Emerging from COVID … the Impact on Networks

The International Association for the Study of German Politics (IASGP) is an association devoted to the academic study of the politics, economics, international relations, and society of contemporary Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Its origins lie in a decade-old merger of two nationally-based associations: the UK’s Association for the Study of German Politics and the US-based Conference Group on German Politics. The highlight of the IASGP’s activities takes place every four years, when the Association organizes an election study trip to Berlin; its members from the United Kingdom, United States, and elsewhere around the world come together to observe the German federal elections and meet with politicians, pollsters, and other experts. In the intervening years, however, the UK- and US-based members have had few interactions. The IASGP’s annual conference is usually held in the United Kingdom and is attended primarily by scholars located in Europe, while the American members often meet up at conferences held in the United States, such as the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided an impetus for the IASGP to become a truly international association with regular interactions among its members living across the globe. During the spring 2020 lockdown, members joined Zoom socials to chat among themselves, both about developments in German politics and to discuss the lockdown’s impact on professional activities. Graduate students in the field expressed concern for their professional futures given the expected economic slowdown. These worries spurred more senior faculty in the field to consider what could be done to assist in younger IASGP members’ professional development. The outcome of this conversation was an online graduate student conference sponsored by the IASGP in early December 2020. It featured discussions on topics of relevance—including a session on how to obtain research funding, led by a German professor; a discussion of how to successfully apply for jobs, led by a UK-based Pro-Vice-Chancellor; and a talk about effective strategies for developing an article for publication. I, a US-based faculty member, led the latter session in my capacity as co-editor of the IASGP’s journal German Politics. The conference was attended by students from a range of different institutions who would have been unlikely to come together if not for the increased use of videoconferencing technology.

The pandemic also spurred an increase in transatlantic cooperation between the IASGP and Washington, DC’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS). This spring, the two groups have partnered to offer a series of webinars and on-line articles about the 2021 German National election. Speakers in the series have included scholarly experts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany discussing the upcoming contest with German politicians. Even though travel across the Atlantic has been impossible for many, the series has allowed both academics and members of the general public to keep up with political developments in the Federal Republic. I have enjoyed watching the webinars while at the same time being able to live chat with colleagues from around the world about German politics. Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, such informal conversations would have likely only taken place in September, when I gathered in person in Berlin with my fellow German politics scholars. 

One silver lining of the pandemic, then, has been an increase in the routine exchange of ideas among academics across borders. Our “international” association is now more fully living up to its name.

Louise K. Davidson-Schmich, AFAvH Board member