“I think it is crucial to include the topic of immigration and cultural diversity in the school curriculum” — 5in10 with Ela Gezen
Since 2012 Ela Gezen has been Assistant Professor of German at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research and teaching focus on 20th century German and Turkish literature and culture, with emphases on literatures of migration, minority discourses, historical and theoretical accounts of transnationalism, and literary and cultural theory. She is currently a Fellow of Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME).
I asked my mother, and she says I was always curious about people within and beyond Germany; their languages, cultures, and customs.
How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator?
I am a literary scholar interested in the intersection between culture and society in both the Turkish and German contexts. My current research project explores how German and Turkish literary traditions influenced and shaped each other from the mid-20th century to the present. It is important to me to use my work to point out the bidirectionally of cultural exchange between Turkey and Germany. I try to open new avenues for researching and teaching the history of an ongoing interaction that is often erroneously described as occurring between a liberal, enlightened, pluralist “West,” on the one hand, and an Orientalized, backward, authoritarian “East” on the other.
Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative to you?
My year as exchange student at the University of Bloomington was crucial, as was my time in graduate school at the University of Michigan; the support of colleagues at both those institutions, at my current institution UMass Amherst, and here at EUME, has been invaluable. Morover, EUME has provided a tremendously productive forum to engage in interdisciplinary conversations with colleagues who share many of my concerns, even if they work on different subjects and employ different methodologies
In April 2016 you participated in a WeberWorldCafé in Berlin. This event discussed “Refugees in the City” with students from Berlin schools. What was your discussion about? Why was this event important for you?
I discussed exile and culture, focusing on Turkish intellectuals and artists who emigrated to Germany. In addition to talking about Turkish musicians and writers who settled in Berlin, I also played some musical examples of the thematization of exile ranging from Turkish folk songs to Turkish-German rap. I think it is crucial to include the topic of immigration and cultural diversity in the school curriculum (something absent during my schooling in Berlin). I strongly believe that early discussion about Germany’s status as country of immigration, as well promoting an understanding of Germanness that is plural rather than mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, and mono-lingual, could help in overcoming common stereotypes (and knowledge gaps).
If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your project?
My wish would involve time travel, as I would so like to have been able to attend some of the plays by Turkish Brechtian dramatists. The Turkish theatre scene in the 1960s was thriving, and forms the point of departure for my analysis of Turkish-German literature in my current research project.
Citation: Ela Gezen, “I think it is crucial to include the topic of immigration and cultural diversity in the school curriculum” – 5in10 with Ela Gezen, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 18 June 2016, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/4552.