GER 511

 Ger 511: Communication and Miscommunication in Middle High and Late Medieval German Literature, Fall 2020

(last updated 11-15-19)

Instructor: Professor Albrecht Classen
Office: 318 LSB (you can always stop by whenever you like)

Tel.: 621-1395



Office Hour: TT 9 a.m. - 10 a.m., and after appointment. I am regularly in my office 7/24

Classroom: LSB 346
Meeting Time: MW 2-3:15 p.m.

Course Objectives:
One of the key issues affecting modern society seems to be communication, or rather miscommunication. Perhaps not so surprisingly, medieval authors also addressed this issue and dealt with it in multiple fashions. In order to develop a specific focus for our course, we will examine the questions how individual authors dealt with communication and how they projected the ideal of a communicative community, but also what were the causes for the breakdown of society. We will examine our topic from various perspectives, such as female versus male attitudes, the function of discourse, the historical development of the literary examples, the role of the Church, and, above all, the relevance of the human language in a literary world where chaos seems to threaten to undermine all human existence. Basically, however, all literary texts reflect on communication and represent it at the same time.

Course Goals:
Familiarity with a selection of the most important literary texts from the high and late German Middle Ages; a rudimentary ability to read Middle High German; a rough understanding of the historical development of medieval German literature; a clear concept of women’s role in the history of medieval German literature; familiarity with some of the most recent critical studies on our topic; the ability to address the issue of communication from the perspective of medieval literature; insights into the social and cultural history of medieval Germany; critical approaches to a wide range of medieval literary texts in light of communication versus miscommunication.

Student Learning Outcomes; By the end of the semester, students will be able to engage critically with the issue of communication in the Middle Ages, will know a solid selection of critical texts from that time period, and will have acquired the skill to write about the crucial issues in solidly researched papers on the graduate level.

Text Selection:
1. A. Classen, Das deutsche Mittelalter in seinen Dichtungen. 4th ed. (Tucson: Fast Copy, 2009); online at: PDF (free)

2. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (Penguin)

3. Nibelungenlied (Penguin)

4. Die deutsche Geschichte im Mittelalter - online at:

5.Thüring von Ringoltingen: Melusine.Aus dem Frühneuhochdeutschen übertragen ins Neuhochdeutsche von Gerhard Wahle

5a. Teil 2 von  Melusine

6. Literaturgeschichte - knapper Ueberblick

7. Das Mittelalter, Kultur und Geschichte

8. Freidank und Maeren

9. Literatur von Frauen im Mittelalter

Please make sure that you do not print out any of these class materials on departmental printers. We do not have the money for that and must strictly appeal to the honor system to abide by this rule.

Secondary Reading (recommended):

Gerd Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale: Symbolik und Herrschaft im Mittelalter (Darmstadt: Primus, 2003).
A. Classen, Verzweiflung und Hoffnung. Die Suche nach der kommunikativenGemeinschaft in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. Beihefte zur Mediaevistik, 1 (Frankfurt a.M.-et al.: Peter Lang, 2002).
Michael Mitterauer, Warum Europa? Mittelalterliche Grundlagen eines Sonderwegs (Munich: Beck, 2003).
Horst Wenzel, ed., Gespräche - Boten - Briefe. Philologische Studien und Quellen, 143 (Berlin: Schmidt, 1997).
Hilkert Weddige, Mittelhochdeutsche: Eine Einführung (Munich: Beck, 1996).

See also the bibliography to be handed out in class.


* Attendance is a must, there will be only 30 meetings during the semester. I expect you to have read the assigned texts before we meet in class. More than three unexcused absences lead to an automatic E in the course, but simply communicate with me if you have some problems. See also below.


1. Critical summaries of at least two recent scholarly articles on one or two of our texts discussed in class: oral report (ca. 10-15 minutes) and written summary, ca. 4 pp.: 30% - present orally, i.e., in rough brush strokes, giving us the main thesis, when we discuss that text (15%), the written version, expanded, please, needs to be submitted before the end of the semester (15 %). Articles can be in English or German (or French, Spanish, Italian, as it so happens), must have been published after 1980, in print or online, must be by a serious scholar, including myself, of course. You can present the articles in the respective language it was written in, but one summary must be in German. Purpose: we need to learn what various scholars have discovered about our texts.
2. One annotated bibliography for your specific term paper topic: written, to be distributed and discussed in class when we discuss the text, so well before the end of class, or long before you submit your term paper: List ca. 20 titles, each accompanied by a brief explanation about its relevance or why you selected it: 20%. Again, nothing prior to 1960. No language limitations. I expect that you find ca.10 monographs (or collections of articles) and ca. 10 scholarly articles as a rule of thumb, but most important is to list the critically relevant research literature as a basis for a good paper. So, explain why you selected your items.
4. One term paper: ca. 15 pages min. (for M.A. students; 20-25 pp. for Ph.D. students, see below), double spaced, 1" margins: 40% (I would prefer the paper to be written in German, but a combination would also be alright. Let's discuss that beforehand on an individual basis). Develop a good thesis, support it with solid arguments, and reach a convincing conclusion. Incorporate at least 5 outside sources of high scholarly value for your discussion. I'd be happy to provide you with feedback before you submit your paper, so let me see a draft version.

Grading scheme: Title and Thesis: 20 pts., Argument: 30 pts., conclusion: 20 pts., mechanics: 10 pts; use of outside sources: 20 pts.

