WiG Best Article Prize - Previous Winners

2014: Jennifer Miller (Southern Illinois University)

In her article, “Her Fight is Your Fight: ‘Guest Worker’ Labor Activism in the Early 1970s West Germany,” [International Labor and Working –Class History, 84 (Fall 2013): 1-22], Jennifer Miller employs a sophisticated feminist analysis that that emphasizes the importance of intersectionality for feminist research in German Studies. In her article, Miller focuses on the intersection of ethnicity, class and gender in a feminist revision of West German labor history of the 1970s and, in so doing, reveals several important aspects of this history that have gone previously unnoticed. First, Miller's article shows the important role immigrant female laborers played in resisting workplace inequality (sexism, wage differentials, poor worker housing), and in encouraging multi-ethnic and cross-gender solidarity among the working class in West Germany of the early 1970s. Second, Miller's research on foreign female laborers’ participation in the Pierburg Strike reveals that these women played a crucial role in struggling for wage equality and in developing a feminist political consciousness in West Germany, both at a moment that predates what historians have hitherto established as the beginning of women’s labor activism in West Germany. Finally, the members of the committee wish to emphasize that we were especially impressed with her writing style, which is lucid and engaging. 

2013: Matthew Birkhold (Princeton University)

In his article, “The Trial of the Marquise of O …: A Case for Enlightened Jurisprudence? [The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, 87.1 (January-March 2012): 1-18], Matthew Birkhold presents a new and convincing interpretation of Kleist’s much discussed novella “Marquise von O” (first published in 1808) as the presentation of a contest between two legal systems, embodied by the Marquise’s father and mother, respectively, concerning what we now call “rape” and unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape: the customary Prussian law that regarded the act as a crime of honor and the new law, the Allgemeines Landrecht für die Preußischen Staaten (ALR), taking effect in 1794, that judged rape to be a legal issue and sought to improve the situation of the woman and her “illegitimate” child. Birkhold argues that, despite the famous ambiguities of the novella often foregrounded by literary critics––e.g., the impossibility of determining the honesty of the Marquise and of the Count who claims to be the rapist and father of her child––the text makes a clear case for the new, more progressive and humanist ALR. At the same time, the novella describes a female character, the mother, as reconciling what was then regarded as typically female sentimentality with male-connoted rational thinking, since she acts as a judge who seeks to uncover the truth and, ideally, her daughter’s innocence, motivated by her motherly feelings. Birkhold presents this argument with striking clarity and supported with rich textual detail and references to the 18th century legal discourse. We learn, for instance, that mother and daughter believe in the power of the oath, which according to the ALR, could be used to decide cases of rape and unwanted pregnancy with inconclusive evidence, whereby the woman’s oath (the Erfüllungseid, juramentum suppletorium) carried more weight than that (the Reinigungseid, juramentum purgatorium), of her opponent, provided that she had a spotless reputation like the Marquise von O. In front of her father, by contrast, the Marquise avoids resorting to adjurations, calling instead for the testimony of all the saints and addressing him as the “Lord of my life.” Claiming that Kleist clearly shows the ALR to win the battle against the customary law, as in the mother is able to convince her husband of her daughter’s innocence, Birkhold postulates the happy end as a transformation in the father’s thinking and in the behavior of the perpetrator, the Count. Arguing lucidly and convincingly his case, Birkhold agrees with other critics that the evidence the mother collects to prove her daughter’s innocence remains inconclusive, yet, he insists that Kleist’s story is not as open-ended as some readers have maintained and shows a “dynamic trajectory,” which might lead to a renewed interpretation also of similarly equivocal stories by Kleist. Birkhold's article presents the author as a defender of a new, from today’s perspective relatively progressive, law and as a supporter of women’s rights. It invites new interpretations of Kleist’s works and further explorations of his positions on women, as well as of the question to what extent a literary text can advocate a certain position. 

