Kristin Berberich studied English, German Philology and German as a Foreign Language with a focus on linguistics at Heidelberg University. After working at the University of Auckland and teaching German at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Mannheim University, she returned to the English Department at Heidelberg University where, in 2014, she joined Prof Beatrix Busse’s team to compile and build a multimodal corpus to analyze place-making strategies in Brooklyn, New York. Following her growing interest in urban linguistics, she completed her master’s thesis in 2016 with an analysis of the discursive reclamation of the Boston Marathon. Her research interests lie in the realm of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, and gender studies.
At GKAT, Kristin investigates the discursive construction of neighborhoods, with a special emphasis on representations of the ‘good’ neighborhood. For her analysis, she compiled a corpus of spoken, written, and online data in neighborhoods along Bedford Avenue. Due to the strong connection between discourse and social practice, neighborhood discourses immediately affect the lives of their residents. Kristin brings together corpus-based discourse analysis and linguistic ethnography to analyze neighborhood discourses produced by individual social actors whose perspectives are often underrepresented in decision-making processes in the urban space. Her dissertation project aims to shed light on various degrees of inter-personal, cross-spatial and cross-genre variation that create an intricate picture of neighborhood discourse, with special regard to trusting relations between neighbors. These insights reveal that an integrative view of the micro- and macro-levels of discourse is crucial to the analysis of urban spaces.
Elizabeth Corrao-Billeter, a native to Ohio, studied psychology, art, and English literature at Ursuline College (B.A.) and English literature and composition at the University of Akron (M.A.) before earning a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from INTESOL Worldwide and relocating to Heidelberg in 2013. Since 2008, she has held editorial roles at various research institutions and private publishers such as Cleveland Clinic, Wolters Kluwer, EMBO Press, Heidelberg University Clinic, and Simmons University. She has taught English conversation and academic writing at the University of Heidelberg, and was a writing consultant at the university’s Academic Writing Support office from 2013 to 2016. She was also a member of the founding editorial team at Heidelberg University Publishing (heiUP), a DFG-funded Open Access humanities publishing project, where she helped to produce numerous articles, monographs, and edited volumes for the book series “Heidelberg Studies on Transculturality” and “Transcultural Research” (Springer), as well as the Open Access e-journal Transcultural Studies. In January 2017, an article she co-wrote on the experience of founding heiUP was featured in The Journal of Scholarly Publishing.
Elizabeth Corrao-Billeter’s dissertation identifies an emerging subgenre in contemporary American non-fiction, the voluntary simplicity memoir, and explores how these works advocate what can be called a pastoral of practice. In this context, voluntary simplicity refers to the deliberate adoption of a lifestyle that is materially simpler than that which mainstream American culture typically encourages. While the extent and modes of these practices vary, voluntary simplicity memoirs argue the need for a quiet form of subversion against mainstream authority by calling the value of consumerism and globalization into question. Voluntary simplicity does not, however, disdain authority or contemporary culture in general: it instead shifts the placement of trust to alternative forms of authority by focusing on personal responses to simplification, as well as emphasizing the importance of collaboration, community, and the revival of traditional skills. These memoirs thus provide a backdrop for the cultural history of voluntary simplicity as a social movement, as well as a context for the recent re-emergence of pastoral ideals and voluntary simplicity’s shift in status from fringe movement to general acceptance by mainstream culture. In recent years, this acceptance has become so widespread that the movement itself is subject to commoditization—a development that may negate its original function and attract participants with less altruistic motives than those its founders originally held. Finally, this project examines the impact that this mainstreaming effect has had on American popular culture and public perceptions of what constitutes “the good life.”
David Eisler grew up in Florida before attending Cornell University and earning a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics in 2007. He then served five years in the United States Army, earning the rank of captain and completing overseas tours in Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan. After leaving the military in 2012, he moved back to the United States and attended graduate school at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, earning a master’s degree in 2014. He then spent the next three years as a research analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia, before coming to Heidelberg to begin his doctoral studies.
David Eisler’s dissertation project is tentatively titled "The Burden of Memory: Civil-Military Relations and Contemporary American War Fiction." From the war in Vietnam to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, David intends to examine the dynamic between the military and American society and understand how that relationship has influenced the literary fiction written about the wars. The project opens by tracing the evolution of the soldier-author's cultural authority over the literary representation of war throughout the twentieth century before showing how the end of the draft and the shift to an all-volunteer force has affected the authorship, content, and form of contemporary war fiction.
