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Member Accolades

Profiles: Alexander K. Rothe
Name Alexander K. Rothe
College Northwestern University, Columbia University
Degrees B.A./B.S. German, B.M. Music Cognition, M.A. Historical Musicology, M.Phil. Historical Musicology, Ph.D. Historical Musicology
Current job title Core Lecturer
Employer Columbia University
Location New York, NY

Why did you first start learning German?
I grew up in a bilingual household, speaking a mixture of English and German with my mother and grandparents. I have always been interested in German culture and literature, especially music. When I went away to college, I wanted to further my education in German language and culture, since I had never had an opportunity to study German on a formal basis. I enjoyed reading German literature and learning the language so much that a mentor suggested that I become a German major.

What did you get out of your German studies?
Becoming a German major as an undergraduate was a real shift for me. Intensive language study involved developing a new set of skills: not just expanding my German vocabulary and grammar, but also improving my communication skills and learning about different cultural values. I think once you study a foreign language in depth, you develop an interest in learning other languages as well. Later in graduate school, I also studied French and Italian.
Another way that German studies changed me is that it gave me an access point to the broader humanities, thinking more generally about how ideas and values shape people and their identities. This ties into my personal philosophy of the importance of a liberal arts education. Not only do students learn about a wide variety of different subjects and how to communicate effectively, but they also learn the importance of ideas and values such as social justice and cultural diversity.

What influence did German have on your career choices?
The skills and network that I developed in the process of learning and studying German made graduate school possible. While studying abroad on a Fulbright research grant in Germany, I was able to experience firsthand the experimental opera performances that I later wrote about in my dissertation. German language skills have meant accessibility to new networks, resources, and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. Later, a DAAD research grant enabled me to conduct a year of dissertation research in Berlin.
Second, the pedagogical methods that my German teachers employed also shaped my sense of a professional vocation. My decision to become a musicologist and teacher was largely based on the inclusive environment that I experienced as an undergraduate German major at Northwestern. In addition to taking us on field trips to downtown Chicago to study Bauhaus architecture and experience German cuisine, Professor Ingrid Zeller served as an outstanding mentor for professional development, in particular helping me to establish connections with professors in Germany when I decided to study abroad. Professor Franziska Lys had us create video recordings in German to improve our German skills, but also to go out of the classroom into the broader community and study the impact of German language and culture on people’s lives. Professor John Paluch encouraged my interest in studying abroad and learning additional languages. A highlight of the German department was the Kaffeestunde, which was an opportunity to talk with the faculty members individually. Lastly, the visiting DAAD professors had a profound effect on me, fostering a sense of the importance of cross-cultural exchange. This sense of community both inside and outside the classroom played a great role in my decision to become a teacher.

How do you use German today at home or in your work?
Most definitely. I use German on a daily basis to consult primary sources in the original language, conduct research at German archives, and communicate with my peers in Germany.


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