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Robin Ellis


Ph.D., M.A. University of California, Berkeley
B.A. Oberlin College


My research centers on 20th and 21st century German-language cultural productions, including literary texts and films. I am particularly interested in processes of circulation, encounter, and exchange, and my work situates intersections with German-speaking cultures within broader European and global contexts. My research informs all of my teaching, in ways that are sometimes obvious, like designing a course on European borders, and sometimes less so, like raising questions of translatability in my elementary German course.

In every course I teach, my fundamental aim is to help students develop skills that will serve them as individuals, as community members, and as citizens of the contemporary word. These skills include analytical thinking, effective written and verbal communication, attention to cultural and linguistic specificity, and the ability to engage productively with multiple perspectives. In working with foreign languages and cultures, we repeatedly negotiate complex, context-dependent, and sometimes contradictory meanings; at the same time, we can reflect on the ways in which meanings are constructed in our own languages and cultures as well. As an instructor, I am particularly excited by the variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and questions each of my students brings to our discussions.


Currently, I am revising my dissertation project for future publication, which examines representations of interpreters in European literature and film from the Second World War to the present. In particular, I approach interpreting as an embodied act of translation that both facilitates communication across languages and constitutes a site of potential resistance. Working against a tradition of interpreter invisibility, I investigate representations that render the interpreter's physical presence visible, audible, and even tangible, asking how such representations can help us understand translation as a multi-directional encounter rather than a form of one-way transfer. This approach also highlights the gendered nature of interpreting as a form of affective service work, intersecting with but also complicating historical discourses of translation as a gendered act.

Building on my interest in gendered and affective labor, another current project focuses on depictions of female migrants in recent Austrian literature and films who work in domestic and intimate settings as nannies, maids, nurses, and sex workers. I ask how these representations embody tensions between the physical proximity required by these jobs and the cultural, linguistic, and emotional distances they involve. I further ask how Austrian films and literary works about Eastern European migrants in such positions indicate tensions between a sense of familiar intimacy and perceived difference with regard to imagined collective identities.


I teach language, literature, film, and culture courses in German and in English, including:

GER 101 Elementary German
GER 250 Introduction to Literary Studies
GER 260 Introduction to German Cultural Studies
GER 341 Borderland Europe
GER 361 20th Century Austrian Culture
LIT 432 Theory and Practice of Literary Translation