Peter Burgard came to Harvard in 1989 as an Assistant Professor, having received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and his B.A. from The Johns Hopkins University and having studied German and English Literature in Bonn as well as Law, briefly, in Cologne. He was Harris K. Weston Associate Professor of the Humanities from 1994 to 1997 and since 1997 has been Professor of German.
The abiding focus of his thought, research, writing, and teaching is the critique of system.
He writes on poetry, drama, narrative, and the essay (not only German), on painting, sculpture, and architecture (Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, German, Austrian, English, and American), and on (primarily German) intellectual history — ranging, in various combinations, from the 16th to the 20th century. His publications include studies of Luther, Caravaggio, Bernini, Opitz, Fleming, Gryphius, Hoffmannswaldau, Grimmelshausen, Asam, Goethe, Herder, Lessing, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Mann, Kafka, Adorno, Miller, and Warhol. He has for some time been finishing a book entitled Figures of Excess: Toward an Aesthetic of the Baroque, while also having developed and begun writing other books, including The Ethics of Atheism, Decoration and Decorum: Vienna 1683–1914, Skew: Bernini’s Chapels of Love, and Repression and Expression: Fin-de-siècle Literature and Art. He expects to keep spreading himself thin in this manner for the rest of his career.
Largely the same range obtains in his teaching, which includes courses on the cultural and political history of Munich from its founding to the present; early modern German cultural history; "Baroque"; "Goethe"; "Age of Goethe"; "Nietzsche"; "Thomas Mann: Stories of Six Decades"; "Freud"; a Freshman Seminar on "Literal Looking: What We See in Art"; and two courses in the Harvard College Program in German Education — "The Ethics of Atheism: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud" and "Repression and Expression: Sexuality, Gender, and Language in Fin-de-siècle Literature and Art." He has also taught a European Studies Seminar on the Post-Wall German politics of cultural production and two Graduate Seminars in General Education.
Currently, he is preparing a new course on "Rhetoric: Disciplines of Persuasion" — addressing rhetoric in literature, philosophy, the natural sciences, statistics, politics, journalism, painting, sculpture, architecture, the ideological media, and digital media — and, for the centennial of the Bauhaus in 2019, he is planning a Theater, Dance, and Media course that will address Bauhaus design, architectural, and theater theories and that will produce Oskar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet.
Beyond this, he devotes himself to teaching the German language on the advanced level (this being the one thing in which he fully embraces system) — out of pleasure in grammar and in seeing students understand deeply the structure of the language and thus able to read sophisticated texts with precision; out of the knowledge that grammar is the structure of understanding and that reading is always a grammatical exercise; out of the conviction that, for the health and survival of language and literature departments, the lines customarily separating language instruction from 'upper division' courses at elite universities must be crossed; and out of simple pleasure in, he thinks, being good at it.
He was the founder and director of the Harvard Summer Program in Munich, one of Harvard's first three curricular programs abroad, from 2002 until he retired the program in 2015.
Burgard has been a Humboldt, IFK, Fulbright, and DAAD Fellow and a visiting scholar at Princeton and the universities of Bonn and Munich. His other professional commitments and activities include, besides curating an exhibition at the Busch-Reisinger Museum entitled "As though my body were naught but ciphers": Crises of Representation in Fin–de–siècle Vienna (2005): national and international conference presentations, the conceptualization and organization of local and international symposia and symposium series, guest lectures at universities in North America and Europe, and extensive administrative work (e.g., Faculty Council and Faculty Standing Committees on the Core Curriculum, on Admissions and Financial Aid, on Education Abroad, on European Studies, on Women's Studies, and on Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). He has directed or co-directed eighteen dissertations and served on numerous additional dissertation committees. He is a Freshman Faculty Fellow and a faculty associate of Adams House and the Signet Society. He was Head Tutor in German (Director of Undergraduate Studies) for most of the 1990's and Director of Graduate Studies in German from 2001-2013. As far as he knows, he is still officially the faculty advisor of the Harvard Figure Skating Club, although he stopped skating a good decade ago...
"Nietzsche and the Ethics of Atheism," Harvard Club of Boston, University of Lund, Sweden
“Drama of Undecidability and Tragedy of the Transitory: Gryphius’s Leo Armenius,” Cambridge UK
“HarvardX or Ex-Harvard: MOOCs and the Future of the University,” Harvard Clubs of New Hampshire and West Coast Florida
“Das Promotionsstudium: Kultur und Struktur der universitären Bildung in den USA,” Volkswagen Foundation, Hannover
“Paul Flemings Osculo-Logik und die Ästhetik des Barock,” Erlangen, Stanford, Berlin
“Choosing Grad School in the Humanities,” Utah, Dickinson, Duke
"Devolutions of the Sacred: Bernini, Asam, and the Baroque Non-Unity of the Visual Arts,” Bochum, Madrid, Dickinson
“The State of (the) Discipline: Forty Years of Germanistik at and beyond Harvard,” Harvard Center for European Studies
Figures of Excess: Toward an Aesthetic of the Baroque. Book in progress.
“Flemings verdrehte Osculo-Logik und die Ästhetik des Barock,” in Was ein Poëte kan! Studien zum Werk von Paul Fleming 1609-1640, ed. Stefanie Arend and Claus Sittig (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), pp. 181–204.
“Desacralization of the Sacred: Caravaggio, Bernini, Asam” in Erosionen der Rhetorik? Strategien der Ambiguität in den Künsten der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. Valeska von Rosen (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012), pp. 303–320.
“Masterful Rhetoric: The Logic of Authority and Subjection in Luther,” in The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times, ed. Christine Helmer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), pp. 266–283.
“The Trouble with Saying I: Simplicissimus and Its Emblem,” Daphnis 36 (2007/2009): 565–592.
“Dead Metaphor Society? From Opitz to Hoffmannswaldau,” Neophilologus 93, 2 (2009): 295–310.
“Of Aprons, Buses, and Bridges: Kafka’s Judgment,” in Music and the Aesthetics of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Reinhold Brinkmann, ed. Karol Berger and Anthony Newcomb (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 285–310.
Barock: Neue Sichtweisen einer Epoche (Vienna: Böhlau, 2001), Editor.
“The Art of Dissimulation: Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew,” Pantheon: Internationale Jahreszeitschrift für Kunst 56 (1998): 95–102.
Nietzsche and the Feminine (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), Editor.
“Adorno, Goethe, and the Politics of the Essay,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 66 (1992): 160–191.
Idioms of Uncertainty: Goethe and the Essay (University Park: Penn State Press, 1992).
“Literary History and Historical Truth: Herder–‘Shakespeare’–Goethe,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 65 (1991): 636–652.
“Two Parts Ibsen, One Part American Dream: On Derivation and Originality in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman,” Orbis Litterarum 43 (1988): 336–353.
“Unlikely Affinities: Warhol and Goethe,” Mosaic 21, 1 (1988): 37–47.
“Lessing’s Tragic Topography: The Rejection of Society and Its Spatial Metaphor in Philotas,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 61 (1987): 441–456.
“From ‘Enttäuschung’ to ‘Tristan’: The Devolution of a Language Crisis in Thomas Mann’s Early Work,” German Quarterly 59 (1986): 431–448.
“Emilia Galotti und Clavigo: Werthers Pflichtlektüre und unsere,” Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 104 (1985): 481–494.