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 now 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.
I’m currently writing 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 U.S. cinema from the 1920s through the 1950s. Grounded in extensive archival research on Hollywood features and nontheatrical films, the book places cinema history alongside the history of the U.S. conservation movement, as well as the role of the state in promoting extractive forms of land use. 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 nature was visualized in modernity, and how these visualizations in turn resonate with the ecological crisis we confront today. 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 that hierarchy, and considers cinema’s potentialities (and limitations) as an ecological medium. Contemporary environmental theory — joined with close attention to the history of cinematic technologies for rendering the outdoors — enables us to approach film history “geologically.” In tracing cinematic renderings of nature in the past, we learn not only how nature was envisioned, contested, cared for, and exploited in an earlier era; we can also see some of the causes of our alienated relationship with nature in the present.
I’m a first-generation college student born and raised on California’s central coast. I live with my spouse, two kids, and a big dog in northeast LA: the unceded territory of the Tongva people.