Research Projects

Critical Whiteness in Contemporary African American Media Networks

Einstein Junior Fellowship

Project Leader: Martin Lüthe

This project, which begins in July 2019, aims to demonstrate how “whiteness” has emerged as a critical category in contemporary networks of African American media production—critical in two meanings of the term: as a simultaneously significant (meaning-making) and contested (controversially conspicuous) category. The project thus follows the hypothesis that the cultural (and economic) success of African American media networks in the digital age—and more specifically, in the historical context of hashtag activisms like #BlackLivesMatter and #oscarssowhite—complicates the status of “whiteness” as a signifier in American cultural production both at the level of structure and content.

African Atlantic Research Group

The African Atlantic Research Group (AARG) formed during two research workshops in Berlin (June 2017) and NYC (April 2018). AARG aspires to facilitate multi-year collaborative research examining the social and cultural lives of post-World War II African immigrants to the United States and in the sphere we call “The New Black Atlantic.” This comparative and broadly interdisciplinary project will analyze recent processes of identity formation along with quickly developing traditions of art and culture within these communities as a consequence of the changing realities of migration in this region of the African diaspora.

Terra Foundation for American Art

We are delighted to announce that our collaboration with the Terra Foundation for American Art in the form of the Terra Visiting Professorship has been renewed and extended for another six-year period of collaboration.

These eight-month visiting professorships aim at fostering the cross-cultural, trans-disciplinary scholarly engagement with North American Art at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies (Freie Universität Berlin) and the art history departments of Freie Universität and Humboldt Universität, respectively. Visiting professors will offer two specialized seminars per semester in American Art History (B.A. and M.A. levels) and participate in the larger academic community of the Kennedy Institute for the duration of their stay. On top of teaching, candidates will be strongly encouraged to supervise theses in their areas of expertise and are expected to organize one international research event, conference, or symposium in Berlin in order to further facilitate the expertise in, and increase the visibility of, the fields of North American Art History and Visual Culture Studies at the institutions involved.

The John F. Kennedy Institute is happy to announce the Terra Visiting Professors for the upcoming academic years. We are very excited to be welcoming the three following candidates:

Allison Stagg (TU Berlin, 2016/17)
Lauren Kroiz (UC Berkeley, 2017/18)
Laura Katzman (James Madison University, 2018/19)
Joshua Shannon (University of Maryland, 2019/20)
David J. Getsy (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2020/21)
Rizvana Bradley (Yale University, 2021/22)

Feeling (Alt)Right: Identity- and Affect-Politics of Online-Based Rightwing Extremism

Volkswagen Foundation Program "Originalitätsverdacht"

Project Leader: Simon Strick

Time Frame: 2018-2019

The project investigates online-presences of the new or alt-right (US, UK, Germany, Austria). The movement's specific newness is their appropriation of progressive identity politicsrhetoric for their purpose: the re-fortification of unchallenged white male hegemony. The altright – informal network of ethnonationalists, antifeminists, and racists – thus presents a discursive guerilla, ironically employing liberal terminologies. The alt-right's modus operandi is to establish 'revolutionary' vocabularies fueling an 'alternative' reality, where white men figure as a 'marginalized group'. (Funding amount ca. 80,000 Euro)

Remakes, Sequels, and Prequels in Hollywood Cinema: A Cultural History

P.R.I.M.E. Fellowship / DAAD

Project Leader: Kathleen Loock

Host University: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Funding period: 2016-17

My research project explores the cultural history of Hollywood remaking, from the transition to sound to the digital era (1927–2015). While academic and journalistic writings often frame cinematic remaking as a symptom of Hollywood’s waning creativity, I argue that it has always played and continues to play an important role in structuring the development of cinema as a technological medium and in shaping processes of identity formation among successive generations of cinemagoers in the U.S. The project adopts a broad concept of remaking that extends to all formats that repackage an already familiar story (remake, sequel, and prequel), and a cultural studies approach that treats these films as sites of memory and pop-cultural archives. It further combines a production-oriented analysis, focusing on moments when predominant production practices and media ecologies of the U.S. film industry have changed, with an inquiry into reception, audience engagement, and the ways in which Hollywood remaking becomes productive in the discourses and paratexts that surround it. My research sheds light on the evolution of Hollywood remaking both from a synchronic and diachronic perspective, and it examines how remakes, sequels, and prequels participate in writing the history of their own medium, promote feelings of media-generational belonging, and ultimately foster knowledge about film, culture, and the nation at large.

Fictions and Figurations at the Intersection of Law, Literature, and Finance 

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship

Project Leader: Stefanie Müller

Funding Period: 2017-18

My study is situated in the field of Law and the Humanities and explores the role of fictionality in literary and non-literary sources. Specifically, I contend that, while law’s modus operandi is the maintenance of boundaries – norms, rules, and regulations –, literature’s function can be understood as the direct opposite: through fictionalizing acts, literature goes beyond what is familiar and established into the realm of the imaginary and gives it gestalt. Through this movement of translation between what Wolfgang Iser has called the real and the imaginary, the fictive serves as the force that facilitates the emergence of new meaning. Despite law’s emphasis on stability and conservatism, legal discourse, I argue, likewise requires such a transgressive agent if it is adequately to accommodate social change. In other words, law employs fictions in the same manner, albeit for a different purpose, than literature does. Based on my research into the cultural history of the American business corporation in the nineteenth century and specifically the legal fiction of corporate personhood, I want to develop an approach to fictions that is specifically geared towards research into literary and non-literary fictions so as to facilitate interdisciplinary research at the intersection of law, literature and finance. (Fördersumme 36.000 Euro)

Making Knowledge Public: Epistemic Institutions and Spaces in the U.S. at the Turn of the 20th Century

Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship / Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Project Leader: Alexander Starre

Host University: Brown University

Part of a larger book project on American knowledge cultures, Alexander Starre's research stay at Brown University (October 2016-September 2017) is funded by a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The project aims to explore the period from the 1880s to the 1920s in a critical account of two uniquely American institutions that speak to the epistemic transformations of this modernizing era: the Carnegie library and the university press. (Funding amount: ca. 70,000 Euros)

Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice

The Research Unit "Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice" (director: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), addresses investigates the forms, dynamic processes, and functions of serial narration within the field of popular culture. Methodologically, the Research Unit integrates approaches from American Studies, German studies, literary studies, media studies, cultural history, and ethnography. It is based at Freie Universität Berlin, with additional sub-projects located at the universities of Göttingen, Hannover, Karlsruhe, and Tübingen.

Completed Research Projects