Matt Erlin

Matt Erlin

Chair and Professor of German
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
research interests:
  • 18th and 19th-Century German Literature and Culture
  • Aesthetic Theory
  • Economics and Literature
  • Philosophies of History
  • Urban Culture
  • Digital Humanities

contact info:

office hours:

  • Mondays 1:00 - 3:00 pm
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mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
    CB 1104
    ONE BROOKINGS DRIVE
    ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899

​Professor Erlin's research focuses on the literary, cultural, and intellectual history of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Germany.

In addition to essays on topics ranging from Moses Mendelssohn's philosophy of history to the eighteenth-century novel, Matt Erlin has published two books: Berlin’s Forgotten Future: City, History, and Enlightenment In Eighteenth-Century Germany (2004) and Necessary Luxuries: Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770-1815 (2014). He has also co-edited, together with Lynne Tatlock, two essay anthologies: German Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Reception, Adaptation, Transformation appeared in 2005, and Distant Readings: Topologies of German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century was published in 2014.

Erlin is a member of the steering committee of Washington University's Humanities Digital Workshop (HDW). Together with student and staff collaborators, he is currently working on several digital humanities projects that use computational tools to challenge traditional notions of genre and period as they apply to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature. He is also a co-investigator on the multi-university partnership grant “Text Mining the Novel,” which aims to produce the first large-scale cross-cultural study of the novel according to quantitative methods.

Professor Erlin’s course offerings range widely but generally reflect his fascination with the interface between aesthetic theories and practices and the sociopolitical contexts in which they emerge. He also has a strong interest in pedagogy. In addition to general courses in German language and culture, he has taught seminars on German poetry, consumer culture and the eighteenth-century novel, Marxist cultural theory, cultural representations of nationalism, and the sociology of literature. He also teaches in the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities and currently serves as chair of the German department.

Spring 2019 Course

Seminar in Literature of the Late 18th-Century: Goethe's Faust (German 524)

This seminar is designed to provide students with an in-depth introduction to the complete text of Goethe's Faust. Our reading and discussion of the drama will unfold against the backdrop of three distinct but interrelated contexts. 1) We will consider Faust from a literary-historical perspective, situating the work within Goethe's own literary oeuvre as well within the frameworks of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German literature more generally and of the long history of literary Faust adaptations. 2) We will also approach Faust from an intellectual-historical perspective, attempting to understand how it engages with the key philosophical discussions and debates of the period during which it was written: theodicy, the dialectic of enlightenment, and the legitimacy of the modern age. 3) Finally, we will read a selection of scholarly essays that demonstrate how Faust sheds light on various theoretical and scholarly pre-occupations, from the relationship between literature and economics to questions of gender and sexuality. One of the aims of the seminar is to expose students, on the basis of an exemplary case study, to a wide range of models of scholarly inquiry. Readings of the primary text will be supplemented with video of performances as well as adaptations of the Faust material to other media.