Trains, Planes and Horror Movies With German Studies Professor Mert Reisoglu

Mert Reisoglu
Mert Reisoglu is a new assistant professor in the German Studies department. (John West/Trinity Communications)

"Cinema and literature” are not often used in the same sentence as “transportation technologies,” but incoming Assistant Professor of German Studies Mert Bahadir Reisoglu sees them as intrinsically connected, and hopes his students will too.

Culture isn’t an ephemeral idea. It is created and shaped by the material world around us. That’s what Reisoglu wants people to understand when they think about culture. He aims to show others that the physical world impacts the things we create and the way we live. Infrastructure, from how immigration occurs, to how we work with media, to the movement of the very archives he uses in his research, is the linchpin for connection.

Reisoglu began studying German and French philosophy at Yale University. It was during his time as a Ph.D. student at New York University that he was introduced to the works of Friedrich Kittler, a German media theorist who was heavily influenced by Michel Foucault. Reisoglu’s interest in Kittler’s materialistic approach to media technology and the history of culture cemented his switch to German studies.

“In my work, I’m trying to understand culture itself materially,” he says. “When I was looking at migration, the transportation seemed very important. The question I came up with is how the history of the roads between Türkiye and Germany intersects with their literary and cinematic works.

“Looking at this history showed me how material things, like infrastructure, for example, influence our everyday experiences,” he says.

For Reisoglu, this research isn’t merely theoretical, though. He’s lived it as well.

Originally from Istanbul, Türkiye, Reisoglu reflects on his journey to the U.S. and how it has influenced his research interests. “I was trying to understand my own experience and the meaning of migration to the States,” he says.

He describes the academic life as one defined by mobility. Archives are located around the world. Conferences take place across continents, and research rarely happens all in one place and time. He recalls earlier in his academic years, spending time in airports going back and forth between the U.S. and Istanbul and contemplating the ways changes in transportation and changes in technology impact the immigrant experience, for him and for generations of people moving about the globe over time.

“I’m trying to understand how digital media is actually shaping our experience of being in a different place­ — our experience of the ‘global worlds,’” he says.

“Another line of research I'm pursuing right now is in the recent wave of migration from Türkiye to Germany. I'm looking at the connections between cities, especially Istanbul and Berlin, and what that new wave of migration can produce in literature and theater,” Reisoglu says.

In the spring, he will be teaching a course on Turkish-German literature where students will be able to explore the history of both literatures and the intersection between the two.

But we aren’t only linked by roads and transportation and location. Reisoglu also wants his students to understand that we are connected through time. One way he helps students do that is through the study of cultural media products and how our perceptions and interpretations of them shift.

“I'm always trying to also show the links between the contemporary popular works, like in cinema, and the more classical works from the canon,” he says. “I’m trying to show the historical continuities and discontinuities between different eras.”

One of his interests is horror media.

This Fall, he is teaching a course on supernatural horror. As an avid fan of the genre, he invites students to look for the historical links between contemporary horror films that might draw them to the course and the history of the genre itself.

One example he shares is the history of adaptations of Dracula.

“I look at the vampire figures in contemporary culture and how that figure has changed over time and what that tells us about our own culture,” Reisoglu says. “For example, in Coppola’s version of Dracula, Dracula is shown as a more sympathetic figure than in early 20th century versions, so what does it mean that we conceptualize the monster in that way?

“Due to our own cultural understanding of monsters and vampires, when we look at those historical changes, we understand ourselves better,” he says. “And we understand the past better, too.”

He hopes his students will be drawn in by the topic of horror but learn something more lasting about the evolution of culture across time and location, continuing to make connections like these — maybe even connections he himself hasn’t noticed yet.

“I want students to think of these connections all at once and look at the history,” he says. “I am sure they will find something relatable to what they are interested in.”