5. Class participation, preparedness, homework (10%). This will be particularly important when we study Tristan and the Nibelungenlied. I'll help you with making a selection each time. But I guess you will be so intrigued by both that you won't need that. Just let me know.

Ph.D. students are expected to pursue their research more profoundly and offer a more extensive perspective based on a critical engagement with the relevant research literature. Their term paper must indicate a fuller reflection of the relevant secondary literature and an attempt to analyze the texts more independently. Their paper must be at least 20-25 pp., with at least 10 outside sources incorporated.

Attendance: I expect you to attend all classes. Only serious circumstances and professional reasons would justify an excuse. Remember, we are going to meet only once a week.

All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion. Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean's designee) will be honored.

Student Behavior: 
The policy against plagiarism, etc., is in conformity with the Student Code of Academic Integrity. For policies against threatening behavior by students, see:

 Special Needs:
Students with special needs who are registered with the S.A.L.T. Center ( or the Disability Resource Center ( must submit appropriate documentation to the instructor if they are requesting special accommodations.

Suggested additional Reading List (not necessarily in a chronological order, which should also serve you to prepare for the Master Exam, if you want me to be on your committee (which would be my pleasure): 

1. Hartmann von Aue: Erec and/or Iwein 
2. Nibelungenlied and Kudrun
3. Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan
4. Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival and Willehalm - 
5. Wernher der Gartenære: Meier Helmbrecht
6. some texts from Der Stricker
7. Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim
8. Mechthild von Magdeburg: Das fließende Licht der Gottheit
9. Hildegard von Bingen
10. Argula von Grumbach
11. Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg
12. Johannes von Tepl, Ackermann
13. Sebastian Brant: Narrenschiff
14. Konrad von Würzburg, Engelhard
15. Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrücken (one of her four novels)
16. Thüring von Ringoltingen, Melusine
17. Fortunatus
18. Neidhart
19. Herzog Ernst
20. Oswald von Wolkenstein
21. Heinrich Kaufringer (Auswahl)
22. Minnesang (Walther von der Vogelweide, Johann von Botenlauben, Albrecht von Johannsdorf, Heinrich Morungen, etc.)
23. Heinrich Wittenwiler: Ring
24. Mai und Beaflor
25. Moriz von Craun
26. Herzog Ernst
27. Georg Wickram
28. Hans Sachs
29. Martin Luther
30. Till Eulenspiegel

31. Sebastian Brant

32. Thomas Murner

33. Hans Wilhelm Kirchhof
34. Frau Ava

35. Hildegard von Bingen


Aug. 20: Introduction; Historical and Cultural Time Frame of the Middle Ages: study the intro to both of our textbooks; consult the Handbook of Medieval Studies, ed. A. Classen, online in our library (search under title, see my article on communication.

Aug. 22: Geschichte: this refers to the online link, see above, textbooks no. 4, but there are countless other options. We will discuss the time frame, the major cultural features, the literary history, genres); We read for today: Ludwigslied

Aug. 27: Zaubersprüche

Aug. 29 :Geschichte (bitte lesen Sie das zu Hause); Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim (all) 

Sept. 3: Labor Day, keine Veranstaltung

Geschichte: 1.6; Frau Ava

Sept. 5: Hartmann von Aue, Der arme Heinrich

Sept. 10: Hartmann von Aue (all) 

Sept. 12: Walther von der Vogelweide

Sept. 17:  Walther

Sept. 19:  Nibelungenlied  

Sept. 24: NL

Sept. 26: NL

Oct. 01: Wolfram von Eschenbach: Titurel (note: you need to inform yourself about Wolfram's Parzival in order to understand his Titurel, so please read in one of the literary histories)

Oct. 03: Titurel

Oct. 08: Mechthild von Magdeburg

Oct. 10: Mechthild

Oct. 15: Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan, ch. 1-7

Oct. 17: Tristan, ch., 8-16

Oct. 22: Tristan, ch. 17-24

Oct. 24: Tristan, ch. 25-29: Petitcreiu, the Love Cave, Tristan's departure

Oct. 29: Spätmittelalter (dafür gibt es viele Quellen und Studien, sogar Wikipedia ist für unsere Zwecke ok, siehe z.B. online) Oswald von Wolkenstein Possibly, we continue with Tristan today and work with Oswald's poems only on the 31st.

Oct. 31: Oswald von Wolkenstein

Nov. 05: Thuering von Ringoltingen, Melusine 

Nov. 07: Melusine

No. 12: Melusine: Veteran's Day, no class.

Nov. 14: Ich bin nicht anwesend, nehme an einer Tagung teil. Bitte benutzen Sie die Zeit des Seminars, um ein paar Fragen schriftlich zu beantworten. Schicken Sie mir die Antworten per email bis 18 Uhr zu. Danke.

Nov. 19: Noch einmal Melusine. Dann: Maeren: Ruprecht von Wurzburg

Nov. 21: Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrücken: Sibille

See also this concise biographical entry

Nov. 26: Sibille

Nov. 28: Sebastian Brant und Till Eulenspiegel 

Dec. 03:  Till Eulenspiegel (all); kommentierte Bibliographie faellig

Dec. 05: Argula von Grumbach (all). Bitte kommunizieren Sie mit mir ueber Ihre Hausarbeit.

Term Paper: due on Mo, Dec. 10, 2018!!!!

Possible Changes: The information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.