By Drew Spence
This spring, Chelsea Radler (PCM ’12), Andrea Vittorio (JMC ’12), and I traveled to Berlin, Germany to meet with our academic advisor, Professor Robert Entman, and present our theses to an audience of faculty members and students at the Free University of Berlin.
Each of us is working on a special honors research paper this semester, a project that we began last fall in Professor Entman's Senior Seminar. For our papers, we have been analyzing the intersection of media with campaigns, politics, celebrities, and education. When we began the second phase of our papers, Professor Entman encouraged us to think about the comparative impact of our research and how what we found to be true in one country could be explained by how other nations' media systems function.
When Professor Entman received a Humboldt research fellowship and learned he would be at the Free University this year, he invited us to come and present our findings to faculty and students there. We were fortunate enough to receive a travel grant and, at the end of March, we flew to Berlin.
During our visit, we met with faculty, students, and researchers at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at the Free University and learned more about the research that European scholars are actively conducting. We also had the opportunity to meet with a German freelance journalist, who shared with us the practical implications of broadcast and print media in the country. Our trip gave us a remarkable opportunity to see what can be learned through the comparative study of media.
Being able to place our research in a comparative context has given all three of us a deeper appreciation for the field we have chosen to study. Being in Berlin, which has developed as a result of dramatic shifts in politics and media, illustrated the importance of all teaching and research SMPA engages in.
Berlin is not charming, it is not romantic, and it does not invite one to easily fall in love with it. Yet, the history of Berlin is microcosmic of the history of the Western world. Our modern sensibilities have formed because of events that began and ended in Berlin. The convergence of all these different frames eventually led me to become enamored with the city.
After being in Berlin, one cannot help but feel that, not only have we not truly grasped the enormity of our past, we have not truly learned from past mistakes. Berlin represents pieces of our history that we in the United States have had difficulty facing, which is why we may find the city so complicated and multifaceted.
In 1964, political theorist Hannah Arendt said that, while humans seemed to strive for excellence, the most enriching thing we could do was to strive for understanding. Essentially every Berliner is a student of media and public affairs; they are constantly trying to understand the architecture, the culture and the ideas of their society. I now have an even greater appreciation for how important it is that we continue to do the same.