“I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hanna, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again.” So mourns the protagonist of Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader, which takes up the postwar German generation’s struggle to comprehend the Holocaust, even as living memory fades with its witnesses.
On a Monday afternoon in February, Tommy Troschuetz (CGS’11, CAS’13) and his classmates discuss passages from The Reader, accompanied by a podcast of Schlink’s 2009 lecture at Boston University. Their study of the Holocaust also incorporates World War II photographs, the changing architecture of former Nazi buildings in Munich, and Otto Preminger’s film Exodus about the founding of Israel. This is IR 452, Topics in European Politics and Culture, which investigates how crucial events in European history are remembered, recreated, and reinterpreted through time. “It’s a totally different course than I’ve ever taken at Boston University,” says Troschuetz. “It’s not just history and theory—it’s comparing the subjects of photographs and novels and memoirs to the way the same history is presented in textbooks. It’s a fascinating course.”
IR 452 is the capstone course for the new European Studies major offered by BU’s Center for the Study of Europe (BUCSE). Established in 2011, the BUCSE is the nucleus for the study of Europe across the University; the center coordinates teaching missions, supports research, and builds community among faculty and students at BU and beyond. “We see our role not as duplicating the efforts of individual departments, but rather as bringing together faculty and students from a whole range of disciplines to think about Europe in a multidisciplinary way,” says Vivien Schmidt, professor of international relations and political science, director of the Center for International Relations, and founding director of BUCSE. In its first year, the center launched a minor and major, saw two students graduate with European Studies concentrations, and presented a comprehensive series of public programs.
The BUCSE’s popular events included a panel discussion on the Eurozone crisis, a talk by the Nobel Prize–winning author Herta Müller, a screening of the German film Das System with the filmmakers, and a lunch conversation with the European Union constitutional scholar Miguel Maduro. “The events are highly educational, but they don’t duplicate what happens in the classroom,” says Elizabeth Amrien, the BUCSE’s grants analyst. “They’re about relating what happens in the classroom to what’s happening out in the world.”
The BUCSE’s reach extends to the international stage with the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate program, which annually funds nine BU PhD candidates to study at associated international universities for three years. The BUCSE is also active in the Global Re-ordering: Evolution through European Networks (GR:EEN), a consortium of 16 universities around the world that hold international relations conferences on the European Union. The only American university connected with both GR:EEN and Erasmus Mundus, BU hosted the February conference Financial Stability and Energy Security in the Americas and Europe: The Role of Transnational Policy Networks, engaging BU faculty, as well as scholars from the United States, South America, and Europe.
“I would advise everyone at BU to keep their options open,” says Troschuetz. “European Studies is about different cultures and different aspects of life—diversity that you aren’t exposed to every day in America.” The BUCSE welcomes alumni and the wider BU community to participate in its programs. As Amrien says, “As the center evolves, we'd like it to be a hub for all Europe-related activity on campus.”