Chair and Professor
Office Hours: e-mail for Zoom appointmentFields 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 of 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. His 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’s current book project is Ethics of the Algorithm: Computational Approaches to Holocaust History and Memory. This project employs a wide-range of computational methods – from natural language processing to machine learning – to pose new questions of Holocaust history and memory. It asks what it means for algorithmic methods of analysis to be ethical and how they can complement humanistic interpretations and values.
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.
- “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.
Ethics of the Algorithm: Computational Approaches to Holocaust History and Memory: This book employs a wide-range of computational methods – from natural language processing to machine learning – to ask new questions of Holocaust history and memory. The books starts with a reexamination of the earliest, proto-computational approaches to studying Holocaust testimony in the 1950s, and it concludes with an examination of contemporary, AI-informed testimonies that use machine learning to process responses to questions. In between, it delves into thousands of testimonies and witness accounts from various corpora (the USC Shoah Foundation, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Yale Fortunoff Archive, among others) using digital humanities and computational approaches focused on the analysis of language, sound, performance, and narrative. Richly illustrated with visualizations, data narratives, and interface designs, the book ultimately asks what it means for algorithmic methods of analysis to be ethical and how they can complement humanistic interpretations and values.
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 analyzes a unique archive of Holocaust letters and diaries that were written days and sometimes even hours before the death of the author. Using a conceptual framework built on the philosophies of Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida, the project investigates the idea of writing blindly on the edge of death, the attempt to communicate to the future, and the ethical imperatives of being open to the message of the wholly other.
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