A photo of Todd Presner

Todd Presner

Chair and Professor

E-mail: presner@ucla.edu Office: Royce Hall 324

Office Hours: e-mail for Zoom appointment

Fields of interest: German-Jewish history, literature, and culture; digital humanities; urban humanities; Holocaust studies

Todd Presner is Chair of UCLA’s Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies and serves as Special Advisor to Vice Chancellor Roger Wakimoto in the Office for Research and Creative Activities (2018-present). Previously, he was the chair of UCLA’s Digital Humanities Program (2011-21), and from 2011-2018, he served as the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. From 2018-21, he was Associate Dean of Digital Innovation. He holds the Michael and Irene Ross Chair in the UCLA Division of the Humanities.  

His research focuses on European intellectual and cultural history, Holocaust studies, visual culture, and digital humanities. Presner’s newest book is forthcoming with Princeton University Press: Ethics of the Algorithm: Digital Humanities and Holocaust Memory  ( Fall 2024).

Book Blurb: The Holocaust is one of the most documented — and digitized — events in human history. Institutions and archives have recorded hundreds of thousands of hours of audio and video testimony, comprised of billions of words in dozens of languages, with millions of pieces of descriptive metadata. It would take lifetimes to watch and process these testimonies one-by-one. But what are the ethical implications of “listening” to Holocaust testimonies using computational methods, statistical analyses, and algorithmic processes? Does quantitative analysis inevitably subject the victims to further objectification? Or, is it possible to develop an “ethics of the algorithm” that could mediate between the ethical demands of listening to individual testimonies and the interpretative possibilities unleashed by computational methods, which scale to analyze an entire archive? Starting with a reexamination of early, proto-computational approaches to studying Holocaust testimony in the 1950s, the book delves into thousands of testimonies and witness accounts focusing on the analysis of trauma, language, voice, genre, narrative, and the archive itself. It concludes with an examination of contemporary, AI-driven testimonies that use machine learning to process responses to questions. Richly illustrated with visualizations, Ethics of the Algorithm is a digital humanities argument for how big data models and computational methods can be used to preserve and perpetuate cultural memory. 

Previous books include: Mobile Modernity: Germans, Jews, Trains (Columbia University Press, 2007), which maps German-Jewish intellectual history onto the development of the railway system; Muscular Judaism: The Jewish Body and the Politics of Regeneration (Routledge, 2007), an analysis of the aesthetic, cultural, and political dimensions of the Jewish body; Digital_Humanities (MIT Press, 2012), co-authored with Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, and Jeffrey Schnapp, a critical-theoretical exploration of the field of digital humanities; HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities (Harvard University Press, 2014), with David Shepard and Yoh Kawano, an exploration of digital cultural mapping using the HyperCities project as a starting point [click here for the downloadable version of the HyperCities book in e-scholarship]Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016), co-edited with Claudio Fogu and Wulf Kansteiner, an exploration of the history of representations of the Holocaust and contemporary debates in the field; and Urban Humanities: New Practices for Reimagining the City (MIT Press, 2020), co-authored with Dana Cuff, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Maite Zubiaurre, and Jonathan Jae-An Crisman, which explores methods and practices for engaging with cities and imagining new possibilities for spatial justice. 

Presner serves as faculty co-PI on the “Urban Humanities” initiative at UCLA (a Mellon-sponsored Graduate Certificate Program, 2013-present) with Dana Cuff, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, and Maite Zubiaurre. At the intersection of architecture, urban planning, and the humanities, Urban Humanities is an interdisciplinary approach to studying cities using mixed methods such as thick mapping, filmic sensing, and speculative design. It locates spatial justice at the core of contemporary discussions of urbanism.  

Presner is also faculty co-PI with Juliet Williams, Darnell Hunt, and David Schaberg of the “Social Justice Curriculum” (2021-2026), a $5M Mellon-sponsored grant to develop an undergraduate curriculum focused on social justice across the “experimental humanities” (digital, urban, environmental, and health humanities).

From 2005-2015, Presner was director of HyperCities, a collaborative, digital mapping platform that explores the layered histories of city spaces. It was awarded one of the first “digital media and learning” prizes by the MacArthur Foundation/HASTAC in 2008.

He is also the project founder of “Mapping Jewish Los Angeles” (2011-present), a digital anthology of interactive exhibitions focused on the history of Jewish LA, told through archival collections, mapping, and data visualizations. 

