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N.W. Baer, PhD

Assistant Professor of Film Studies
N.W. Baer, PhD

My research examines the theory and history of moving-image media in relation to broader aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical debates of the modern era.

In my current book project, Historical Turns: Weimar Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism, I place films of the Weimar Republic in conversation with the “crisis of historicism” that was widely diagnosed by German intellectuals in the interwar period. Through close analyses of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Destiny, Rhythm 21, The Holy Mountain, and Metropolis, I argue that pioneering films of the 1920s participated in the critique of historicism, engaging with ontological, epistemological, and historiographical questions of the philosophy of history. More broadly, the project challenges the historicist tenets of New Film History and expands the field of Film and Philosophy, probing the nexus between cinema and historical-philosophical inquiry. My research has been supported through yearlong fellowships from the Fulbright Program, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and Leo Baeck Institute / Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.

My engagement with media theory and history has extended to large-scale, collaborative projects. Together with Anton Kaes and Michael Cowan, I co-edited The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press, 2016), which reconceives the history of film theory for our present era of media change and renders over 275 early film-theoretical writings available in English, including my own translations of texts by Rudolf Arnheim, Béla Balázs, Lotte Eisner, Siegfried Kracauer, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, Joseph Roth, and Walter Ruttmann. The volume has been reviewed in journals such as German Studies Review, The Moving ImageSeminar, and The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, and it has generated dossiers in Film Quarterly and October. In 2017, it won the Limina Award for the Best International Film Studies Book and the Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

More recently, I co-edited Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019) with Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, and Gunnar Iversen. This volume theorizes the “unwatchable” as a key concept in our contemporary media environment, where viewers encounter difficult content on various screens and platforms - from cinema, television, and video games through museums and classrooms to laptops, smartphones, and social media. With over 50 original essays by scholars, artists, critics, and curators, the collection offers multidisciplinary approaches to the vast array of troubling images that circulate in global visual culture. Our book has been featured in Film Comment, Film Quarterly, and New Books Network, and it has been reviewed in journals such as Filmkrant, Jump CutThe Times Literary Supplement, MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen / Reviews, and Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.

I am also active in public debates, writing columns for Film Quarterly, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Public Seminar


  • CineGraph Babelsberg
  • Domitor: International Society for the Study of Early Cinema
  • European Network for Cinema and Media Studies
  • German Studies Association
  • Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft
  • Netherlands Research School for Media Studies
  • Society for Cinema and Media Studies
Last modified:05 July 2020 11.22 a.m.

Contact information

Oude Boteringestraat 34
9712 GK Groningen
The Netherlands