Class of 1942 Endowed Term Professor of German
Interim Department Chair, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Simon Richter is Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and member of the Graduate Groups in Comparative Literature and Religious Studies, fellow of the Institute of Urban Research, and affiliated with the Programs in Cinema Studies, Environmental Humanities, Women’s Studies, and the Penn Water Center. Courses he has recently taught include: “Water Worlds: Cultural Responses to Sea Level Rise and Catastrophic Flooding”; "Writing in Dark Times"; “The German Connection: Hollywood and Berlin"; "Erinnerungsorte/Places of Memory"; and "Weimar Classicism." Richter directs a hybrid online/study abroad course called "Comparative Cultures of Sustainability in Germany and the Netherlands," which involves an intensive study visit to Berlin and Rotterdam. Click here for a short video about the program, read an article about the program in Omnia, or follow on Facebook.
Women, Pleasure, Film: What Lolas Want, a "pleasure-driven" typology of the Lola film from Marlene Dietrich to Franka Potente and beyond, is Richter's most recent book. (Click here for an article about Richter's book.) Other books include Missing the Breast: Gender, Fantasy and the Body in the German Enlightenment and Laocoon's Body and the Aesthetics of Pain. His 1996 article on "The Ins and Outs of Intimacy: Gender, Epistolary Culture, and the Public Sphere" won the Max Kade Prize for Best Article in the German Quarterly. Unwrapping Goethe's Weimar: Essays in Cultural Studies and Local Knowledge (co-edited with Susanne Kord and Burkhard Henke) appeared in late 1999 in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of Goethe's birth. Richter also edited volume seven of the Camden House History of German Literature, The Literature of Weimar Classicism (2005). A brief version of his introduction to this volume is accessible online in The Literary Encyclopedia. Camden House published Goethe's Ghosts: Reading and the Persistence of Literature, a festschrift for the esteemed Goethe scholar Jane Brown, co-edited with Richard Block, also in 2013. His article on "Goethe's Faust and the Ecolinguistics of <Here>" is German Ecocriticism in the Anthropocene (2017). He has published articles in the areas of history of medicine, gay and lesbian studies, gender studies, film studies, aesthetics, opera and literature, German foodways, cinema studies, cultural studies, environmental humanities, Nazi-era and postwar literature, and on authors such as Sophie von La Roche, Theresa Huber, Caroline von Wolzogen, Sophie Mereau, Winckelmann, Lessing, Heinse, Herder, Goethe, Moritz, Schiller, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Hegel, Eichendorff, Habermas, Max Frisch, Fritz von Unruh, Gerard Reve, Boudewijn Büch and Rammstein.
Richter is currently engaged in four long-term research projects.
- The Strange Afterlife of William of Orange and Philipp II: History, Allegory and Critique in German Literature 1933-1953. This is a study of a small surge of publications about the Eighty Years War occasioned by the coincidence of the 400th anniversary of the birthday of Orange with Hitler’s seizing power in 1933. Historical novels, biographies, and plays by authors from across the political spectrum shed new light on German-Dutch relations.
- The Impropriety of Goethe: Case Studies in the Aesthetics of Adulation. In this book project, Richter explores our current fastidiousness about large claims made on behalf of aesthetics by focusing on cases of exorbitant response to Goethe's person and works. Manifestations of such impropriety include the obsessive collection of Goetheana by William Speck, the esoteric interpretation of Goethe by Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophists, encounters with Goethe in Nazi concentration camps, an Italian modernist obsession with Goethe in the works of Pirandello and Busoni, and the cult of Goethe among German Jews around 1900, not to mention the extreme responses of some of Goethe's contemporaries: Karl Philipp Moritz, Bettina von Arnim, and Carl Gustav Carus.
- Poldergeist: Dutch Responses to Rising Seas and Sinking Cities in the Netherlands, United States, and Indonesia. This project focuses on Dutch responses to sea level rise in an intercultural context with a focus on the Netherlands, the United States, and Indonesia. Dutch prowess in water management is legendary and the Netherlands is a major international player in developing innovative solutions for dealing with high water in coastal cities around the world. "The Dutch approach" combines engineering, design and urban development with a commitment to an inclusive, location-specific, ecologically sound planning process. What makes New York City, Jakarta and Semarang additionally interesting is that colonial and post-colonial factors also come into play. Click here to watch a video about the project.
- The Languages of Sustainability. Proceeding on the assumption that sustainability is always actualized in a cultural and linguistic context, this collaborative project aims to gather cultural information about the linguistic and cultural translation (i.e., cultural implementation) of sustainability in the nations, regions, and languages of the world. This approach takes into account the fact that sustainability and sustainable development were first called onto the world scene by the publication of the UN-sponsored Brundtland Report on Our Common Future in 1987. In every nation and language party to the efforts of the World Commission on Environment and Development it was necessary to translate the terms. Since for most world languages there is no literal antecedent to the term, the idea of sustainability is typically conveyed by a neologism. Reconstructing the path to the neologism (etymology, connotations, tone, etc) as well as the course of its adoption in the target language is instructive for assessing how individual nations are responding culturally to the UN mandate. Click here for a Penn Sixty Second Lecture about the languages of sustainability. And here for a video about the translation of sustainability and resilience in German, Hebrew, Indonesian and Dutch.
As an environmental humanist, Richter engages in activities that blur distinctions between traditional scholarship, urban design, and environmental activism. He is a member of One Resilient Semarang, an international team of urban designers, hydrological engineers, ecologists, and urban and environmental activists from Indonesia, the Netherlands and the United States. One Resilient was one of two winners in the Water as Leverage urban design competition for Semarang, Indonesia, a coastal city in Northern Java that is rapidly subsiding and facing numerous water challenges. Read "Wissenschaft in the Age of Sea Lever Rise: What Water Teaches," an article posted on the Franklin Humanities Institute of Duke University, for a statement on this new direction in the environmental humanities. As Poldergeist, Richter tweets about life below sea level.
Richter is an enthusiastic undergraduate and graduate teacher. He was awarded the Ira H. Abrams Memorial Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2008. Students in "Writing in Dark Times" worked with Richter to prepare a pop-up book exhibition using the unique Nazi-era holdings of Penn's Special Collections that was profiled in Omnia. In summer 2005 and 2006 he initiated and directed “The Graduate School Experience,” a program designed to give a select group of rising juniors from colleges and universities a foretaste of graduate studies in German. This program was cosponsored by the DAAD and the Max Kade Foundation and continues in rotation among a handful of universities, returning to Penn in 2016 and 2018. Richter is the past president of the Goethe Society of North America, a lively organization that prides itself in cultivating younger generations of Goethe scholars, and former editor of the Goethe Yearbook. He serves on the editorial board of the Periodical of the English Goethe Society and has served on the editorial board of German Quarterly, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and The Journal of the History of Sexuality. He is also a member of the editorial board of the book series of the Goethe Society of North America published by Bucknell University Press.
Richter speaks Dutch and is learning Indonesian. In his spare time, Richter hones his cooking skills and improves on an ever more elaborate slamatan (an extravagant Indonesian spread).
18th-century literature, gender studies, cultural studies, cinema studies, history of the body, environmental humanities, 20th-century history novel, Dutch literature and culture
Member of Graduate Groups in Comparative Literature and Religious Studies, Affiliate Faculty Member in Cinema Studies, Women's Studies and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities.