Alan Marcus is a cultural historian film practitioner and Professor in Film and Visual Culture, having joined the University of Aberdeen in January 2007 from the University of Manchester, where he was Director of the Centre for Screen Studies.
- University of Cambridge, Ph.D.
- University of Cambridge, M.Phil
- University of Illinois, B.A.
- Visiting Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge
- Visiting Fellow, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge
- Life Member, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge
- Fellow, Royal Historical Society
- Fellow, Royal Society for Arts
- Fellow, Cambridge Philosophical Society
- Member, International Society for Cultural History
- Member, Directors Guild of America
Areas of research include:
- using creative practice-as-research to explore iconic post-traumatic sites and marginalized communities;
- representations of the city in film and visual culture;
- the history of documentary film, documentary practice modalities and other forms of documentary imagery;
- representations of the Holocaust and sites associated with Jewish identity and the diaspora, issues of ethnicity and the representation of indigenous peoples in documentary and popular film;
- and variation in communication within and across cultures.
Creative practice-as-research and other publications and invited talks, keynotes and screenings of work are listed below. Public engagement activities are listed under the Further Info section.
Research includes projects such as In Time of Place, which investigates selected symbolic sites associated with Jewish identity, the Diaspora and the Holocaust. The project focuses on the creation of four creative practice-as-research films made in Dachau, Venice, Prague and Boston, and a series of publications. The films, each 30 minutes in length, adopt an experimental observational approach to consider the stature and significance of place, its layering, reinvention and interpretation. The weight of history, the role of public memory and the act of memorialization are repositioned in the films through documenting both private and public engagement with the diverse urban environments. Archival imagery is not used, underscoring the intent that the films are about the present, as informed by the past.
The selection of sites for study and filming is guided by the fact that Venice is the site of a ghetto, where the term originated; Prague retains Europe’s oldest synagogue and Jewish cemetery; Dachau was the first Nazi state concentration camp, where the first prisoners to be executed were Jews; and Boston offers one of the most recent Holocaust memorial sites. All four films consider witnessing and the symbolic meaning of place in association with loss, absence, renewal and tourism. Most of the public who interact with the sites today were not first hand witnesses nor alive at the time of the Shoah. As such, the films engage with perceptions and debates on collective memory, cultural memory, and post-memory. The project also evaluates the way our digital culture influences how we interact with historic sites and use the camera to witness and situate our involvement.
The In Time of Place project developed from work undertaken for the experimental video installation, Beautiful Dachau (2006). The title of the film was drawn from a poster on a bus shelter outside the former concentration camp that announced: 'Beautiful Dachau, things to see and do'. The slogan encapsulates the challenges facing a town whose name is associated with the torture and murder of thousands of people. This video installation and the issues it explores are examined in recent writings, including 'Spatial transfigurations in Beautiful Dachau' (The Journal of Architecture, 2006) and 'Beautiful Dachau's Contested Urban Identity', featured in Visualizing the City (Routledge, 2008). The film foregrounds a traumatic space and the erasure and reappropriation of place. Following its debut installation at the TRANS visual cultural exhibition and conference in Madison, Wisconsin in 2006, a series of screenings, keynotes and invited lectures on the project have been given in 2007 at the Constructions of Conflict Conference, Univ. of Wales, and at Harvard, Princeton and other institutions and venues. The film In Place of Death has had a number of screenings at keynotes and invited talks, including at Edinburgh, Liverpool, Haifa, Canterbury, Cambridge, Syracuse, Manchester and other universities and museums.
Other areas of practice-as-research extend the focus on post-traumatic sites, including in One Market Day (2011) made in Guernica, One Hot Day (2011) set in Hiroshima, and In the Birch Grove (2012) in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After making documentaries for British and American television on such topics as cultural change in a Sami reindeer-herding community in northern Sweden, People of the Four Winds (1989), Marcus conducted fieldwork in Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic, which resulted in two books, including Relocating Eden (1995), and a series of articles. This research explored issues of filmic and literary representations of indigenous peoples, and such themes as cross-cultural perspectives of landscape, homeland and sense of place. His work in visual anthropology includes, Nanook of the North as Primal Drama (2006), on Robert Flaherty’s classic film set in the Canadian north.
The stature and systemic role of the urban environment in society as featured in film, photography, pictorial art and other forms of visual culture, occupies a key area of his current research. His co-edited book, Visualizing the City (Routledge, 2008), presents a range of interdisciplinary explorations that illustrate our fascination with the urban experience, modernity and different architectural idioms. His guest edited journal issues on various aspects of Visualising the City include History of Photography (2006), The Journal of Architecture (2006) and Film Studies (2007).
