Jennifer Lynn Peterson (PhD, University of Chicago) is a cinema and media historian, educator, and writer living in Los Angeles.
I’m 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 Representations, Feminist Media Histories, JCMS, Camera Obscura, Moving Image, and the Getty Research Journal. I’ve published chapters in edited book anthologies such as 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 Critical Inquiry, 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 scholarship examines cinema and media history in the context of the environmental humanities. I’m currently writing my second book, Cinema’s Ecological Past: Film History, Nature, and Endangerment Before 1950, under contract with Columbia University Press. Cinema’s Ecological Past is a historical study of the environment as represented in U.S. cinema from 1919 to 1950. Grounded in extensive archival research on Hollywood features and educational films made by the National Park Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Save-the-Redwoods League, my book analyzes cinema history alongside the history of the conservation movement, settler colonialism, and the role of the state in promoting extractive forms of land use. I analyze Hollywood films — including Valley of the Giants (1919, 1927, and 1938 versions), The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923), Mantrap (Victor Fleming, 1926), and High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941) — next to educational films such as Highroads and Skyroads (USDA, 1922), Seeing Yosemite National Park (NPS, 1930), and The Land of Lofty Mountains (NPS, 1936). Analysis of cinematic realism has a well-established lineage in film theory. But often, the environment has been understood as a film’s background, a setting for the human drama in the foreground. Cinema’s Ecological Past reverses this hierarchy, and considers cinema’s potentialities (and limitations) as an ecological medium. In tracing cinematic renderings of natures past, we learn not only how nature was envisioned, contested, cared for, and exploited in an earlier era; we also gain insight into our alienated relationship with nature in the present, which must be addressed if we are to transition into a more just and sustainable future.
I’m also working on two other projects: one 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; another on filmmaker Stan Brakhage and his creative partnership with his first wife Jane (Wodening), who I’ve been interviewing for several years.
I was born and grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. I’m the first in my family to attend college. I live with my spouse, two kids, and a big dog in Northeast LA.