- John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies (1999)
- Herman Frederic Lieber Award (1981)
The son of refugees from Nazi Germany, Albert Wertheim spent the first years of his life believing that "you used one set of words with your parents and another with your friends." The languages he moved between were German at home, and English in his New York neighborhood. But the words he used with his parents slipped occasionally into the parlance of the streets, and the friends brought up on World War II radio dramas and movie newsreels identified his German words with the atrocities of Hitler. He stopped speaking German for 12 years. Since his 1940s childhood, however, Wertheim has not only recaptured his ability to speak German fluently, he has been instrumental in internationalizing the study of English. The street-smart kid who explored the politically charged boundaries between two languages has become the professor who taught American studies to German high school teachers and who is a pioneer in the study of the non-American, non-British literature of the English-speaking world.
He began his career expecting to do research in England and the major U.S. libraries. Instead, his research and teaching interests span the globe and connect diverse eras, genres and cultures: Elizabethan and Restoration English drama; modern British, Irish and American drama; and postcolonial drama and other literature in English from all over the world. He's as comfortable writing about Shakespeare's Macbeth as he is teaching South African playwright Athol Fugard's A Lesson from Aloes.
As a witness to World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wertheim has focused his commitment to change on educating German teachers. As director of a German-U.S. teacher exchange project sponsored by the German Marshall Fund from 1986 to 1997, Wertheim coordinated and hosted the concluding week of the exchange, an intensive American studies seminar in Bloomington.
"He has affected directly more than 500 German teachers and affected many more indirectly," said Marianne Lais Ginsburg, German Marshall Fund program officer. "It is his care and devotion to the program that makes it such a special and rewarding effort for everyone involved, especially the teachers."
During his tenure at IU, Wertheim has won four teaching awards, including the Herman Frederic Lieber Distinguished Teaching Award. He likens his own philosophy of teaching as a performance art to that of the dramatist Fugard: "Acting is going onstage, but it should also serve as a call to action in your real life. The teaching that's happening onstage is part of the teaching that should be occurring in the classroom."