Professor Scott Pincikowski Awarded Obama Institute Fellowship

Scott Pincikowski

Professor Scott Pincikowski, Ph.D., has been awarded a prestigious Obama Institute Fellowship.



  • Global Languages & Cultures

Scott Pincikoski, Ph.D., professor of German and chair of the global language and cultures department, has been awarded an Obama Institute Fellowship at the University of Mainz in Germany. In the conversation below, Pincikowski discusses his plans and aspirations for the fellowship.

How do you feel about being selected for the Obama Institute Fellowship?

I am very excited about being selected for the Obama Institute Fellowship at the University of Mainz. It is a great opportunity to teach and research on the environmental humanities in the American studies program there. This is a direction that I have been taking in my research and teaching at Hood, so the fellowship recognizes that work and the expertise I am developing in this new and exciting field.

What’s the subject of your lectures at the University of Mainz in Germany this spring?

I will be giving lectures in two different courses. In one course, I will be using the analysis of literature to critically explore environmental issues and the ethical stewardship of the environment. This lecture will look at recent explorations of trees and forest in the American cultural imagination, examining groundbreaking works of literature such as Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Overstory,” while also cross-pollinating our discussions with, for instance, forest science through Suzanne Simard’s groundbreaking work (“Finding the Mother Tree”) and indigenous botany and traditional ecological knowledge of Robin Wall Kimmerer (“Braiding Sweetgrass”). Students will be introduced to important concepts in the environmental humanities, such as ecocriticism, environmental ethics, cultural ecology, rewilding culture, place-based studies, posthumanism and the anthropocene. The second course will be a more general exploration of the environmental humanities as a unique way to break down silos between disciplines, especially the natural sciences and humanities disciplines. Our focus will be on how the environmental humanities is a productive tool in solving issues connected to the climate crisis. This will also be the topic of my workshop with faculty but with more of a focus on best practices when teaching the environmental humanities.

The environmental humanities draw upon the creative and philosophical energy of the humanities (historical inquiry, anthropology, political science, literature, music, film, art, etc.) and combining that energy with scientific knowledge to imagine and reimagine our relationship with nature and the environment. The environmental humanities also question those long-standing assumptions about human-nature relationships and make intangible environmental crises more tangible through literary or artistic expression. Furthermore, the environmental humanities help us understand why humans interact with their environment in the ways they do, why certain cultures adapt to environmental problems/crises better than others, and help us recognize why and how environment and nature are sites at which racial, economic, and social inequities and injustices occur and exist.

What else are you going to be doing?

A major portion of this fellowship will be research and time to work on my book project on the relationship between place, identity, memory and nationalism in the modern reception of the German Middle Ages. Whereas my past work examines the depiction and mnemonic function of architectural spaces such as the castle and Germanic hall in medieval texts and modern literature, art and film, this current project draws upon the environmental humanities, focusing on how the forest holds a prominent position in the German cultural imagination. In fact, there have been so many cultural reimaginings of this space, starting in the early Middle Ages and continuing through the postmodern era, that the German forest can be considered what Jan Assmann calls an Erinnerungsfigur, events, people and locations that loom so large in the cultural memory that they are instrumental to creating cultural identity.

This project will examine one aspect of the reception history of the German forest: tree nationalism. I will be researching the reception of the German Middle Ages through the instrumental use of the forest and trees during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. The primary cultural artifact that makes up the body of the project is the Nazi propaganda movie der Ewige Wald (“The Eternal Forest,” 1936), which traces the central role that the forest plays in the development of the German nation from prehistory of a vast, primeval forest to the violent beginning of German history and identity through the battles against the Romans in the Teutoburger Forest to the conservation efforts during Wilhelmine era, to the rapid growth of the nation but destruction of the forest during the industrial revolution, culminating in the Maypole celebrations of the Third Reich. In addition, I will research other cultural artifacts that inform the concept of “tree nationalism,“ by looking at the function of the forest in, for example, Fritz Lang’s film “Siegfried“ (1924), which features the ultimate Germanic hero who finds his heroic identity and tragic destiny in the forest. Other instances I plan to explore are the symbolic importance of the oak tree to German nationalism, such as conservative poetry, art and propaganda of the Weimar and Nazi periods. By examining this movie and other cultural phenomena that informs it, I hope to show that what is at work with tree nationalism is what can be called “eco-fascism.” Eco-fascism is a type of ecology that on surface called for conservation and growth of the German forest as a means to shape and move the German people towards total war, relying on the medieval idea of the body politic and drawing upon the propagandist means of mass ornament.

Another activity that I will carry out while in Mainz is to advertise and recruit for the teaching assistantship in German language and culture at Hood College. Hood College has had a long and productive relationship with the American studies program in Mainz, sending a student to Hood College for a year to assist in teaching German language classes, while taking courses typically in English and American studies. As such, I hope to strengthen the institutional ties Hood College has with the University of Mainz.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

It provides me the necessary time to conduct research and write. It will also be a formative teaching experience, allowing me to bring back my experiences and what I learned in Mainz to my students and colleagues at Hood College. By gaining more experience in this field, I hope together to start a minor in the environmental humanities at Hood College. Professors Amy Gottfried and Karen Hoffman and I are hoping to launch this program in the near future, together with our colleagues in the natural sciences, Professors Eric Anis, Drew Ferrier and Eric Kindal.