The film's title, 216 Beach Walk, Waikiki (2018, 30mins), refers to the former address of author Jack London during his period in Hawaii in 1915-16 when he was stimulating interest in the islands through his writings. By chance, the same location is now the back door of Trump Int’l Hotel Waikiki. In the film, high-rise developments serve as magnified totems for a heavily congested urban environment fuelled by Waikiki’s fabled touristic appeal. The film questions this interpretation of a paradisiacal paradigm in what could otherwise be termed a post-traumatic site, drawing on the creation and toxicity of the Ala Wai Canal as a potent metaphorical comment. This research project received funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Screening with panel discussion at the University of Hawaii (2018), featured as a video installation in the CONTACT Exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art School (2018), and screened at the Jack London conference at the Univ. of Nevada (2018). Invited speaker with screening, Huntington Library (2019).
The New Colossus (2017) 30min research film focuses on links between events around 9/11 and the current controversy over the US/Mexican border/wall. Themes of national trauma, patriotism, anti-immigration and idealism infuse the film and served as the basis for its first screening in the UK and panel discussion at the University of Aberdeen (2017), and in the US before a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (2018). Screening and Q&A, The Incomers Film Festival, Dumfries (2018). Screening and discussion at the Visible Evidence XXVI conference, USC (2019).
The Forgotten Jew in the City of Youth (2016) 30min research film which explores the hidden history in and around the Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech on today’s Romantische Strasse, where Hitler was imprisoned and wrote Mein Kampf, and where in 1944 30,000 Jews were brought and incarcerated. Screening with talk at UCLA (2018).
Feininger’s Window (2015), 30min research film which draws on a series of photographs held in Harvard’s photographic collection taken by the artist Lyonel Feininger from his apartment window in Berlin in the 1930s shortly before having to leave for America. The work takes the form of a city symphony film, reconsidering palimpsests set within Berlin’s contemporary urban environment.
Near the Palace (2015), 30min research film developed from the painting, Am Palais, by Lyonel Feininger of an urban scene in Weimar. The film contrasts the cultural setting embodied by Weimar’s legacy of Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Lizst at the Bauhaus School, with a work by the School’s first appointed faculty member, as Master of Form. The title and dark foreboding of Feininger’s painting becomes a catalyst for investigating what lies Am Palais – ‘near the palace’ – the remains of Buchenwald. Overlooking the cultural mecca below, the former camp’s hillside location amongst the beech trees, produces a complex commentary on the symbolism inherent in both camp and city. Invited screening, History Department at the University of Hawaii (2018).
The Molo of Venice (2014), 30-minute observational film set in Venice, focusing on the Molo della Piazzetta, the city’s ceremonial entrance. Two works from the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA, Jean Baptiste Corot’s View of Venice: the Piazzetta seen from the Riva degli Schiavoni (1835) and An Extensive View of the Molo (c.1700) by Luca Carlevarijs, serve as the film’s starting point.
85 Miles North of the Equator (2013), 30-minute observational film set in Singapore, which utilizes the drawings of Charles Dyce from the 1840s and other visual documentation of the city, recontextualized in terms of contemporary urban developments, aspirational modernist architecture and public interactions. Screening with talk at Brown Univ (2013).
In the Birch Grove (2012), 30-minute observational film on contemporary sites at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau, drawing upon entries in the diary of SS medical doctor Prof. Johann Paul Kremer. Screenings with talks at Kings College London (2012), Holocaust Memorial Day, Aberdeen (2013), Brown Univ (2013), Portsmouth (2013), Brandeis (2013), Derry, NI (2013), London (2014), Columbia Univ (2015) and UCLA (2018).
One Hot Day (2011), 30-minute observational film on an historic post-traumatic site, set in contemporary downtown Hiroshima, Japan. The film examines the redefinition of place at the hypocentre and its transfiguration through public forms of ritualized engagement. Screenings with talks at the Univ. of Hawaii (2014), Aberdeen (2015), Cambridge (2015).
One Market Day (2011), 30-minute observational film on an historic post-traumatic site, set in the contemporary Basque village of Guernica. Themes revealed in Picasso’s iconic work are considered within the present built environment. Screenings with talks at Liverpool (2011) and Aberdeen (2012).
The Memorial (2010), 30-minute practice-as-research film set in Boston, USA, focusing on the New England Holocaust Memorial. In Time of Place research project. Screenings and talk at York (2011) and special screening at SCMS Boston (2012).
