Recent Davidson Alumnus Wins Fulbright for Research in Germany
If Davidson's French department had better "visuals," Derrick Miller might be headed to Paris next year with his new Fulbright Scholarship instead of going to Berlin!
Miller, a 1998 Phi Beta Kappa Davidson graduate now working toward his Ph.D. in German at UNC, enrolled in Davidson intending to major in French. But he took a German course as a freshman and enjoyed that, too. He knew he wanted to spend his junior year abroad somewhere, and attended informational sessions about both Davidson's program in Würzburg, Germany, and the program in Tours, France. "The German department had better slides, so I decided then and there to go to Germany," Miller admitted with a chuckle.
That decision redirected his career to the east side of the Rhine River, and led to approval recently by the American German Fulbright Foundation for funding of Miller's proposal to spend a year in Berlin studying 18th century thinker Johann Gottfried Herder. Herder's ideas on national pluralism helped spark the advent of Romanticism in Germany and Europe.
Miller returned from his Junior Year Abroad experience with a new appreciation for German cinema, Franconian wine, and Germany's influence on Western culture. He developed his intellectual thoughts during his senior year as an honors student studying under Professor Burkhard Henke, and wrote an honors thesis on Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther.
Miller explained, "World War II has put blinders on our thoughts about Germany. When you look at other aspects of German culture you realize that it has profoundly influenced Western thought for centuries, and German thinkers like Luther, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, and Kafka have provided some of the most enduring ideas in Western civilization."
While in Berlin next year, Miller will be based at The Foundation for Prussian Cultural Heritage, where Herder's library is maintained. His studies there will become the basis of his Ph.D. dissertation. Miller said that Herder was one of Goethe's early mentors, and is recognized for his writings on cultural differences. Miller explained, "Most people assumed that values were the same across cultures, that every person had the same thoughts, moral values, and ideals of happiness, but in different languages. Herder said that isn't the case, that the same moral values and ideals aren't necessarily shared by different cultures. He argued that these differences, which might be irreconcilable, are a good thing and perfectly natural."
The German-American Fulbright Program is an educational exchange organization funded by both the German and American governments to promote academic excellence and cultural understanding between the United States and Germany through scholarly exchanges. It grants about 250 awards annually, 90 of which fund graduate research projects like Miller's. The Fulbright Program expects of its grantees not only high academic performance, but also an active contribution to the promotion of mutual understanding as "unofficial ambassadors" of their countries.
The last Fulbright award winner from Davidson to go to Germany was 1994 graduate Brett Marston, who is now finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy at Yale.