Alison Landsberg

Alison Landsberg

Alison Landsberg


the politics of memory, affective engagements with the past, political subjectivity, visual culture, the Frankfurt School, race in mass culture, politics of aesthetics

Professor Landsberg is a scholar in the field of memory studies.  Her book, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (Columbia UP, 2004) considers the way in which individuals are increasingly able to take on memories of events they did not live through.  She is interested in the potential of such memories to produce empathy and to become the grounds for progressive politics. Professor Landsberg has been invited to speak at conferences in the Norway, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and France.  In 2007, the journal Rethinking History published a forum on her book.

Her book entitled, Engaging the Past, explores popular modes of engagement with the past in contemporary mediated society, and the ramifications of those modes of engagement for the projects of history and politics. Considering a wide range of history texts—historical fiction films, TV historical dramas, Reality History TV, Immersive History Museum websites, among others—this book engages with the dynamics of the experiential to explain both what it makes possible for people and what it obscures or refuses.  Engaging the Past suggests that these popular engagements pose some fundamental challenges for our sense of what constitutes history in the 21st century, but also that academic historians need to take more seriously the kind of work popular media can do in the production of historical knowledge.

Professor Landsberg divides her teaching between the History and Art History Department and the Cultural Studies PhD program.

Current Research

I am currently working on a project entitled, Post Postracial America, in which I am exploring the contemporary eruption of discourse about race on both the political left and right, in the context of the post-Obama landscape and the Trump campaign and election. 

Selected Publications

“Horror vérité: politics and history in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017),” Continuum

 “Post Post-Racial America: On Westworld, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture,” Cultural Politics, 14.2 (July 2018): 198-215

“Ghosts on Screen: The Politics of Intertemporality,” in Spectral Spaces and Hauntings: The Affects of Absence ed. Christina Lee (London: Routledge, 2017).

Engaging the Past: Mass Culture and the Production of Historical Knowledge (New York: Columbia UP, 2015).

 “‘This isn’t usual, Mr. Pendleton, this is history’: Spielberg’s Lincoln and the Production of Historical Knowledge,” Rethinking History, April 2015.

“Politics and the Historical Film: Hotel Rwanda and the Form of Engagement,” in A Companion to the Historical Film, eds. Robert Rosenstone and Constantin  Parvulescu. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

“Cinematic Temporality: Modernity, Memory and the Nearness of the Past,” in  Time, Media, Modernity ed. Emily Keightely, London: Palgrave, 2012.

“Waking the Deadwood of History: Listening, Language, and the ‘Aural Visceral’” Rethinking History 14.4 (December 2010): 531–549.

“Memorie riflesse: lo schermo tra vero e falso”: atti del secondo seminario internazionale su Memoria e mass media tenutosi a Trento il 18 novembre 2009. A cura di Daniela Cecchin e Matteo Gentilini. Fondazione Museo storico del Trentino, Trento, 2010 (Collana: Quaderni di Archivio trentino, 26), forthcoming.

“Memory, Empathy, and the Politics of Identification,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 22.2 (June 2009). To be republished in American Politics and Global Citizenship, ed. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (New York: Columbia UP, 2004).

Courses Taught

HIST 387/INTS 375: History at the Movies

CULT 812: Visual Culture

HNRS 130: Conceptions of the Self

HIST 393: Reading the Past Through Film

HIST 389: Which memories? Which past? Commemoration in Modern American Culture

HIST 628: Immigration and Ethnicity in the US

HIST 615: Memory, History, Material Culture

CULT 802: Histories of Cultural Studies

CULT 860: Body, Subjectivity Citizenship


Dissertations Supervised

Katja Hering, "We Are All Makers of History:" People and Publics in the Practice of Pennsylvania German Family History, 1891-1966 (History/Art History, graduated 2009)        

Sheila Brennan,  “Stamping American Memory: Stamp Collecting in the U.S., 1880s-1930s (History/Art History, graduated December 2009)

Dan Gifford,"To You and Your Kin: Holiday Images from America's Postcard Phenomenon, 1907-1910" (History and Art History, graduated 2011)

Joanne Clark Dillman, “Dead Beginnings/Dead Ends: Circulations  of Dead Women in an Era of Disposability (Cultural Studies, graduated December 2009)

John Woolsey, The Humanitarian Imaginary” (Cultural Studies, graduated 2013)  

Tracy Fisher, “’For Us the Living': How America Buried its World War I Overseas Dead" (History/Art History, graduated 2016)

Ozden Ocak, “Theorizing France’s Ministry of Immigration and National Identity: Borders, Populations and National Identity in Postcolonial Europe” (Cultural Studies, graduated 2016)

Laina Saul, “Sexuality, Capital, and Representations of Women: Reading Spaces of Exception and the Body in a Global World” (Cultural Studies, graduating Spring 2018)

John Baker, “A Dual Catastrophe: Mass Culture and Nuclear Terror During the Transition to Neoliberalism” (Cultural Studies, graduated 2015)

Ariella Horwitz, "Celebrity Politics and the Cultivation of Affect in the Public Sphere” (Cultural Studies, graduated 2016)

Recent Presentations

“Horror Vérité: Politics and History in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2107).” Invited keynote address at the “Fiction and Facts in Narratives of Political Conflict” conference at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway, as part of the Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics interdisciplinary research network, 8-10 March 2018.

“Post Post-Racial America.” Invited keynote address at “An Interdisciplinary Workshop on Cultural Memory: Memory, Nation, Race,” University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK, 25-6 May 2017.

“Ghosts on Screen: The Politics of Intertemporality,” Invited keynote address at “Muse of Modernity: Remembering, Mediating and Modernising Popular Dance” conference, University of Chichester/Senate House, London, UK, 16 April 2016.

Engaging the Past project presented at the Historical Fiction Research Network Conference, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, 27-28 February 2016.

“At the Fringes of National Belonging: Squaw Men as Transnational Subjects in the 19th C American West,” presented at the American Studies Association Annual Convention, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 15-8 November, 2012.

 “Translating Atrocity: The Materiality of Virtual Sites of Experience.”Invited keynote address at  “Languages and Cultures of Conflicts and Atrocities” in Winnipeg, Canada, October 11-13, 2012.

"Memory and the Historical Film: Theorizing Affective Engagements.” Invited        plenary address at “Memory, Mediation, Remediation: An International Conference on Memory in Literature and Film,”  Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada, 28-30 April  2011.

"Beyond Identification: The Historical Film and the Production of Affect.” Invited talk at Brown University, 7 March 2011.

“Memory, Media, Political Subjectivity: Theorizing Distant Engagement.” Invited   talk at the international symposium, “Memory on the Move”, University of Utrecht, Netherlands, 2-3 December 2010.

“Empathetic Engagements with the Past: Considering the Televisual and Filmic Sensorium.” Invited talk at the “Creolizing Memory” seminar at American Comparative Literature Association’s Annual Meeting, New Orleans, 1-4 April 2010.

“Empathetic Engagements with the Past: Negotiating Proximity and Distance in HBO’s Deadwood” Invited talk at the Memory and Media conference, Trento, Italy, November 18, 2009.

“Waking the Deadwood of History: Listening, Language, and the ‘Aural Visceral’” Invited plenary address at the Televising History conference, University of Lincoln, UK, July 2009.

“Empathy and the Politics of Identification: Negotiating the Other in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.” Invited talk at Old Dominion University—City of Norfolk Film Festival, 1 April 2008.

“Memory, Empathy and the Politics of Identification.” Invited talk at “Is an Interdisciplinary Field of Memory Possible?” conference, New School for Social Research,  7-9 February 2008.

“Making Love, Not War: Illicit Liaisons and Prosthetic Remembering in the Silent Western.” Invited lecture, Fisher Humanities Center, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 5 September 2007

In the Media

Guest on the NPR show, On the Media, “What’s so Bad About Being a Replicant,” October 6, 2017.

Guest on the NPR show, With Good Reason on Engaging the Past. Aired on Saturday March 12, 2016.

Interviewed for “The Examined Lie,” by James Mc Williams in The American Scholar June 8, 2015.

Consulting Historian, “Women in Early Film" online exhibit of the National Women’s History Museum.

Guest on the NPR (WBEZ, Chicago) show Odyssey, “Memory and History,” April 28, 2003.

Guest on the NPR (WBEZ, Chicago) show Odyssey, “Memory and History, October 19, 2001.

Dissertations Supervised

Eric W. Ross, Activist Museums - History, Memory, and the Politics of Exhibition (2024)

Christina Riley, Women on the Web: A Study in the Solidarity Struggles of Feminist Digital Collectives (2022)

Sitah AlQahtani, The Biopolitical Dimension of the Representation of Images of Atrocity: Newspaper Coverage of Serbian-run Concentration Camps and Abu Ghraib Prison (2020)

Savannah Fetterolf, The Canon According to Google: A Critical Examination of the Arts & Culture Platform (2020)

Myrtle Andrews, Envisioning President Barack Obama (2019)

Caroline Guthrie , The American Historical Imaginary: Contested Narratives of the Past in Mass Culture (2019)

Megan Fariello, The Techno-Historical Acoustic: The Reappearance of Older Sound Technologies in the Contemporary Media Landscape (2019)

Amanda Regan, Shaping Up: Physical Fitness Initiatives for Women, 1880-1965 (2019)

Laina Saul, Representations of Women, Sexuality, and Capital: Considering Questions of Credibility and the Body in a Global World (2018)

Tracy Fisher, “For Us the Living”: How America Buried its World War I Overseas Dead (2016)

Ariella Horwitz, Celebrity Politics and the Cultivation of Affect in the Public Sphere (2016)

John C. Baker, A Dual Catastrophe: Mass Culture and Nuclear Terror During the Transition to Neoliberalism (2015)

Ozden Ocak, Theorizing France’s Ministry of Immigration and National Identity: Borders, Populations and National Identity in Postcolonial Europe (2015)

John Woolsey, Being Humane in a Global Era: Neohumanitarian Rationality, Power and Culture (2013)