Levke Harders. Studiert, promoviert: Arriviert?: Promovendinnen des Berliner Germanischen Seminars (1919-1945). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004. 190 S. EUR 39.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-631-52610-1.
Reviewed by Jennifer Walcoff Neuheiser (Department of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Published on H-German (December, 2005)
Although the situation for women within the German university system has improved since their initial admission as fully matriculated students in the early 1900s, some aspects of women's university experiences have remained relatively unchanged over the century. While the number of female university students has grown, the percentage of female professors in Germany hovers around 10 percent, which is much lower than in countries such as the United States or Great Britain. Perhaps sparked by a desire to explain such continued limitations on women's full integration into the German university system, several recent books have addressed the history of Germany's female academics. For the most part, these new studies seek not to overturn conclusions of earlier scholarship, most of which highlighted structural mechanisms constricting women's involvement, but to show how this exclusion occurred on more localized levels.
Levke Harders joins this newer wave of scholarship on women and the university with a detailed account of female doctoral students in the German faculty at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet (FWU) in Berlin from 1919 until 1945. She combines a general outline of female students' experiences at German universities with the more specific example of women in the German department in Berlin. In doing so, she highlights how factors related to the Berlin German faculty itself worked to limit or foster women's inclusion. Alongside an examination of structural factors that influenced women's success within the department, Harders's discourse analysis of the academic records of the female doctoral candidates reveals more subtle facets of gendered experience.
For example, Harders shows that not only could the personality or viewpoint of the department head influence the faculty's general attitude toward its female students, but also politics, both national and interdepartmental, could have an effect on an individual student's success (or lack thereof). The departmental co-chair from 1902 until 1920, Gustav Roethe, had no desire to incorporate women into the department, and, in fact, often did all he could to keep them out. He invoked not only his legal right to restrict the participation of women within his individual lectures, but also he used his leadership position to deny women's applications for doctoral candidacy. Harders points out that, ironically, five women earned doctorates before the official Prussian granting of matriculation rights to women in 1908, while only two successfully completed their studies between 1908 and 1918. Roethe's successor Julius Peterson, however, was more favorably inclined to the notion of female students. Peterson's influence on the department, however, was curtailed by the Nazis' ascension to power and the appointment of the ardent Nazi Franz Koch to the faculty. During the 1930s, the political undertones in individual dissertations often corresponded with the relative successes of students, both male and female, and most especially in terms of employment. Elisabeth Frenzel, for example, made a successful scholarly career based on her 1938 dissertation on the figure of the Jew on the German stage.
After outlining the structural changes in women's position in academic life and the development of the Berlin Germanisches Seminar, Harders examines the individual files and academic careers of sixty-six female doctoral candidates alongside twenty-five of their male colleagues. As these files have not been printed, nor have they been subject to much prior scholarly interrogation, Harders brings a new set of sources into play. Harders bases her methodology for reading these files on Foucault's notion of discourse analysis. She maintains, for example, that the wording used by professors in reviewing dissertations can reveal much about the relations of power within the department. Not only does Harders give a sample of the comments made in regard to specific students' work, but also she gives a fairly extensive quantitative analysis of the material. Among many other insights, Harders shows that the language used to comment on women's work tended not to stress more "rational" aspects of a work, including the ability of the student to think logically. In contrast, comments on men's work often highlighted the student's reasoning or sharp insights. Harders thus provides evidence for the ways in which contemporary societal assumptions that women were less rational seemed to influence the word choice of individual male professors.
Additionally, Harders takes a closer look at the academic careers of four of the Berliner Germanistinnen: Melitta Gerhard, Charlotte Jolles, Isabella Ruettenauer, and Elisabeth Frenzel. These four individual cases exemplify, to a large degree, the conclusions Harders reaches about the role of individual professors, as well as the political climate, on a female student's success. In the 1930s, for example, Gerhard lost her teaching position, Jolles was forced into exile, Ruettenauer worked as an editor while raising a family, and Frenzel profited from her National Socialist political leanings. With these four examples, Harders adds a more personal perspective to the more general structural narrative of the previous chapters.
While most noteworthy for scholars interested in women's or academic history, Harders's well-written introductory chapters provide a quick overview of recent scholarship and solid background definitely useful to the non-specialist. The discourse analysis of individual files provides a novel perspective on the history of women in the university, but, unfortunately, it does not lend itself to more general conclusions. The rich detail, both qualitative and quantitative, combined with a fresh approach to interesting sources make Harders's concise study a valuable addition to existing scholarship.
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Jennifer Walcoff Neuheiser. Review of Harders, Levke, Studiert, promoviert: Arriviert?: Promovendinnen des Berliner Germanischen Seminars (1919-1945).
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