skip to content

Photo: Lauren Beck

[sic!] Summer Institute Cologne: Switches your brain on

Professor Tracy C. Davis from Northwestern University, Illinois, puts it in a nutshell: “By bringing together scholars and students from around the world, with many points of view and forms of expertise, [sic!] is a crucible for vibrant and inspiring discussion.” Together with Professor Peter W. Marx from the University of Cologne she organized the “Summer Institute Cologne [sic!]”. Each year, they are supported by a new team of renowned scholars in the arts and humanities from both universities.

In the summer of 2015, [sic!] was held for the third time at Wahn Castle, which houses the UoC's theatre collection. Fifty young academics from all over the world came to Cologne to discuss aspects of and exchange views on the topic “intermingling”. However, not only does [sic!] provide a vital platform for theoretical exchange among young cultural scholars during their master’s or doctoral studies; it is also a cornerstone of the partnership between the two universities. In September 2014, the University of Cologne and Northwestern University agreed to jointly sponsor [sic!] for the next five years.

Every summer...
[sic!] 2015 Group picture. Photo: private

[Sic!] focuses on the historiography of the arts and media. In the past, students taking part in the summer school were able to choose from courses in dramatics, film studies, sound studies, art history, game studies, early modern studies and classics. Each course is taught by two scholars from the University of Cologne and Northwestern University. Davis and Marx keep [sic!]’s portfolio flexible in order to match classes and teachers to the overarching theme. In retrospect, Marx notices that “the positive reception and the tremendous interest in our activities show that we have succeeded in establishing [sic!] as an integral part of the dramatics and cultural studies landscape”. While in 2013, the first year [sic!] took place, twenty students from the US and Germany took part in the summer school on the topic “Techniques of the imagination”, in 2015 fifty students from the US, Germany, Peru, Switzerland, Canada, France, Great Britain, India, Australia and Poland took part. The success of [sic!] is also due to the funding by the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne and the International Office’s Cologne Summer Schools program.


An intellectual marathon, that switches on your brain
Poster presentation at Castle Wahn. Photo: Christina Vollmert

One third of the participants came from Northwestern University. Thanks to the cooperation with the University of Cologne, Northwestern’s “The Graduate School” and other departments offer support to students who wish to take part in [sic!]. Due to the very special experience with this summer school, many doctoral students from Northwestern take the opportunity to return to Cologne. Catherine Olien, who took part in 2014 and 2015, describes [sic!] 2015 as follows: “This year’s intellectual marathon generated some of the most important conversations of my four years as a graduate student. To put it simply, [sic!] switches the default position of participants' brains to an active, acrobatic and relentless on!”.

[Sic!] also provides a helpful basis for doctoral students who are just starting their own research. Andrea Christmas, a doctoral student in history at Northwestern, used her stay in Cologne to theoretically structure her early research activities. The seminars and conversations with other participants helped her tremendously. In addition, [sic!] offers a plethora of ways to put forward one’s research for discussion. Above all the participants found the poster presentations, which are rather common in the natural and social sciences, very helpful.

From Cologne Cathedral to Kalkriese
Heavy hand tools a the Zeche Zollverein Essen. Photo: Christina Vollmert

Another important part of the program is to show the international academics the surroundings of the host city. Thus a field trip is an integral part of every course. The dramatics scholars and researchers of the early modern period took the bus to the Zeche Zollverein in Essen to learn more about the industrial heritage, to acknowledge the change in labor and to lift heavy hand tools. The philologists and art historians in turn embarked on a long ride to the town of Kalkriese to visit the museum of the Varus Battle. The museum’s director took the time to answer the students’ questions.

A community beyond the summer months
Grilling s'mores. Photo: Christina Vollmert

At the end of the summer school, visitors from Northwestern usually invites all participants to a barbecue. While burgers and s'mores are grilled, students look back on their time together and exchange contact information. For the organizers and participants it is one of the most rewarding experiences to meet each other again at conferences, exchange ideas and talk about projects. One major goal of [sic!] is to generate new communities of experienced and young academics – networks that are important for everyone. For Sabine Päsler, a master's student in Cologne, [sic!] is important because it creates contacts in an increasingly global world of scholarship that go beyond mere smalltalk. Other students appreciate the sense of community [sic!] conveys and return every year. David Calder, who now works at the University of Manchester, took part twice and was invited back in 2015 to head a field trip.

[sic!] 2016: "In Situ"

As soon as the participants are onboard their planes back home, the work on the next round of [sic!] begins. In 2016, the summer school will be held from 22 August to 2 September again at Wahn Castle on the topic "In Situ". In addition to a class in theater studies, there will be a class in sound studies, and for the first time a seminar on gender studies. “For me, this is an inspiring way to rethink my research on transnational politics, activists who operate from a base but are networked internationally, and the emergence and distribution of ideas in the formative (mid nineteenth century) period of liberalism,” Davis explains. She is looking forward to the 2016 program: “We enable young researchers to embark on an academic career, and at the same time the school is a great opportunity for us, as teachers, to advance our own research or to generate new or further develop existing thoughts in discussions with participants and colleagues.”