Claudia Jetter was born in Stuttgart, Germany. After working in Bristol and Liverpool (U.K.), she studied Protestant theology and English literature, language and culture at Heidelberg University. In the academic year 2010-2011, she worked as a German language assistant at a British boarding school in Cumbria (U.K.). In 2016, she graduated with a teaching degree. During her studies, her main fields of interest were new religious movements in nineteenth-century America, American religion and politics as well as antebellum literature.
Claudia Jetter’s dissertation focuses on transformation processes of religious authority in mid-nineteenth century America. It argues that charismatic prophets emerged with new sacred writings and doctrines in response to a perceived crisis of scriptural and ecclesiastical authority at the time. The project discerns the complex production process of ‘charisma’ by comparing Ralph Waldo Emerson, Phoebe Palmer or Joseph Smith Jr., and their new sacred writing, to show that they all established exceptional positions of authority among followers based on their published divine communications. To identify the ways in which these prophets assumed authority through their texts, and to identify the ways in which the community had helped in co-creating charisma, the project analyzes performance and self-image of these prophets, the production processes of their new sacred writings, and the reception of key texts by their followers. Drawing on theoretical concepts of charismatic authority, revelation and scripture from sociology and religious studies, the project seeks to provide a comparative framework that helps to situate the striking increase of new prophets with additional scripture in antebellum American religious history.
Aleksandra Polińska was born in Warsaw, Poland. In 2013, she earned her B.A. in English Philology from Warsaw School of Applied Linguistics. Her thesis focused on the translation of culture-specific items and the assessment of the understanding between American and Polish cultures such renderings offer. In 2015, she received her M.A. in American Studies from the American Studies Center at the University of Warsaw. In her dissertation, she analyzed the process of gentrification of two Brooklyn neighborhoods with the focus on the powerful role of real estate developers and, most notably, the media. In May 2017, she was admitted to the HCA’s Graduiertenkolleg Authority and Trust.
Her doctoral project aims at investigating the transformation of trust and authority in American news media and its political implications. While distrust of the news media has been expressed across the American electorate, it has followed significantly different trajectories on each side of the political spectrum. This development, embedded in the rapidly evolving news media landscape of the United States, has had significant impact on the political dynamic and developments in the country, including the 2016 presidential election. This research is expected to contribute to the studies of trust and authority in the news media in the United States by shedding more light on the different ways in which Americans’ trust in the news media has transformed on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. While certainly not the only source of information, the news media continue to play a very significant informative role as indicated in numerous polls by Americans themselves. Therefore, the analysis of how and why Americans’ trust in media has been changing in an asymmetrical way as well as the political implications of this phenomenon is of vital importance. It is particularly so, in the face of the ongoing proliferation of conspiracy theories and disinformation efforts, both domestic and foreign, as well as the (also asymmetrically) growing political polarization. As such, the project deals with historical, socio-cultural and political matters, which guarantees its interdisciplinary character.
Aline Schmidt majored in English Studies with a minor in Political Science at the University of Heidelberg. She graduated with a B.A. in 2014 and an M.A. in English Linguistics in 2017. As she focused on American politics and sociolinguistics throughout her studies, her master’s thesis examined the performative authenticity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during the 2016 primaries. Aline’s research interests include Critical Discourse Studies, Computational Humanities, Forensic Linguistics and Urban Linguistics. In this research area, she has been supporting Prof. Beatrix Busse’s team in the compilation of a multimodal corpus to investigate discursive place-making in Brooklyn, NY, at the English Department since 2015. In 2017, she joined the HCA’s Graduiertenkolleg Authority and Trust.
In her dissertation, Aline Schmidt investigates the construction of a charismatic relationship between Donald Trump and his followers from a linguistic angle. She draws on social-constructionist perspectives in Max Weber’s work, integrating language as a meaning-making resource that constructs and construes social reality and Weber’s classic framework of charismatic authority as a highly personalized form of political leadership. Charisma is conceptualized as a social relationship between leader and followers, which is ultimately negotiated in discursive interaction. Considering the impact of social media on political action and on the dissemination of discourses and ideologies, Aline emphasizes the role of social media for the construction of the charismatic relationship. Synergizing methods from corpus-assisted discourse studies, she outlines interactional processes of performing and recognizing charisma in the context of the rise of social media. In particular, she analyzes reddit and Twitter as affective discursive spaces which catalyze processes of charismatization. Her dataset is comprised of a number of ad hoc specialized corpora, spanning genres from, e.g., political speeches, televised debates and Trump’s tweets, to comments and multimodal data on the reddit The_Donald. Her project thus integrates various dimensions of authority and trust in the Trump era and aims to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of irrational and affective politics in the contemporary US.
Tim Sommer studied English, American, and German literature and culture at Heidelberg University and the University of Edinburgh and has been a visiting researcher at King’s College, Cambridge, the Bodleian Library (Oxford), and Harvard’s Houghton Library. He has delivered conference papers at venues including Oxford, Harvard, and Yale, is the recipient of the 2016 Ralph Waldo Emerson Society Graduate Student Paper Award, and has been a Ralph Waldo Emerson Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. His research interests include British Romanticism, New England Transcendentalism, and nineteenth-century Anglo-American literary relations. His work has appeared in journals such as The New England Quarterly, Romanticism, The Wordsworth Circle, and the Harvard Library Bulletin.
Tim Sommer’s dissertation project examines the transatlantic origins of authority and trust in nineteenth-century American literature and culture by retracing the many ways in which the emergence and subsequent trajectory of both concepts in the American context were shaped in response to European discourses, British ones in particular. Focusing on Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) and Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) as two representative figures and drawing on recent approaches in transatlantic studies, transnational theory, and cultural sociology to account for their cosmopolitan careers and writings, the project asks how literature in the nineteenth-century Anglo-American cultural sphere became a key arena for defining and debating authority and trust. It seeks to refine our understanding of the extent to which this development was intertwined with phenomena such as the rise of literary nationalism, the sacralization of culture, and the professionalization of authorship.
Sebastian Tants was born in Lower Saxony, Germany. He studied Philosophy and English Studies at the University of Heidelberg and, as an exchange student, European Studies at Cardiff University (UK). He received his Staatsexamen degree (equivalent to an M.A.) from the University of Heidelberg in 2016. In his thesis, he conducted a critical reading of Dave Eggers’s dystopian novel The Circle (2013), establishing an intellectual link between Eggers’s novel and the philosophical critique of modernity of the Frankfurt School. Before joining GKAT in the fall of 2017, Sebastian worked, among other things, as a teaching assistant for Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg.
In his dissertation project, Sebastian Tants focuses on the configurations of trust in the work of Herman Melville (1819-1891). Tracing the way Melville used this theme throughout his career, the project examines a broad selection of his texts, ranging from his short fiction to his novels, with the aim of establishing a panorama of the multifaceted vision of trust embedded in Melville’s prose writings. Considering Melville as a theorist of trust, Sebastian employs close reading as well as sociological theory in his textual analysis. In addition, he reads Melville’s prose, which is often heavily intertwined with central societal and political discourses of the antebellum era, in its historic environment and discusses it alongside a selection of texts by its contemporaries. The concept of trust is analyzed in such varied contexts as the debate on slavery, colonialism and intercultural contact, as well as in regard to the production and reception of literature. Through these aspects, the research project aims at gaining a clearer understanding of the ‘performance’ of trust literary works such as Typee and The Confidence-Man are engaged in.
Cosima Werner graduated from the University of Göttingen with a B.Sc. in geography and a BA in sociology in 2011. She then continued to the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg for her master's studies in cultural geography. In 2012 she spent one term at Minnesota State University, Mankato and then completed her studies with her master's thesis entitled “The Variety of Urban Farming Practices – A Case Study from Detroit.” In 2015 she joined Professor Ulrike Gerhard's team “Human Geography of North America” at the Institute of Geography of Heidelberg University as a research assistant as well as the HCA‘s Ph.D. program.
For her dissertation research, Cosima Werner shifted from urban farms to convenience stores – stores that do not provide any fresh goods or produce – in distressed and underserved neighborhoods of North American Cities. Since the turn of the century, in equality in American cities has also affected the food supply, resulting in so-called "food deserts" – urban areas with little access or no access to fresh foods. The lower purchasing power of urban inhabitants has caused many supermarkets to move to suburban areas, opening the market for convenience stores especially in underserved neighborhoods with a high share of ethnic populations. The poor nutritional value of foods available at convenience stores is often tied to the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases in these neighborhoods. Cosima Werner’s dissertation contributes new insights about convenience stores as social spaces, which also means focusing on the perspective of the customers, for whom convenience stores serve as reference points for their everyday lives. The empirical research is embedded in a theoretical framework about space and everyday practices. The preliminary assumption is that relational space concepts are conducive to analyzing how convenience stores are perceived by their customers. In particular, this approach uses qualitative methods such as participant observation, interviews, and analysis of visual material.
Georg Wolff studied History and Political Science at Heidelberg University, where he received his B.A. degree in 2014. His bachelor thesis examined the conception of history inherent in the strategy game series Civilization and Total War. In 2017, he graduated with a M.A. degree. His thesis, entitled “Sock it to the Left!” outlined key positions of the conservative youth group Young Americans for Freedom during the 1960s. From 2014 to 2016, he worked at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities as a student assistant in the project “Edition of Cuneiform Literary Texts from Assur.” In 2017, he joined the DFG-Graduiertenkolleg “Authority and Trust in American Culture, Society, History and Politics” at the HCA.
Georg Wolff’s dissertation, which bears the working title “American Conservatism and the Struggle against Federal Authority,” aims to show how grassroots organizations partook in a coordinated effort to drastically reduce the impact of governmental action on the federal level. He examines the contradictions inherent in the ideological backgrounds of these groups, whose members shared their conservative identity, but were split mainly in traditionalists and libertarians, who had vastly different outlooks on topics such as Civil Rights or Counterculture. Drawing mainly from archival material and interviews, he aims to paint a more balanced picture of these crucial processes in American history and to challenge prevailing narratives such as the conservative pied piper.
Associated Doctoral Candidates
HCA Ph.D. Program
Louis Butcher was born and raised in London to an American mother and English father. He spent most of his childhood holidays with family in Detroit & LA. Prior to returning to academia for a second spell, he worked in a variety of fields and travelled extensively across Europe, the Americas, and Asia. He then graduated with a B.A. in (modern European) history from the University of Bradford, which included a year abroad at Clarkson University in upstate NY. Louis spent a further seven months backpacking across Latin America in an effort to improve his Spanish before returning to the UK to work in Bath for a year. In 2015, he moved to Heidelberg to enroll in the HCA’s MAS program. While there, he majored in political science, history, and law, and graduated in early 2017.
Louis Butcher’s project is titled “Analyzing the Impact of Police Body Cameras in America: Has Increased Surveillance of Police Behavior Reduced Incidences of Excessive Force?” It will seek to determine whether the growing use of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) in the United States has reduced the police’s use-of-force – and excessive force, in particular – thus, positively impacting relations between the police and the public at large.
HCA Ph.D. Program
Maren Schäfer studied International Business in cooperation with ALDI SÜD, graduating from the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in 2008. After receiving her B.A., she managed key accounts and international projects in an online marketing agency before she joined the MAS program at the HCA in Heidelberg. As part of her studies, she spent a year at the University of New Mexico as a recipient of the Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium. In 2016, she graduated with a M.A. in American Studies. Her Master’s project reflected her interest in political rhetoric, dealing with “The American Presidency and the ‘Power to Persuade’”. While working as a program coordinator at the SRH University in Heidelberg, Maren joined the HCA’s PhD program in 2017 to further pursue her interest in political rhetoric. In her dissertation, she focuses on the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing in the United States.
In her dissertation project, Maren focuses on the impact of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing on people’s attitudes in the United States. Despite being a recurring feature of American politics, populism has perhaps reached an all-time high. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, increasing inequality and distrust of elites seem to have contributed to this development while the mass proliferation of digital media outlets and mobile devices has facilitated direct communication with a mass audience. Trump’s victory in 2016 is seen by many as the manifestation of this trend. In the contemporary United States, more and more mainstream actors of all ideological persuasions seem to be employing populist rhetoric to shape people’s attitudes and beliefs in their favor. In particular, framing has become a popular strategy to alter the ways in which information is being presented, in the hopes of influencing people’s attitudes. In her project, Maren will address the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric. She aims at understanding how and why framing, especially with an underlying populist notion, can influence audiences by focusing on the political discourse among stakeholders of different ideological backgrounds.