Working Together: Professor and Alumnus Co-Edit Book After Four-Year Collaboration

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Peter C. Pfeiffer and Nathan T. Tschepik (C’18) co-edited Meanings of Modern Work in Nineteenth- and Twenty-First-Century German Literature and Film, which just appeared with Peter Lang Publishing’s peer-reviewed series German Studies in America. 

Pfeiffer, a professor in the Department of German, and Tschepik began working on this project when Tschepik was an undergraduate student at Georgetown. Both said that their partnership over the years enriched the publication and their experiences at the university. 

An Early Partnership

Headshot of Professor Peter Pfeiffer
Professor Peter Pfeiffer

While spending research time at Campion Hall at Oxford University in 2015,  Pfeiffer developed the broad outlines of a conference on meanings of modern work to be held at Georgetown. Due to the collaborative nature of the project, Pfeiffer wanted to work with an undergraduate student through the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (GUROP) to create a more holistic and wide ranging experience for faculty and students. 

Later that year, Tschepik enrolled in Pfeiffer’s summer course at the Georgetown-at-Trier program in Germany.  At the conclusion of the class, Pfeiffer asked Tschepik, then a rising sophomore, if he would like to help organize the conference to which Tschepik eagerly agreed.

“As a history major with a particular interest in German history, I was very excited for the opportunity,” says Tschepik. “One of the greatest things about this project is that it shows the importance of looking at things from a variety of disciplines and perspectives in both the past and present in order to plan for a better future.”

Building a Project 

The two began to organize a conference with the help of the German Department, the BMW Center for German and European Studies, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Max Kade Foundation and the College. They developed a call-for-papers, inviting scholars to propose contributions on the changing meanings of work. 

Pfeiffer and Tschepik selected keynote speakers from literary studies, philosophy, history, sociology and film studies and additional contributors based on proposals made in response to the call-for-papers. They all came together in April 2016 on the Hilltop to discuss the changing notions and meanings of work in  times of disruptive change.

“I have been interested in economic themes and how they structure literary thought and representation in my research,” says Pfeiffer. “With advances in artificial intelligence and other manufacturing processes, the idea of work is bound for a radical restructuring. Nathan and I wanted to explore this idea from an interdisciplinary approach by bringing together scholars from several different areas of thought to campus.” 

The collaboration worked out so well that Pfeiffer decided to ask Tschepik if he was interested in co-editing the publication based on some of the talks.

Headshot of Nathan Tschepik
Nathan Tschepik (C’18)

After the conference, Pfeiffer and Tschepik asked a selected number of presenters to submit their contributions in article form in order to recreate the discussions held at the conference in a manuscript. However, due to the rich variety of content in the book, the final manuscript limited itself to literary studies, philosophy and film studies. 

Though they did not anticipate the project taking this direction, Pfeiffer said that this publication has a lot to offer in understanding the concept of work during the industrialization of the nineteenth century, now and in the future.

Since the concept of the modern worker was born in the industrial revolution, people have begun to define themselves by their careers. In the 18th century, few would have thought to characterize themselves in these terms, but today, what an individual does for work is a crucial part of their identity. 

“The humanities are such an important tool to answer questions about the future of work because economists do not necessarily see what the greater implications for humanity will be as the idea of work shifts again,” Pfeiffer says. “That is what this book attempts to address.” 

Pandemics and Partnerships

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, noticeable shifts in work culture and dynamics have occurred, which make this manuscript all the more pertinent. Tschepik says that the relevance of this manuscript was one of the many reasons he wanted to continue working on this project even after graduating from Georgetown.

“The conference and subsequent publication are by far the most interesting things I worked on during my time at Georgetown,” he says. “Beyond the many benefits of working on such a meaningful academic project so early in my studies, I learned a huge deal from the collaboration itself. When I first started, I was not very sure of my voice or value to the project, but under Peter’s mentorship, I was able to become more confident in my value as a scholar even after I graduated.”

Now in his third year of law school at the University of Chicago, Tschepik said that this collaboration has also helped with several aspects of his JD program. 

“Professionally, this opportunity has opened a lot of doors for me,” he explains. “In every interview employers ask about the book. It even helped me get the clerkship with the judge I am working for in Seattle.”

Pfeiffer says that even though the project is over, the two will remain in touch and he looks forward to future partnerships with Georgetown students. 

“This was a truly collaborative undertaking and the end product was better for it,” says Pfeiffer. “I learned so much throughout the process from Nathan being part of the project.”

-by Shelby Roller (G’19)