Defining the Discipline – Vilas Research Professor of German Dead at 91

Defining the Discipline
Vilas Research Professor of German Dead at 91

On Saturday, October 9, 2021, Vilas Research Professor of German emeritus Jost Hermand died unexpectedly. Hermand joined the then Department of German (now in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+) in 1958 and helped put the Department – and the UW-Madison – on the map nationally and internationally. He remained active after he attained emeritus status in 2004, with two new books currently in press on German cultural history (in German) and on meaning in music (in English). Hermand may have been the longest-serving William F. Vilas Research Professor on campus, having been awarded the honor in 1967. For decades, he was among a handful of Germanists with world-wide fame and name recognition, in demand all over the world as a speaker. He was a prolific scholar with a publication list that spans 44 pages and an unparalleled breadth of knowledge, but more importantly, he was a tireless innovator and pioneer who shaped the field of Germanistik in major ways, helping to make it the vibrant field of “German Studies” it continues to be today by challenging the established canon, placing literary interpretation in new contexts, exploring German-Jewish culture, and highlighting minority voices and ecological concerns. The annual Wisconsin Workshop conferences he inaugurated more than 50 years ago introduced ground-breaking topics; the tradition continues today, with the 52nd Wisconsin Workshop (“German Studies and Beyond”) planned for fall 2022. Into his 80s, Jost held students spellbound when he lectured – and more recently, guest-lectured – in a large course on “Nazi Culture”, speaking from his own personal experience. His graduate students praise him as an inspiring teacher and mentor: dozens of UW-Madison alums who did their PhD work under Hermand and who now hold faculty positions across the US and internationally are continuing his legacy. For Hermand’s 90th birthday last year, alumni and friends dedicated an oak tree in Allen Centennial Gardens on campus to him that bears a commemorative plaque.

Above Photo: ©Niels Leiser, permission by MosseLectures, Humboldt Universität Berlin

Additional information on Jost’s career can be found here:

Article about Jost Hermand on the occasion of his 90th birthday and the dedication of the oak: 2020 “Mitteilungen” German alumni newsletter, p 4/5:

For more information contact:
Sabine Gross, Griebsch Bascom Professor of German,
Marc Silberman, Emeritus Professor of German,