The Cemetery (2010), 30-minute observational film set in the Jewish quarter in Prague, infused by the after presence of Franz Kafka. Forms part of the In Time of Place research project. Screening and talk at York (2011), Stockholm (2013), and Holocaust Memorial Day (2016).
The Ghetto (2009), 30-minute practice-as-research film set in Venice, Italy, that looks at ritualized activities by inhabitants and tourists within the built environment of the ancient Jewish quarter in Venice. In Time of Place research project. Screenings and talks at Cambridge (2009), Liverpool (2010), Dundee (2010), St. Francis, Nova Scotia (2010) and Caltech (2011).
In Place of Death (2008), 30-minute observational film that explores issues of absence, touristic encounters and the identity of place in the town of Dachau and its former concentration camp. In Time of Place research project. Screenings and talks at Cambridge (2008), Derby (2008), Edinburgh (2008), Haifa (2008), Kent (2008), Liverpool (2008), Manchester (2008), Syracuse (2008), Dublin (2009), three events at Cambridge (2010), St Francis, Nova Scotia (2010), St Mary’s, Nova Scotia (2010), Caltech (2011), Krakow (2011), Warsaw (2011), Aberdeen (2013), Hawaii (2013), Aberdeen (2015), Reykjavik (2016).
Beautiful Dachau (2006), 30-minute video installation practice-as-research, set in the town of Dachau, Germany. In Time of Place research project. Screenings and talks at Madison (2006), Brown (2007), Bryn Mawr (2007), Harvard (2007), Princeton (2007) and Swansea (2007).
In preparation, The Documentary Image: Representations of Realism.
In preparation, In Time of Place: Memorializing the Holocaust, monograph on five practice-based films.
Visualizing the City, co-editor with Dietrich Neumann. London, Routledge, 2008. ISBN 978-0415419703.
Relocating Eden: The Image and Politics of Inuit Exile in the Canadian Arctic. Hanover, University Press of New England. 1995. Included in UPNE's Native American Studies Series, 1998. ISBN 0-87451-659-5.
Out In the Cold: The legacy of Canada's Inuit relocation experiment in the High Arctic. Copenhagen, IWGIA, 1992. ISSN 0105-6387.
Selected Articles and Book Chapters
‘Place With No Dawn – A Town’s Evolution and Erskine’s Arctic Utopia’, in R. Windsor Liscombe (ed.) Architecture and the Canadian Fabric. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 2011: 283-310. ISBN 978-0-7748-1939-8.
’Beautiful Dachau’s Contested Urban Identity’, in A. Marcus and D. Neumann (eds.) Visualizing the City, London, Routledge, 2008: 75-95. ISBN 978-0415419703.
‘The Interracial Romance as Primal Drama: Touch of Evil and Diamond Head’, Film Studies, Issue 11, (Winter) 2007: 14-26. ISSN 1469-0314. (pdf)
‘Spatial Transfigurations in beautiful Dachau’, The Journal of Architecture, Vol. 11, No. 5 (November) 2006: 531-541. ISSN 1360-2365.
‘Nanook of the North as Primal Drama’, Visual Anthropology, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, 2006: 201-222. ISSN 0894-9468. (pdf)
‘Looking Up: the child and the city’, History of Photography, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Summer), 2006: 119-133. ISSN 0308-7298. (pdf)
'Reappraising Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will', Film Studies, Issue 4, (Summer) 2004: 75-86. (pdf)
‘Uncovering an auteur: Fred Zinnemann’, Film History, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000: 49-56. (pdf)
'Reflecting on Contested Images', in J.C.H. King. and H. Lidchi (eds.), Imaging the Arctic. London, British Museum Press, 1998: 190-6. ISBN 0-7141-2537-7.
Keynotes, Invited Talks and Conference Contributions
Screening and discussion of The New Colossus, Visible Evidence XXVI conference, USC (2019).
Graduation Address, University of Aberdeen (2019).
Screening of The New Colossus and Q&A, The Incomers Film Festival, Dumfries (2018).
Invited speaker, Let's Go to Dachau!: the representation of tourism at an iconic site, and screening of In Place of Death, University of Iceland (2016).
Speaker, Representing Post-Traumatic Space, Resnais Archipelago conference, Duke University, Durham, NC (2015).
Invited speaker, screening and discussion of One Hot Day video installation, Sir Duncan Rice Library Gallery, University of Aberdeen (2015).
Invited speaker, Auschwitz: topography and affectivity of space, and screening of In the Birch Grove, Spaces of Memory and Performance conference, London (2014).
