Jennifer Lynn Peterson (PhD, University of Chicago) is a film historian, educator, and writer living in Los Angeles.
I am the author of Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film (Duke University Press, 2013). My academic articles have been published in Feminist Media Histories, the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Camera Obscura, The Moving Image, and the Getty Research Journal. I’ve published chapters in numerous edited book anthologies, including Ends of Cinema, Hollywood on Location: An Industry History, Rediscovering U.S. Newsfilm, The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender, and Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States. My film, art, and book reviews have appeared in Millennium Film Journal, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Artforum.com, and Contemporary Art Review LA (Carla). Previously a tenured Associate Professor in the Film Studies Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I’m now Professor and Chair of the Media Studies program at Woodbury University in Los Angeles.
My current work explores the intersections between film history and environmental history. I bring together archival research, critical theory, and close analysis to produce materialist histories of nature in twentieth century films and visual culture. I’m working on several projects: one on filmmaker Stan Brakhage and his creative partnership with his first wife Jane (Wodening), who I’ve been interviewing for several years; another on experimental film and feminist science studies for Los Angeles Filmforum and the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time Art x Science x L.A. project.
My primary focus this year is on my second book, Cinema’s Ecological Past: Film History, Nature, and Endangerment Before 1960, under contract for publication with Columbia University Press. Cinema’s Ecological Past is a historical study of the environment as represented in American cinema from the 1920s through the 1950s. In it, I argue that by looking at historical technologies for depicting outdoor settings in film (such as location shooting, widescreen, set design, and special effects), we can understand how mainstream concepts of nature were defined in modernity. Based on extensive primary research, I trace three tendencies across a set of case studies in Hollywood features and nontheatrical films (made by the U.S. National Park Service): modernized landscapes, capitalist extraction, and center-periphery tropes. Often, the environment is understood as a film’s background, a setting for the human drama in the foreground. This book reverses that hierarchy, and takes seriously cinema’s affinity for nature to consider outdoor settings as vital agents. It is through cinematic images of nature’s past that we can better understand what has led us to the current ecological crisis.
A first-generation college student born and raised in Southern California, I live in northeast LA with my spouse, two kids, and a big dog.