binghamton,” Zils said. “That is quite a transition, too. I’m fascinated by how this is expressed in his prose. He is more or less telling the same story over and over again. It is very interesting from a psychological point of view.”

Zils is not only optimistic about the colloquium, but he believes “regional conferences will become more and more important in the coming years for all fields.”

An event such as the Upstate New York German Studies Colloquium gives Binghamton and other schools an opportunity to showcase their internationalization achievements, Zils said.

“Sometimes at Binghamton University, we don’t realize how powerful our position is among other schools,” he said. “We need to take initiatives like this to show: ‘We are here and we are doing good work.’”

For more on the conference, go to

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Last Updated: 10/14/08