Invited speaker, Hiroshima: a filmic approach to a post-traumatic site, and screening of One Hot Day, University of Hawaii (2014).
Invited speaker, Rehabilitation of a Post-Traumatic Space, and screening of In Place of Death, University of Hawaii (2014).
Speaker, Snapshot Visual Ethnography, The Cemetery and Kafka’s Prague and screening of The Cemetery, Visible Evidence documentary conference, Stockholm (2013).
Keynote speaker, Thinking About Auschwitz in a Visual Context and screening of In the Birch Grove, Trauma and Memory conference, Portsmouth (2013).
Invited speaker, Auschwitz-Birkenau as Touristed Post-Traumatic Site and screening of In the Birch Grove, Brandeis University (2013).
Invited speaker, Auschwitz-Birkenau and its Visual Documentation and screening of In the Birch Grove, Brown University, Providence, RI (2013).
Invited speaker, Aspirational Architecture and Cultural Juxtapositions and screening of 85 Miles North of the Equator, Brown University (2013).
Invited speaker, Director’s Cut Masterclass on Filming Holocaust Sites and cinema screening at Belmont Picturehouse of In Place of Death and In the Birch Grove, in commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, Aberdeen City Council (2013).
Delivered Graduation Welcome Address for School of Language and Literature, University of Aberdeen (2013).
Screening of The Memorial, Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, Boston (2012).
Invited speaker, In the Birch Grove: filming at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and screening of In the Birch Grove, King's College London (2012).
Invited speaker, Recovering Meaning in an Iconic Urban Terrain and screening of One Market Day, at the FACT arts cinema, organized by the Centre for Architecture and Visual Arts, University of Liverpool (2011).
Invited speaker, Making Meaning from Memory, Film and Memory conference, University of Stirling (2011).
Invited speaker, The Fragility of Memory and screening of In Place of Death, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw (2011).
Invited speaker, Dachau/Munich as a Conceptual Urban Space and screening of In Place of Death, Center for Holocaust Studies, Institute of European Studies, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland (2011).
Plenary speaker, The Death of Six Million in Boston, and screening of The Memorial, Film, Philosophy and Death symposium, University of York (2011).
Invited speaker, Capturing Kafka: an observational glimpse, and screening of The Cemetery, University of York (2011).
Invited speaker, Frank Capra Fund Lecture, Dachau Today -- the concentration camp as tourist attraction and screening of In Place of Death, Caltech, Pasadena, CA (2011).
Invited speaker, The City Square as Stage: cum nimis absurdum and screening of The Ghetto, Caltech, Pasadena, CA (2011).
Invited speaker, Academic Vice-President’s Annual Lecture, Forgetting to Remember: the broken glass of historical assumptions and screening of In Place of Death, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia (2010).
Invited speaker, The Ghetto and the politics of place and screening of The Ghetto, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia (2010).
Invited speaker, Kristallnacht and Remembrance Day: a tale of two cousins, and screening of In Place of Death, St. Mary's University, Nova Scotia (2010).
Invited talk and screening of In Place of Death, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge (2010).
Invited talk and screening of In Place of Death, Divinity School, University of Cambridge (2010).
Invited talk and screening of In Place of Death, Architecture School, University of Cambridge (2010).
Invited talk, The New College: Erskine’s Utopian Design, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge (2010).
Invited talk, Clare Hall and Erskine’s Utopian Architecture, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge (2010).
Invited speaker, The Ghetto as City Symphony, Urban Cinematics, Cambridge University (2009).
Invited speaker, Bodies on Display: gender ambiguities and Riefenstahl’s Olympia, John Carlisle-Irving Lecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver (2009).
Invited speaker, In Time of Place and screening of In Place of Death, Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice, Dublin Institute of Technology (2009).
Invited speaker, A Survivor's Tale and Filming Contemporary Dachau, and screening of In Place of Death, University of Manchester (2008).
Invited speaker, When a Town is Called Dachau: urban reinvention and the stature of place and screening of In Place of Death, Manchester Architecture Research Centre (2008).
Speaker, When We Forget: Dachau and the displacement of memory andscreening of In Place of Death, Visible Memories conference, Syracuse University, NY (2008).
Invited Speaker, A Tale of Two Cities: Dachau Observed and screening of In Place of Death, City in Film conference, Liverpool University (2008).
Keynote Speaker, Without Voice, In Place of Death and screening of In Place of Death, Practice-as-research documentary symposium, Edinburgh College of Art (2008).
Invited Speaker, Sensory Applications in Observational Cinema and screening of Beautiful Dachau, Harvard University (2007).
