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Anja Tschortner is from Berlin, Germany. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in the School of Arts in 2011. Her thesis title is 'Idyll and Ideology: A comparative study of English and German popular fiction for girls in the First World War.'
I knew about Oxford Brookes because I used to live in Oxford for several years when working for Oxford University Press. Many people who worked with me at OUP had a degree from the OICPS at Oxford Brookes.
In my case, a particular researcher was the main reason for applying to Oxford Brookes for my PhD. I knew I wanted to work on popular fiction in the First World War, and I had read Dr. Jane Potter’s book Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary Responses to the Great War, 1914-1918 (OUP 2005). I got in touch with her and discussed possible topics for a PhD in that area of research. I was not at that time sure if it would be possible to do a PhD with a British University from Germany, but it turned out not to be a problem at all.
I graduated with an MA in English Philology, German Philology, and Medieval and Modern History from the University of Cologne in 1996, and have worked in publishing ever since (OUP, Blackwell, Wiley).
I had wanted to get back into research for a long time, although it is not easy to do this part-time while also doing a time-consuming job. People who consider doing this need to think long and hard if they are really prepared to give up their rare spare time and weekends in order to spend them on their research instead, and they need to get used to living with a constant guilty conscience (which invariably sets in if one really decides to do nothing for a change, or read a fun book instead of research literature!). But I find the research work that I do very rewarding, and the quality of supervision at Oxford Brookes superb. My supervisor and I correspond a lot by email and have frequent meetings by phone or Skype, and of course we meet personally whenever I come to Oxford, which I try to do as often as possible. Also, there is a strong team spirit within my group of Ph.D. students at the OICPS at Brookes which I find very supportive.
At the beginning of the First World War the genre of war literature addressed predominantly at adolescent girls developed out of the standard literature aimed at girls aged 13 to 17 years, which at that time was manifold and ample. Ever since the 1870s and the Franco-Prussian War, the topic of war had been taken up in German girls’ literature quite frequently, mostly by depicting historical contexts like the Napoleonic Wars or the Thirty Years’ War, but it was never before as relevant and up-to-date as from 1914 to 1918. War-propaganda plays a huge role in these stories. While before the war storylines often focused on a tomboyish girl who needed to be turned into a marriageable housewife and future mother, this character is now replaced by the new concept of plucky and patriotic girl character who tries to find her space in her society-at-war. Some of the then best-known, prolific German authors are Marie von Felseneck, Marga Rayle, and Bertha Clément. – A similar type of literature existed in Great Britain. Girls in wartime had been a relevant topic in fiction here only fairly recently in connection with the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), and just as in German girls’ fiction, propaganda was one of its main objectives. The notorious German spy and ‘evil Hun’ are recurrent elements of the storylines, immediately recognizable to the frequent reader. Notable English authors for girls’ fiction include Angela Brazil, Bessie Marchant, and Dorothea Moore. The approach of my thesis focuses on the age group of 13 to 17 year old German and English girls as readers against the backdrop of the growing enmity between their countries, culminating in the Great War. The oeuvre of German and English female authors who wrote for this audience in particular, not only during the War, but also in the decades leading up to it will be investigated, since the development of this kind of fiction and of the historical and social background of its authors and readership need to be taken into account in order to fully understand its impact. The relevant primary sources will be reviewed and compared, by concentrating on the aspects of propaganda and construction of concepts of the enemy in these stories. Furthermore, the role of publishing houses in the flourishing of this literary genre will be highlighted, and the question of whether and how it was influenced by governmental bodies of the two countries looked into. Finally, the thesis will assess to what extent war literature for girls may have participated in creating a lasting impact on the image that Great Britain and Germany had of each other after the First World War had ended.
What I enjoy most of all about being a research student is the deep digging into a topic that I am really interested in and excited about! The challenge is of course to stay interested in it for the years that it takes to finish a PhD. The most important thing before starting a PhD is therefore to really make sure that the topic you consider doing is not just a research-gap that needs filling, but a project that you are (and ideally have been for a long time) passionate about.
There are excellent offers for workshops at Brookes to organize one’s research and writing. The One-Day Writing Retreats which are frequently organized and which I mostly join by Skype I find particularly helpful and effective, and for me personally they have the added bonus of making me feel like I am part of a group even though I am far away from the university most of the time.
I like working in publishing and could well imagine staying on in this or in a similar business. However I also enjoy working with people and doing research, so if the opportunity arose I could also well imagine applying for a lecturing post, either in Germany or the UK.