Last Event: Wednesday Sept. 11 3 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Exiles on Main Street: German-speaking Émigrés and American Consumer Culture (POSTPONED)

Editor's note: This event has been postponed. More information to come.

A lecture By Professor Paul Lerner

Malls, amusement parks, TV commercials, focus groups, customer surveys: What could be more American? Taken together, these elements transformed American urban and suburban life after World War II and then circulated the globe. Historians commonly assume that the U.S. developed and then exported its unique form of consumerism to (often reluctant) Europeans. As this talk will show, much of what we take to be quintessentially American was shaped to an extraordinary degree by immigrants, and specifically by a cohort of Austrians and Germans fleeing from European fascism. 

In this discussion, we will focus on the influence of several émigré artists, architects, designers and advertising professionals on suburban American life. Ultimately, we will challenge notions of what is American and what is European and reveal a constantly evolving process of cross-fertilization and interaction. 

Speaker bio

Professor Lerner is a historian of modern Germany and Central Europe with a particular interest in the history of the human sciences, Jewish history, gender, and the history and theory of consumer culture. He has written on the history of psychiatry, specifically on hysteria and trauma in a political, cultural, and economic context in the years around World War I in Germany. He recently published a book on the reception and representation of department stores and modern forms of marketing and consumption in Germany and Central Europe. Titled "The Consuming Temple: Jews, Department Stores, and the Consumer Revolution in Germany, 1880-1949," the book appeared with Cornell University Press in spring 2015. It pays particular attention to the notion of the "Jewish department store" and the ways that various movements deployed images of Jews to critique excessive consumption or mass consumer society. Lerner is also part of a long-term project and working group on German Jewish popular culture and has co-edited a volume of essays entitled: "Jewish Masculinities: German Jews, Gender and History." He is currently working on several projects concerning German-speaking émigrés from Nazi-controlled Europe, including a study of Austrian Jews and their impact on American consumer culture in the 1950s and beyond. 

Durham Language and Literature Building, Room 165

Event Map: 

For More Information Contact:

Christiane Reves
School of International Letters and Cultures, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies