GERMAN 701 - Textual and Visual Interpretations
Fall 2019, Section 001 - Cinema and Migration: Ways of Seeing Refugees
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: German (GERMAN)
Department: LSA Germanic Languages & Literatures
See additional student enrollment and course instructor information to guide you in your decision making.


Waitlist Capacity:
May be elected four times for credit. May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:


According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 45,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day because of conflict and persecution. As a result, there are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. In Europe the situation came to a head in 2015, when the numbers of refugees from Syria, in particular, soared, Germany opened its borders, and the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel declared “wir schaffen das”: we can do it.

Four years on, the European political and cultural landscape has been redrawn. Cinema and other media have played a central role in this process, whose visual dimensions are difficult to overlook. The plight of refugees has been seared into public consciousness through widely circulating images of overcrowded camps, of treks along the Balkan route and sea rescues on the Mediterranean, of emaciated figures in thermal foil or the corpse of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish shore. Meanwhile, in an emerging transnational corpus of refugee films, filmmakers have begun to shape this visual repertoire into documentaries and feature films, attempting to find visual and narrative strategies for addressing and intervening in key issues of migration. They investigate the mediated confrontation between self and other; the visual tropes of ‘crisis’; the construction of borders and the topographies of flight. Often turning the gaze reflexively on their own act of visualization, these films interrogate the ethics of documentary and, indeed, “ways of seeing” (John Berger): of looking, watching, gazing, and “regarding the pain of others” (Sontag).

The seminar takes stock of this emerging set of films, which include everything from sweeping, universalizing panoramas such as Ai Wei Wei’s Human Flow (2017) to the intensely individualized allegorical scenario explored in Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx (2018); from the observational stance of an award-winning documentary such as Gianfranco Rosi’s Fuocoammare (2016) or of Karim Aïnouz’s Zentralflughafen THF (Tempelhof Central Aiport, 2018) to the filmmaker’s increasing engagement with his subject in Jakob Preuss’s Als Paul über das Meer kam (When Paul Came Across the Sea, 2017); from the iPhone aesthetic of Midnight Traveler (Hassan Fazili, 2019) to the utter visual reductionism and abstraction of Merle Kröger and Philipp Scheffner’s Havarie (2016). We will submit each of these recent films to close scrutiny but also contextualize them with reference to contemporary and historical photographic images, visual cultures, and discourses of migration (WPA Photographers, Human Rights discourse, “The Family of Man;” Turkish-German cinema); theoretical readings on photography, documentary, and cinematic narration (Barthes, Berger, Sontag, Renov, Nichols); as well as cultural theories of Home, Exile, Refuge, and Migration (Arendt, Baumann, Sassen). Besides taking stock of the shared motifs and thematic concerns in these films, we will devote our attention in particular to their mobilization of vision and the gaze: what are the ethics of (mediated) looking, who gazes at whom, and how?


GERMAN 701 - Textual and Visual Interpretations
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
M 5:00PM - 8:00PM
002 (SEM)
 In Person
Th 3:00PM - 6:00PM

Textbooks/Other Materials

The partner U-M / Barnes & Noble Education textbook website is the official way for U-M students to view their upcoming textbook or course material needs, whether they choose to buy from Barnes & Noble Education or not. Students also can view a customized list of their specific textbook needs by clicking a "View/Buy Textbooks" link in their course schedule in Wolverine Access.

Click the button below to view and buy textbooks for GERMAN 701.001

View/Buy Textbooks


Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

Click the button below to view historical syllabi for GERMAN 701 (UM login required)

View Historical Syllabi

CourseProfile (Atlas)

The Atlas system, developed by the Center for Academic Innovation, provides additional information about: course enrollments; academic terms and instructors; student academic profiles (school/college, majors), and previous, concurrent, and subsequent course enrollments.

CourseProfile (Atlas)