JYM offers online course "Green Germany?" and others in summer 2020

In the middle of March 2020, the Junior Year in Munich program had to cancel the second-semester program and evacuate all of the students who were in Munich for the full-year program due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that students who were planning on taking part in the program, not only lost out on the opportunity to study abroad but also to complete their coursework for an entire semester.

With this in mind, Dr. Lisabeth Hock, Dr. Mark Ferguson and Dr. Hans-Peter Söeder quickly conceptualized online spring/summer semester courses for Junior Year in Munich students. Five courses were offered which included, Introduction to the Study of German Literature with a focus on the Fairy Tale; Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution: Transitional Moments in German Culture and History; Mountains in German Literature; The Personal, Societal and Historical Meanings of Pandemics; and Green Germany? Environment and Society from the Enlightenment to Fridays for Future. Jackie Smith, JYM program coordinator, attended one of the courses and details her experience below.

Green Germany Course imageI was particularly interested in the topics course, Green Germany? and was granted approval to take it for audit. It was a special chance for me to practice my German skills and reconnect to the student experience, gaining valuable insights to call upon in my role as Program Coordinator.

Being able to take this course was advantageous, as I would not otherwise have had the ability to take a course offered in Munich, from my home in Detroit.

Dr. Martin Meiske and Dr. Katrin Kleemann co-led the course and both of whom work at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, a joint initiative of Munich's Ludwig Maximilians University and the Deutsches Museum. It is a non-profit center for research and education in the environmental humanities and social sciences.

The course covered the historical events from the past 250 years that have shaped the fascinating relationship Germans have with their natural environment. The course was taught both asynchronously and synchronously, and once a week the instructors in Munich and students across the U.S. would meet online for a group discussion on the material covered in our asynchronous lectures and readings. In addition to this, each student researched a specific topic and was required to lead a presentation during the online sessions.

Some of the topics of the student presentations were the following: Onshore and offshore wind turbines in Germany, nature conservation and protection in the GDR, including the symbolism of the signs of those protected areas (the owl vs the bird on the signs in the East and the West), the formation and rise of the Green party, the milk industry in Germany with a particular concentration on traditional ways of dairy production in Alpine Bavaria; and sustainable forest management in Germany.

students walking through Murnauer Moos
JYM students hike in Murnau during orientation.

While I was not taking the course for credit, I still decided to complete a presentation along with the rest of the class. Nearly two years prior I had gone on my first site visit to JYM and was there for the first week of orientation for the 2018-19 full-year students. It was during a hike through the Murnauer Moos, a wetland area on the edge of the Bavarian Alps, that Dr. Hans-Peter Soeder told me about a book written by Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, entitled The Hidden Life of Trees, which examines the lesser-known inter-workings of trees and forests.

I chose to focus my presentation on sustainable forest management practices in Germany and incorporated some of the interesting things I learned from Wohlleben's book. It was particularly interesting to me to learn about old-growth forests, especially considering that I would be going to be camping a week after my presentation in the Porcupine Mountains, an old-growth forest on the edge of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Jackie in the ancient forests of the porcupine mountains in Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Jackie Smith, visiting the Porcupine Mountains.

One of the best features of the course was how much insight we were given from different experts who work within the field, including a Ranger from the Bavarian Forest National Park. Dr. Kleemann and Dr. Meister coordinated several guest lectures for us and we were able to interact with the various speakers by posing questions to them. It was bittersweet to acknowledge that normally students would be able to take field trips to see these various places and institutions in person, but it was still such a treat to engage with the guest speakers online.

I asked Dr. Meister and Dr. Kleemann why they believe it's important that a Green Germany course be offered to JYM students. Here is their response:

"By exploring the changing relationships between nature and society in the past we hope to give insights that help the students to better understand present-day debates about the future of our planet and challenges, such as climate change, mass extinction, energy transitions. Our historical journey took us from the belching smokestacks of the Ruhr Valley in the nineteenth century, to the protests against nuclear energy in the 1970s and 1980s, to the twenty-first-century wind farms that currently dot the German landscape. While this journey uncovered that we share a lot of historical environmental challenges, the approaches to solve them in the U.S. and Germany also differed. Environmental conflicts served as a prism through which we discussed the class struggle around 1900, German colonialism and Nazi Germany as much as the environmental movement in the 1970s and 80s and the rise of the Green Party.

It was important for us that the students learn to work with a range of historical sources, texts, images and films to develop a set of skills that might, for example, help them to critically evaluate current environmental policy. They had the opportunity to meet virtually with environmental experts of different fields and talk with activists from Munich and Germany about their local initiatives and challenges along the way to a green Germany. These conversations seem to have been fruitful already. One of our students is planning to do an internship at the Bavarian Forest National Park, which was one of our interview partners during the course."

I also asked if they were surprised about anything from teaching the course to JYM students and Dr. Kleemann and Dr. Meister said, "First of all, it was great to learn more about the JYM program from the inside and get to know students, who were enthusiastic about discovering other world regions. During the course, they came back, again and again, to compare the U.S. with Germany. We realized how concerned they were regarding the current development of U.S. environmental policy. The proposal for a European Green Deal by the European Commission that we analyzed together seemed like heaven to them while we, having a different starting position in Germany, have read this document much more critically."

Being able to take part in the Green Germany course was a wonderful experience that has re-energized my passion for learning about Germany and increased my commitment to being environmentally conscious. I am so grateful to have been able to assist with the administrative work that was necessary to help out the students, who chose to enroll in one of the five JYM spring/summer course offerings and I am exceptionally proud of the whole JYM team. With the support of Wayne State leadership, we were able to pivot quickly and offer these courses to the students who missed their second semester abroad with JYM. I am looking forward to seeing how this course continues to evolve once students are back on the ground in Munich. I am sure this will be a popular class for years to come.

More about the Green Germany faculty

Martin Meiske studied history and German philology at the University of Potsdam, including studies abroad at the University of Zürich and the University of Bern (Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research). Meiske was Marie Curie Fellow at the Centro de Investigaciones Filosóficas in Buenes Aires in 2014 and a doctoral fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC in 2017. He earned his doctoral degree at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society and the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 2019. Since Mai 2020, he's a scholar in residence at the Research Institute for the History of Science and Technology at the Deutsches Museum, Munich.

Martin is currently preparing two books for publication: his dissertation, "The Birth of Geoengineering. Large Scale Engineering Projects in the Early Stage of the Anthropocene" (Wallstein, forthcoming spring 2021) and an edited volume (together with Eike-Christian Heine) entitled "Scientific Bonanzas-Infrastructures as Places of Knowledge Production" (University of Pittsburgh Press, forthcoming spring 2021).

Katrin Kleemann has studied history and cultural anthropology at the University of Kiel and early modern history at the Freie Universität Berlin. She earned her doctoral degree at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich in July 2020 with a major in history and a minor in geology. Her dissertation investigates the physical, emotional and intellectual repercussions of the Icelandic Laki Fissure eruption in 1783-1784 in the northern hemisphere.

She currently is a visiting scholar at the Rachel Carson Center and a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the history department of the University of Freiburg. Katrin is also the social media editor for the Climate History Network based at Georgetown University, the 2020-2021 Envirotech Communications Fellow and the incoming Barbara S. Mosbacher Fellow at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island.

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