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Richard Brinkmann, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus who promoted an international approach to the study of German literature, dies at 81
14 November 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - Richard Brinkmann, a professor emeritus of German at the University of California, Berkeley, and a proponent of an international approach to the study of German, died on Nov. 2 in Germany. He was 81.

Brinkmann, who had Parkinson's disease, died at his home in Tübingen, Germany.

Born in Elberfeld, Germany, in 1921, Brinkmann returned from military service during World War II with severe injuries that included the loss of his right arm, as well as a deep commitment to cultural renewal based on values not tainted by the Third Reich.

Brinkmann, who earned his Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Tübingen in 1948, considered the internationalizing of the study of German literature his primary responsibility. He belonged to a generation of Germanists who helped reshape the discipline of literary studies and intellectual history in Germany and the United States.

His specialties included 19th century German literature, Goethezeit, German romanticism and the German novel. Brinkmann's research focused on romanticism, expressionism, Theodore Fontane and concepts of realism, which he wrote about in the groundbreaking book, "Wirklichkeit und Illusion" (1957).

He was best known as the meticulous editor since 1960 of the leading journal, "Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte," which has promoted interdisciplinary criticism in the humanities for the past 75 years. As presiding officer from 1976 to 1984 of the Germanist Commission in the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, which oversees and supports major research projects and individual academic careers in Germany, he exerted tremendous influence. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is the German equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States and oversees all research in the humanities and social sciences.

Brinkmann also was a member of the Heidelberg Academy of Science for many years.

He held joint appointments as a professor of German literature at UC Berkeley and at the University of Tübingen. While professor at the University of Tübingen since 1959, he also served as a visiting professor in Wellington, New Zealand; Austin, Texas; Columbia University; and UC Berkeley. He accepted a regular appointment at UC Berkeley in 1967.

Until his retirement in 1986, he taught courses at UC Berkeley every other year.

He is survived by two daughters, Ursula Delbrück in New Zealand and Brigitte Siepmann-Brinkmann in Germany, as well as a son, Fritz, in Germany.