In 2007 a private philanthropic foundation invited Canadian universities to enter a competition for an endowed Chair in German Literary Studies. Two universities were selected for site visits from the foundation, and in late 2007 the foundation chose the University of Waterloo to become the host institution for the Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker Memorial Chair in German Literary Studies. The chair is named for the sole Canadian prime minister of German heritage.
The Chair’s mandate is novel: to stimulate interest in matters German on local, national, and international levels through public intellectual activism and educational innovation. A scholar with a primary interest in German-language literature with a record of innovative and engaging scholarship and teaching, the chair holder will also be an advocate for the discipline and for the study of literature in all its forms. The position will enable the chair holder to communicate interest in German-language literary works to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. The very presence in Canadian Germanistik of this endowed position will serve as a focal point for a deeper appreciation of German literature in the country and beyond.
In May 2010 Professor John H. Smith was named the inaugural Diefenbaker Chair, and remained at Waterloo until 2013 when he returned to the University of California, Irvine, but he remains an adjunct member of the department in Waterloo. In January 2015 the department welcomed the new chair holder, Dr. Ann Marie Rasmussen, a scholar of medieval German studies.