Michael House, assistant professor

A day in the life

Michael House, assistant professor

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The language classes are a tremendous amount of fun. Language isn't a thing to memorize—it's a medium for communication.

Critical engagement with culture

Family vacations during Michael House’s childhood “meant Kejimkujik National Park and spending all day in a canoe.” After graduating from Dalhousie with a degree in German and Contemporary Studies, he worked at Keji coordinating a Young Canada Works program, gathering data on trees and sending it to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

“I never thought my love of nature and environmental issues would ever have any bearing on my interest in German philosophy,” Dr. House says.

Back at Dal now after finishing his PhD at Princeton, nature and philosophy cross paths in both his research and teaching. One of Dr. House’s third-year courses is Germany and the Environment. “The concept of the ‘environment,’ was first introduced in 18th-century Germany,” he notes. “The term ‘ecology’ was first coined in German, and the first ideas of sustainable forestry were developed in Germany.”

In the course, Dr. House also shows the link between the philosophy of nature—Naturphilosophie—and German scepticism. “The latter,” he explains, “puts forward the idea that we don’t fully understand nature, so it might not be our role to exploit it.” This idea ties in with current issues around the environment, which Dal’s College of Sustainability recognizes: the course is an approved elective in the Environment, Sustainability, and Society (ESS) program.

Dr. House also loves teaching language courses and believes that the Department’s focus on teaching German in German is key to students’ success. “It’s always amazing to see second-year students engaging in debate, using coherent sentences—and paragraphs—without pausing to search for words," he says. "Only two years ago, many of them couldn’t speak a word of German!”

But he also knows it’s important to make courses relevant to students. In one course, Dr. House had his students read scenes from the screenplay for Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). Then they watched the same scenes in the film. “Students learned the language, but we also discussed issues of personal freedom and the state that the film brought up. They were blown away by the whole experience.”

But Dr. House concedes it’s not always easy to teach the history of a culture that has some rather negative moments. “It can be incredibly difficult, exploring certain events of the 20th century," he notes. "But it’s important to critically engage with all of it."