Invited Speaker, Dachau’s Architectural and Urban Integration and screening of Beautiful Dachau, Brown University (2007)
Keynote Speaker, Beautiful Dachau: practice-as-research and screening of Beautiful Dachau, MEICAM Memory and Conflict conference, Swansea. (2007).
Speaker, Observing Contemporary Dachau on Film, Beyond Text conference, University of Manchester (2007)
Speaker, Imaging Urban Youth: New York City in the 1930s/40s, Photography and the City conference, University College Dublin (2006).
Invited Speaker, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North – the Sequel, Cambridge University Film Seminar, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge(2006).
Deviser and Chair, Organizing Committee, Visualising the City, international conference, University of Manchester (2005).
Speaker, The Moral Divide: Riefenstahl & De Sica’s Urban Terrain, Visualising the City conference, University of Manchester (2005).
Speaker, Black Narcisus as Primal Drama, Michael Powell Centenary Conference, University of Wales, Bangor (2005).
Co-deviser and co-chair, Film Studies and the Popular, symposium, University of Manchester (2004).
Speaker, The Interracial Romance and Translucence of the Popular, Film Studies and the Popular symposium, University of Manchester (2004).
Invited speaker, Erskine’s Arctic Utopia, Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies lecture series, University of British Columbia (2003).
Invited plenary speaker, Films Without Words, international conference, Seeing Things, British Council, Tours, France (2001).
Invited plenary speaker, The Documentary Image, and chair of a day session at the ethnographic film festival, Emerging Voices, Isola del Cinema, Rome (2001).
Invited panel chair, National Identities, Alfred Hitchcock Centenary international conference, New York University (1999).
Invited paper, Robert Flaherty as Documentary Activist, Visible Evidence conference, University of California at Los Angeles (1999).
Invited speaker, Images of the Inuit, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge (1999).
Two invited papers, 'Land of the Long Day' Revisited, and Relocating Eden, at the 10th Inuit Studies Conference, St. John's, Canada (1996).
Invited paper, Imaging the Ahiarmiut, conference held at The British Museum, Imagining the Arctic:the native photograph in Alaska, Canada and Greenland (1996).
Invited plenary speaker, Robert Flaherty's 'Nanook of the North', Media Studies Conference, University of Burgundy, Dijon (1995).
Panel participant in session on The docu-drama film, European Media Conference, Manchester University (1994).
Invited speaker, public lecture series, Canadian Inuit – a people's transition, the Royal Geographical Society, London (1994).
Invited speaker, Scott Polar Research Institute public lecture series, Utopia on trial:Canadian Royal Commission investigation of a relocation, University of Cambridge (1993).
Invited paper, Political moves:relocating Inuit to reaffirm sovereignty, at a conference on socio-cultural change in the Arctic at Aarhus University in Denmark (1993).
Presentation as a member of a working group on Environmental narratives in London organized by the U.S. Social Science Research Council (1992).
Invited paper, Canada and the Inuit:historical revisions and cultural divisions, the annual London Conference on Canadian Studies (1992).
Invited paper, Canadian Inuit relocation experiments, Scott Polar Research Institute (1992).
Panel participant, The Inuit, Resolute Bay and the government era, 8th Inuit Studies Conference in Quebec City, Canada (1992).
Invited speaker, the University Seminar on Northern Studies, Out in the cold:the legacy of Canadian Inuit relocation experiments, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (1992).
Invited speaker, The controversy over Canadian relocation experiments, Canadian Nordic Society, Ottawa (1992).
- FS1502 Introduction to American Cinema
- FS1503 Introduction to Film and the Cinematic Experience
- FS2003 Cinema and Modernity
- FS2007 Visualising Modernity
- FS2506 Cinema and Revolution
- FS2507 Visualising Revolution
- FS30IA The Real Thing: blurred boundaries in documentary and dramatic Film
- FS30/40GG Trapped on Film: the hero and the captivity narrative
- FS30IC Hearing the Visual: film music and sound production
- FS30/40IF Looking Up: filming a child's view
- FS35IB On Documentary: history, theory and practice
- FS35/45FD Cinematic Cities
- FS30GB/FS40GB Panoptic Digital Culture
- FS30/40IG The Narrative Within the Frame
- FS401A Documentary Film
- FS4506 Dissertation in Film and Visual Culture
- FS5012 Documentary and Visual Practice I
- FS5521 On Documentary
- FS5514 Realism on Film: documentary and the docu-drama
- FS5902 Dissertation in Film and Visual Culture