Athens, Ga. – Max Reinhart, a faculty member in the department of Germanic and Slavic languages at the University of Georgia, has been named the first A.G. Steer Professor in Goethe Studies, pending final approval by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.
The new professorship was established through a gift from the estate of the late Steer, who came to UGA in 1967 to head the newly-formed department of Germanic and Slavic Languages.
“To my knowledge there aren’t more than a handful of German departments in the country with a Goethe chair,” said Reinhart, who has been a faculty member in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences since 1988 and is a former head of the department. “When I came to UGA, Al [Steer] had already retired, but I got acquainted with him on his occasional visits to the department, always with his beloved German shepherd in tow. We’d go out for lunch, and he’d reminisce about the Nuremberg Trials, where he had been one of the lead translators. He was a character, bigger than life.”
Reinhart’s major area of research is early modern Germany (ca. 1400-1700), and he is author or editor of eight books. Most recently, he edited volume four of Early Modern German Literature, of the 10-volume series Camden House History of German Literature. He has secondary interests in music history, especially the German lied (song) of the 19th century and in Early Christianity and Late Empire.
With the linguist Jared S. Klein, he is translator and editor of Schalom Ben-Chorin’s classic study Brother Jesus: The Nazarene through Jewish Eyes, published by the University of Georgia Press. He is also the author of numerous articles that have appeared in international journals.
“I am delighted that Reinhart will fill this important new professorship in the Franklin College,” said Dean Garnett S. Stokes.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German poet, playwright, novelist and natural philosopher and is generally considered one of the greatest figures in Western literature. He became famous early in life with his book The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), but he is best-known for his poetic drama in two parts, Faust. Goethe’s wide-ranging interests also led him to important discoveries in understanding plant and animal life, and he even proposed an unorthodox theory of the character of light and color.
Despite the central place of Goethe in Western literature, study programs on his art are no longer common in the United States.
“Beyond my fond personal memories of Al Steer, this professorship means that Goethe is going to be back in our ‘starting rotation’ [in the department of Germanic and Slavic languages at UGA] again for the first time in nearly 20 years,” said Reinhart. “That must sound shocking to anyone outside the discipline, given Goethe’s stature in world literature. I mean, can you imagine an English department that doesn’t teach Shakespeare regularly? But back in the ‘80s it was felt that the dominance of Promethean figures like Goethe and Schiller was so great that they were colonizing the curriculum. So their stock value suddenly plummeted to make room for other important writers and ideas. Since then, Goethe studies have languished.”
Steer received his master’s from Duke University in 1938 and his doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954. He had a distinguished naval career during World War II, and in 1945 he was appointed chief of the interpreters and translators of the Nuremberg trials in Germany. His contributions to military history and his role at Nuremberg have been documented in many books and articles.
Steer transformed a two-person unit into a department of 14 professors and many teaching assistants before retiring in 1983. He served as the University System of Georgia Board of Regents’ first studies abroad director in 1970.
In addition, Steer was a Goethe specialist and published many books and articles on his work. He died in 2003.
The Steer Professor, according to the fund agreement, must have an outstanding national reputation; must be a full professor; will occupy the chair as long as his or her performance warrants the title, in the sole judgment of the Franklin College; and will teach one course per year on Goethe’s life and work after the year 1809.