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Eric Downing
Gerhard L. Weinberg Distinguished Professor of German, English, and Comparative Literature; Adjunct Professor of Classics


Ph.D., Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley (German, Greek, and Latin)

Intellectual Biography & Awards

My graduate studies were in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, with a primary emphasis in German, classical Greek, and Latin literatures. I began my teaching career at Harvard, where I offered courses in both German and Comparative Literature and served as the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities. Here at Carolina, I hold a joint appointment in German and English & Comparative Literature, as well as an adjunct position in the Department of Classical Studies. My courses in Comparative Literature include classes in literary theory, the history of poetics, eighteenth and nineteenth-century fiction, aestheticism, and several on ancient-modern relations. My teaching in German has concentrated on narrative fiction from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century but includes courses on Nietzsche, Freud, and Walter Benjamin. In 2004, I was presented with the Johnson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and in 2015 with the Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction and Mentoring. I have also served for various stretches of time as both Director of Comparative Literature and as co-Director of the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies.

My research has spanned the fields of classical literary theory, Greek drama, Roman elegy, and ancient/ modern relations, as well as German nineteenth-century realism and twentieth-century modernism. My most recent interest has been in the afterlife of ancient practices of divinatory reading in the literature and thought of the German nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Recent Publications

“Caves, Collections, and Classics: The Displacement of Identity in Wilhelm Raabe’s Das Odfeld” The Germanic Review 93 (Fall 2018)

The Chain of Things: Magic, Reading, Sympathy and the Future in German Literature and Thought 1850-1940. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.

“Sprachmagie, Stimmung, und Geselligkeit in Theodor Fontanes Der Stechlin,” in Herausforderungen des Realismus: Theodor Fontanes Gesellschaftsromanen, ed. Peter Hohendahl and Ulrike Vedder (Freiburg i. Br.: Rombach, 2017), 271-296.

“Binding Magic in Keller’s Der Grüne Heinrich,” The Germanic Review 90 (Fall 2015) 156-170.

“Divining Benjamin: Reading Fate, Graphology, Gambling,” MLN German Issue 126.3 (April 2011) 561-580.

Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading (Rochester NY: Camden House, 2012). 320 pages. Co-edited with Richard Benson and Jonathan M. Hess.

After Images: Photography, Archaeology, and Psychoanalysis. Wayne State University Press, 2006. 372 pages.

Camden House History of German Literature, Volume 9: The Nineteenth Century 1830-1899, Rochester NY: Camden House, 2005. 348 pages. Co-edited with Clayton Koelb.

Frequently Taught Courses

  • CMPL 120: Great Books I, Lyric and Epic Traditions
  • CMPL 251: Introduction to Literary Theory
  • GERM 279: Fairy Tales and the Invention of Childhood
  • CMPL 450: Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes
  • CMPL 468: Aestheticism
  • CMPL 470: Concepts of the Tragic
  • CMPL 487: Literature and Arts of Love
  • GERM 640: German Realism
  • GERM 860: Nietzsche, Freud, and Benjamin: On History
  • GERM 865: Bildungsroman
  • CMPL 841: Ancient Literary Criticism (Classicism)

Undergraduate and Graduate Advising and Mentoring

Ph.D. Dissertations Directed:

  • Margaret Reif, (In Progress)
  • Bethany Bowen-Wefuan, “Reframing Religion: Painting and Secularization in German Realism”
  • Melanie Unger, “Gender and Humor in German Literature of the Fin de Siècle,” (2016)
  • Rory Bradley, “The Enlightening Supernatural: Ghost Stories in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany,” (2016)
  • Lindsey Brandt, “Tangled Up in Truths: German Literary Conceptions of Nature Between Romantic Science and Objective Empiricism,” (2014)
  • Sara Farnar Budarz, “Inside the City: Gender and the Production of Space in Weimar Republic German Literature, 1929-1933,” (2014)
  • William Taylor, “Birth of an Artistic Socrates: The Motivations and Form of Nietzsche’s Classicism, 1869-1872,” (2013)
  • William Nolan, “Capturing Life: Zoological Gardens and the Emergence of Cinema,” (2012)
  • Kara Getrost, “From Innocent Play to Imperial Survey: adolescent rites of passage in the British and German adventure novels of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1870-1905,” (2010)
  • Anna Panszczyk, “Dollhood: The Doll as a Space of Duality in Twentieth Century Literature and Art” (2010)
  • Catherine Clark, “Reading Sapphic Modernism: belle époche poésie and poetic prose” (2010)
  • Kevin Eubanks, “A Poetics of Care, or Time and the Dasein of Modernism in Thomas Mann and Martin Heidegger,” (2010)
  • Carrie Matthews, “Articulations of anarchist modernism: putting art to work” (2010)
  • Sarah Miller, “Virgins, Mothers, Monsters: late-medieval readings of the female body out of bounds,” (2008)
  • Heather Klomhaus-Hrács, “Negative Visions: the referential authority of photography in contemporary fiction” (2007)
  • Silia Kaplan, “Fragmented Bodies and the Exploded Boundary between Self and Other: Discourses of Trauma in the Visual Media of Early Weimar Germany, 1916-1926 (2001)
  • Arne Koch, “Local Voices of Poetic Realism: 19th Century regional literature and the paradox of German Identity, 1842-97,” (2011)
  • Rachel Freudenburg, “Fictions of Friendship in Twentieth-Century German Literature,” (Harvard, 1995)

M.A. Theses Directed (UNC CMPL only):

William Nolan (2002), Sarah Miller (2002), Thomas Spencer (2003), Sarah Parker (2005),
Louis Schroeder (2005), William Taylor (2007), Emily Bunner (2009)

Honors Theses Directed (UNC only):

Kelly Comfort (1997): Brandyne Warren (1999); Ayodele Caroo (1999); Arthur Vidrine
(2002), Sebastian Ferrari (2003), Sarah Booker (2011) Ross Slaughter (2015)