Featured Works

Selected Publications


  • Book Chapter: “Digital Humanities and Holocaust Studies,” in: The Cambridge History of the Holocaust, eds. Laura Jockusch and Devin Pandas (accepted and forthcoming, 2024).
  • Digital Project Review: “Review of Gabor Mihaly Toth, Let Them Speak,” in: Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2023).
  • Research Article: “Algorithmic Close Reading: Using Semantic Triplets to Index and Analyze Agency in Holocaust Testimonies,” with co-author Lizhou Fan, in: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 16.3 (2022). Published online: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/16/3/000623/000623.html
  • Book Chapter: “Digitale Geisteswissenschaften und Holocaustzeugnisse: Anmerkungen zu einer globalen Genealogie,” trans. Lena Hein, in: Urs Büttner and David Kim, eds., Globalgeschichten der deutschen Literatur (Springer Verlag, 2022), 93-117.
  • Book Chapter: “Intersectional Methodologies and Holocaust Studies,” in The Holocaust and North Africa, eds. Sarah Stein and Aomar Boum (Stanford University Press, 2018), 245-51.
  •  “Generation, Degeneration, Regeneration: Health, Disease, and the Jewish Body,” in: The Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. 8: The Modern World 1815-2000, eds. Mitchell B. Hart and Tony Michels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 589-610.
  • “Urban Humanities Pedagogy,” co-authored with Jonathan Banfill and Maite Zubiaurre, in:Boom: The Journal of California 6.3 (2016), 126-134.
  • “The Ethics of the Algorithm: Close and Distant Listening to the Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive,” in: Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture, edited by Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner, and Todd Presner (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 175-202.
  • Welcome to the 20-Year Dissertation” (November 25, 2013), The Chronicle of Higher Education 
  • “Critical Theory and the Mangle of Digital Humanities,” in The Humanities and the Digital, eds. David Theo Goldberg and Patrik Svensson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014).
  • “German-Jewish Studies in the Digital Age: Remarks on Discipline, Method, and Media,” in:Nexus 1: Essays in German Jewish Studies, ed. William Donahue (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011), 7-26.
  • “Comparative Literature in the Age of Digital Humanities: On Possible Futures for a Discipline,”Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature, eds. Ali Behdad and Dominic Thomas (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), 193-207.
  • “Hypercities: A Case Study for the Future of Scholarly Publishing,” The Shape of Things to Come, ed. Jerome McGann (Houston: Rice University Press, 2010), 251-71.  Also available online
  • “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge,” Emerging Disciplines, ed. Melissa Bailar (Houston: Rice University Press, 2010), 63-86. Also available online
  • “Hegel’s Philosophy of History via Sebald’s Imaginary of Ruins: A Contrapuntal Critique of the ‘New Space’ of Modernity,” in The Ruins of Modernity, eds. Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 193-211.
  • “Digital Geographies: Berlin in the Ages of New Media,” in: Spatial Turns: Space, Place, and Mobility in German Literary and Visual Culture, eds. Jaimey Fisher and Barbara Mennel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010) (Amsterdamer Beiträge zur neueren Germanistik),  447-69.
  • “HyperCities: Building a Web 2.0 Learning Platform,” in: Teaching Literature at A Distance, eds. Anastasia Natsina and Takis Tagialis (Continuum Books, 2010), 171-82.
  • “Remapping German/Jewish Studies: Benjamin, Cartography, Modernity,” in: German Quarterly, ed. Leslie Morris 82.3 (Summer 2009): 293-315
  • “The City in the Ages of New Media: From Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grossstadt to Hypermedia Berlin,” in After the Digital Divide: German Aesthetic Theory in the Age of New Media, eds. Lutz Koepnick and Erin McGlothlin (Camden House, 2009), 229-51.
  • “Seeing Urban Spaces Anew at the University of California” (co-authored with Suzy Beemer and Richard Marciano), Cyberinfrastructure Technology Watch, 3.2 (May 2007), 7 pages.  Available on-line at:
  • “Muscle Jews and Airplanes: Modernist Mythologies, the Great War, and the Politics of Regeneration,” in: Modernism/Modernity, 13.4 (Winter 2006): 701-28.
  • “‘The Fabrication of Corpses’: Heidegger, Arendt, and the Modernity of Mass Death,” Telos, no. 135 (Summer 2006): 84-108.
  • “Cultural History in the Age of New Media, or ‘Is There a Text in this Class?’” Vectors:Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular. Vol. 2 (Summer 2005).  The article is on-line (“launch project”)
  • “‘What a Synoptic and Artificial View Reveals’: Extreme History and the Modernism of W.G. Sebald’s Realism,” Criticism, special issue, “Extreme and Sentimental History.”  Vol. 46.  No. 3 (Summer 2004): 341-60.
  • “‘Clear Heads, Solid Stomachs, and Hard Muscles’: Max Nordau and the Aesthetics of Jewish Regeneration,” Modernism/Modernity.  Vol. 10.  No. 2.  (April 2003): 269-96.



A Message in a Bottle: Holocaust Writing on the Edge of Death.  Projected length: 250 pp. (in progress).

Taking its title from Paul Celan’s idea of a poem as a “Flaschenpost” (message in a bottle), this book focuses on the analysis of a unique archive of Holocaust letters and sketches that were written days and sometimes even hours before the death of the author. They were hidden – often buried in bottles — and discovered after the Holocaust. The book asks what it means to bear witness in situations of extreme violence and destruction when nearly all traces of testimony are absent. Using an interdisciplinary conceptual framework built on the literature and philosophies of Walter Benjamin, Emmanuel Levinas, Toni Morrison, Saidiya Hartman, and others, the project investigates the idea of writing blindly on the edge of death, the attempt to communicate to the future, the silences and voices of the archive, and the ethical imperatives of being open to the message of the wholly other.