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, celebrating his 30th anniversary on the Faculty on 1 July 2019. For 2019-2020, Harvard named him a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow "in recognition of achievements and scholarly eminence in the fields of literature, history or art."
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, Rubens, Opitz, Fleming, Velázquez, Zesen, Gryphius, Borromini, Hoffmannswaldau, de Hooch, Grimmelshausen, E.Q. and C.D. Asam, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Mann, Kafka, Adorno, Miller, and Warhol.
In 2019, after more years than he had hoped, his book on the Baroque appeared: Baroque: Figures of Excess in Seventeenth-Century European Art and German Literature (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink). He is currently continuing his long-term research on Caravaggio and working on a book with the provisional title, Caravaggio's Calling: Dissimulation and Doubt. At the same time, he continues research for several other books, including: Integral Ornament: Revolutions and Devolutions of the Decorative, Vienna 1683–1914; Skew: Bernini’s Roman Chapels and the Asams’ Munich Church; and Nietzsche and the Ethics of Atheism. He expects to keep spreading himself thin in this manner for the rest of his career.
Largely the same range of periods, fields, artists, philosophers, and writers obtains in his teaching, which includes courses such as "Baroque," "The Ethics of Atheism: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud," "Nietzsche," "Thomas Mann: Stories of Six Decades," "Freud," "The Age of Goethe," and "Repression and Expression: Sexuality, Gender, and Language in Fin-de-siècle Literature and Art," as well as a Freshman Seminar on "Literal Looking: What We See in Art" that he teaches in the Art Study Center of the Harvard Art Museum, using the museum's collections in both the galleries and the seminar room. He has also taught a European Studies Seminar on the Post-Wall German politics of cultural production and two Graduate Seminars in General Education.
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 likes to think, 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. Director of Graduate Studies in German from 2001 to 2013, he reprised this role from 2018 to 2021.
Burgard has been a Cabot, 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 Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum entitled "As though my body were naught but ciphers": Crises of Representation in Fin-de-siècle Vienna (2005), what one might expect: 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 as well as Faculty Standing Committees on the Core Curriculum, on Admissions and Financial Aid in Harvard College, on Education Abroad, on European Studies, on Women's Studies, and on Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). He has directed or co-directed over 20 dissertations and served on numerous additional dissertation committees. He was a Faculty Associate of Adams House from 1990 to 2021 and remains a Faculty Associate of 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 and 2018-2021. He was the faculty advisor of the Harvard Figure Skating Club for well over a decade, and he is currently the faculty advisor of the Harvard College German Students Association.
SELECTED PAST AND FUTURE LECTURES
"Was Barock heißt," University of Mannheim
"Nietzsche and the Ethics of Atheism," Harvard Club of Boston, University of Lund, Sweden, University of Virginia
"Baroque de Hooch," Society for German Renaissance and Baroque Literature, University of Minnesota
“Drama of Undecidability and Tragedy of the Transitory: Gryphius’s Leo Armenius,” University of Cambridge
“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,” Keynote, Volkswagen Foundation, Hannover
“Paul Flemings Osculo-Logik und die Ästhetik des Barock,” Stanford University, Harvard Club of Berlin
“Choosing Grad School in the Humanities,” University of Utah, Dickinson College, Duke University
"Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas," Master Class, Harvard Humanities Center
"Devolutions of the Sacred: Bernini, Asam, and Baroque Non-Unity,” University of Bochum, Complutense University of Madrid, Dickinson College
“The State of (the) Discipline: Forty Years of Germanistik at and beyond Harvard,” Harvard Center for European Studies, Harvard German Department
"Flemings verdrehte Oskulo-Logik und die Ästhetik des Barock," Keynote, Paul Fleming 1609-2009, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg
Baroque: Figures of Excess in Seventeenth-Century European Art and German Literature
“Masterful Rhetoric: The Logic of Authority and Subjection in Luther”
“Desacralization of the Sacred: Caravaggio, Bernini, Asam"
“The Trouble with Saying I: Simplicissimus and Its Emblem”
“Of Aprons, Buses, and Bridges: Kafka’s Judgment”
Barock: Neue Sichtweisen einer Epoche, Editor
“The Art of Dissimulation: Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew”
Nietzsche and the Feminine, Editor
“Adorno, Goethe, and the Politics of the Essay”
Idioms of Uncertainty: Goethe and the Essay
“Literary History and Historical Truth: Herder–‘Shakespeare’–Goethe"
“Unlikely Affinities: Warhol and Goethe”
“Lessing’s Tragic Topography”
“From ‘Enttäuschung’ to ‘Tristan’: The Devolution of a Language Crisis in Thomas Mann”