2012: Lisa Hock (Wayne State University)

As part of her planned monograph on the relationship between women and melancholy in 19th-century German literature and culture, Lisabeth Hock has conducted impressively extensive and detailed research into the ways in which the period’s psychiatrists have conceived of this relationship. With her careful and thorough historical approach, Hock seeks to prevent or correct one-sided and simplistic representations of the 19th-century discourse on women and melancholy as “inherently sexist and demeaning.” The results come to fruition in her prize winning article “Women and melancholy in nineteenth-century German psychiatry” (History of Psychiatry 22(4) (2011): 448 -464) in which Hock compellingly shows how German psychiatrists who studied and treated melancholy in women were “caught between the scientific demand for objective clinical observation and the gender norms of the culture to which they belonged.” She also describes how individual psychiatrists changed their views over time in relation to scientific and political shifts, e.g., the emergence of Darwinism and the foundation of the German Reich. Particularly through its attention to societal considerations, which as the study demonstrates were indeed part of 19th century psychiatric assessment, Hock's work enables a fuller understanding of gendered health narratives about melancholy. At the same time, her investigation remains aware of the limitations of these potentially emancipatory components of mental health paradigms. For, as Hock also shows, despite its aims for "objectivity," 19th-century psychiatrists’ study of melancholia in women was shaped by cultural norms of the day. An example of the resultant tension is Krafft-Ebing, who believed that women should be kept out of the workplace in order prevent debilitating cases of nervousness, while also suggesting that evolutionary progress might make women resilient enough to change their position in society. One of Hock's aims, as stated in her closing lines, is to point up "both the hubris of a medical practice that refuses to interrogate its own terms of analysis and the shortcomings of humanistic investigation that insists on reductive and excessively binary readings that overlook the nuanced complexities of historical reality, the reality to which women like Bettine von Arnim, Gabriele Reuter and many others were responding in their own representations of melancholy."

2011: Barbara Mennel (University of Florida)

Barbara Mennel’s article, “The Global Elsewhere: Ursula Biemann’s Multimedia Countergeography” (The Collapse of the Conventional: German Cinema and Its Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, ed. by Jaimey Fisher and Brad Prager, Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2010, 333-359), contributes to feminist scholarship in three primary ways. First, it is a feminist intervention in globalization theory. In contrast to much of the more situated work of feminist scholars in fields including sociology and geography, theoretically-focused globalization studies have tended to focus on gender and women obliquely, if at all. Mennel's article is applied in the sense that it concentrates on the work of one artist. At the same time, it engages with more abstract and overarching debates in globalization theory and in this way contributes to increasing the gendering of such theoretical work. This approach that moves between application and theory can itself be understood as a feminist practice. Second, the article furthers its intervention in globalization issues by its choice of topic: avant-garde work by a lesser-known female artist that centers on and exposes the concerns of globalization with particular attention to gender. In a media landscape driven largely by market forces, Mennel's contribution helps to claim texts such as Biemann's as part of a canon worthy of attention. Finally, Mennel's assessment astutely sets Biemann's work in relation to contemporary documentary film debates; contemporary concerns about (forced) migration and (sex) work, which, as the article shows, are themselves shaped by and shaping globalization; and in relation to a trajectory of German feminist filmmaking, comparisons about which Mennel deftly specifies in relation to inter-, trans-, national, and local spaces to offer a unique reading of canonical New German Cinema by women. Such contextualization not only illuminates Biemann's project and enriches the fabric of the article, it also demonstrates the scholarly range and depth of the article's author. In the essay, Mennel presents an insightful, detailed, and thought-provoking analysis of Biemann’s video-essay on the global sex trade, Remote Sensing (2001), as an informative example of a feminist aesthetic response to globalization. Focusing on the relationship between feminist (documentary) aesthetics and feminist activism, Mennel draws connections between Biemann's contemporary video installation work and the germinal works of feminist film from the period of the New German Cinema. Specifically, by comparing Biemann’s countergeography with Helke Sander’s Die allzeit reduzierte Persönlichkeit--REDUPERS (1977) Mennel's analysis shows how feminist film making can respond to the radical political and economic transformations of the past 40 years that have thoroughly influenced the lives of women around the world. Mennel sees Biemann’s work as moving beyond the feminist impulses in the New German Cinema that privileged German femininity as “white, middle-class, heterosexual, yet victimized” (338). Biemann, she argues, problematizes the dichotomies of objectivity/subjectivity, public/private, and local attachment/global detachment through her aesthetic reconfiguration of the documentary form. Contextualizing her analysis of Remote Sensing in the framework of recent postcolonial and globalization studies, Mennel demonstrates how the video essay reflects critically on the tension between, on the one hand, the dissolution of borders and increasingly global flows of capital and commodities and, on the other hand, the obstacles that national borders still present for those traversing the globe while facing the violence and exploitation associated with being sans papiers. She emphasizes Biemann’s feminist interrogation of cinematic documentary techniques and her successful deconstruction of the gendered voice in colonial film. At the same time, Mennel points out the limits of Biemann’s filmic approach, which, in her view, is ultimately not able to undo the representational commodification of women in the sex trade, nor the hierarchy of center and periphery, as it lacks awareness that the place from which it speaks is imbricated in the processes of globalization. Thus, Mennel introduces the reader not only to an exciting, feminist aesthetic reflection on globalization, but also but also opens up a debate about how such a reflection can avoid becoming complicit with the processes that it represents and seeks to criticize. Ultimately, "The Global Elsewhere" asks the reader what feminism means in an age of increasing tensions between mobilization and demarcation.

2010: Jennifer Creech

Jennifer Creech’s article “A Few Good Men: Gender, Ideology and Narrative Politics in the Lives of Others and Good Bye, Lenin!” (Women in German Yearbook 2009, 100-126) is a fine example of feminist scholarship that offers a sophisticated analysis of two canonical German films. The article engages the musical and literary tropes that constitute a complex interplay with the politics of gender, narrative, and memory. For example, Creech follows the literary and musical traces of Brecht’s poem “In Remembrance of Marie A” and the musical piece “Sonata vom guten Menschen” to outline how the Lives of Others visually and aurally inscribes its ideological position. The article integrates German literary and musical history with contemporary American queer theory by such scholars as Eve Sedgwick, Gayle Rubin, and Teresa de Lauretis for a feminist reading of the gendered structures that organize the two films in opposing ways. It thus negotiates the questions of remembering in the GDR through the lens of gender in the context of the material history and the continuing imaginary and material spaces of cultural production.

2009: May Mergenthaler

The competition for the Women in German Best Article Prize, 2009 received a record high number of strong and diverse submissions, which speaks to the quality of current feminist research in German Studies. The committee members, Barbara Mennel, Elizabeth Mittman, and Katrin Pahl, chose May Mergenthaler’s article “Die Frühromantik als Projekt vollendeter Mitteilung zwischen den Geschlechtern: Friedrich Schlegel und Dorothea Veit im Gespräch über Friedrich Richters Romane,” published in The German Quarterly 81.3 (Summer 2008), as the winning article for the 2009 prize, which carries a $ 500.00 check award. One of the categories for the award is that the work must present original new research that makes a significant contribution to the field of feminist German Studies. Committee members assessed Mergenthaler’s article as a beautiful and sophisticated reading – a re-enactment, really – of the conversation between Friedrich Schlegel, Dorothea Veit, and Jean Paul. Indeed, the conversation extends to the debate between feminist and non-feminist scholars of the 20th century about the value of Romantic ideas of irony and conversation. We found that Professor Mergenthaler leaves her own mark in this conversation by correcting the earlier feminist focus on Dorothea Veit via the perspective of Jean Paul. The article thus offers a differentiated feminist perspective that strengthens the voice of the literary. Committee members agreed that the essay in question advances feminist German Studies by offering a nuanced feminist literary analysis that moves beyond the gender-aligned feminist positions of the 1990s but acknowledges and builds on this earlier feminist discourse.

2008: Jennifer Ruth Hosek and Elizabeth Mittman

This year, the WiG Best Article Prize committee recognized the exceptional quality of two essays, one by and Jennifer Ruth Hosek (Queen’s University, Kingston), and the other by Elizabeth Mittmann (Michigan State University) this year. Jennifer Ruth Hosek’s essay “Buena Vista Deutschland: Nation and Gender in Wenders, Gaulke and Eggert” (German Politics and Society 25:1, Spring 2007) provides an excellent, very rich mapping of the displaced working through of reunification onto Cuba. The essay negotiates several difficult coordinates: the question of how cinematic representations of Cuba de facto relate to the unification process and how this representation in turn is gendered. This essay is equally well-written and covers equal ground in terms of the density of the argument, the different interconnected subtopics, and the different national and transnational contexts. In Hosek’s essay questions of power, in regard to the East-West, generations, and gender dimensions are central, as well as the question of high and purportedly low art.

Elizabeth Mittman’s article “Gender, Citizenship, and the Public Sphere in Postunification Germany: Experiments in Feminist Journalism” (Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 32:3, 2007) is a thoroughly-researched and original essay. It integrates feminist history, sociology, and cultural studies. Her analysis of several feminist magazines in the 1980s GDR and their development after unification is based on original, primary research that fills a gap in German feminist studies scholarship. The committee particularly appreciated the careful integration of an analysis of the artwork, interviews with the editors, and their biographical data. All of these aspects that are traditionally overlooked were analyzed in a sophisticated way. Her essay was also daring, questioning the privileging of Western feminism, particularly as advocated by Alice Schwarzer. Finally, we commend Liz Mittman for publishing her essay in Signs, expanding and complicating the question of “what is feminism,” as well as positioning German Studies in a dialogue with a larger theoretical community.

2006: Katrin Pahl

The winner of the 2006 Best Article Award, which was announced at the 2007 annual conference is Dr. Katrin Pahl, an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University, for her article "Transformative Translations: Cyrillizing and Queering," which appeared in Transit 2:1 (2006). Dr. Pahl's article, a witty and sophisticated analysis of the video Copy Me: I want to Travel by Brigitte Kuster, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, struck the Prize committee as a well-argued, bold, and innovative piece of feminist scholarship. It raises important issues about gender and science, socialist memory, and fantasies of resistance in postsocialist Europe.

2004: Tracy Matysik

The 2004 Winner of the Women in German Best Article Prize was Tracie Matysik's "In the Name of the Law: The 'Female Homosexual' and the Criminal Code in Fin-de-Siecle Germany," which appeared in the Journal of the History of Sexuality in January 2004. Dr. Matysik is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, whose work is situated at the intersection of European intellectual history and the history of gender and sexuality. The article is part of a larger research project that she is currently finishing, entitled Secular Ethics, Secular Sex: A Cultural History of Ethics Between Nietzsche and Freud. In her article, Dr. Matysik discusses the “controversy around an effort in Germany in 1909 to criminalize female-female sexual relations. The controversy depicts how legal lender efforts to identify the ‘female homosexual’ as a criminal category exposed the lack of public agreement regarding her physiological, moral, and social constitution.” Dr. Matysik analyzes the juridical, medical, and activist discourses bearing on the debate, and the sometimes odd alliances among advocates and detractors. Her essay shows how medical arguments and social activism ultimately undermined efforts to criminalize female homosexuality. The committee unanimously found that Dr. Matysik’s essay is an original, well-argued piece of scholarship on a fascinating topic, and that her work makes a substantial contribution to feminist scholarship in several discrete disciplines. The article is available at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_the_history_of_sexuality/v013/13.... If this link doesn't open, you can access the article as a PDF file through Project Muse.