Universiteit Leiden

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Sara Polak

University Lecturer

Dr. S.A. Polak
+31 71 527 2142

Sara Polak is a University Lecturer at the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society.

More information about Sara Polak

Fields of interest

  • American studies
  • Modern English Literature
  • 19th-21st-century American literature
  • Memory studies
  • Presidential image-making
  • Digital media studies
  • Comics and political cartooning
  • Play and politics
  • Disability studies


My long-term research focus is on the cultural and media politics of image-making and memory-making of US presidents, and on presidents and their use of media in a broad sense.

My doctoral dissertation (with Peter Liebregts and Frans Willem Korsten) was on Franklin D. Roosevelt as a cultural icon in American memory. It included a Fulbright visiting fellowship at Yale University, with Jay Winter. My book, FDR in American Memory – Roosevelt and the Making of an Icon, appears with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2021.

In 2016-2017, I did a one-year NWO Rubicon postdoc at the Justus-Liebig Universität in Giessen, Germany, with Greta Olson, focused on the Ebola epidemic in US cultural memory on Twitter. This is both how I moved into social media research, and into studying Donald Trump, who was an avid Ebola tweeter, and during that year, became US president. This project led to two edited volumes, both to appear in Open Access in 2020/2021: Embodying Contagion: The Viropolitics of Horror and Desire in Contemporary Discourse (with Megen de Bruin-Molé and Sandra Becker, University of Wales Press), and Violence and Trolling on Social Media: History, Affect and Effects of Online Vitriol (with Daniel Trottier, Amsterdam University Press).

Currently, I am a research fellow on the NWO Project “Playing Politics: Media Platforms Making Worlds” with Sybille Lammes, Frans-Willem Korsten, Bram Ieven, Alex Gekker, and Frank Chouraqui doing research on Donald Trump’s social media communication and his use of what I call "cartoon logic".

Curriculum vitae

  • 2021-present   Research Fellow “Playing Politics: Media Platforms Making Worlds”
  • 2020-present   Program chair of the MA North American Studies; coordinator of the minor American Studies
  • 2015-present   University Lecturer in American Studies at Leiden University
  • 2010-2015      Lecturer in modern English Literature and PhD Researcher at Leiden University
  • 2014-2015      Six-month Fulbright Scholarship at Yale University
  • 2008-2010      Lecturer in American History at the University of Amsterdam
  • 2005-2007      Research Master in Literary Studies (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam
  • 2005-2007      B.Sc. Psychology at the University of Amsterdam
  • 2000-2003      BA Hons. English Literature at Cambridge University (UK)

Key publications

  • Embodying Contagion: The Viropolitics of Horror and Desire in Contemporary Discourse. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2021. Open Access. [https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/47586]. Co-editors: Megen de Bruin-Molé and Sandra Becker.
  • Violence and Trolling on Social Media: History, Affect and Effects of Online Vitriol. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020. Open Access. [https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/42883]. Co-editor: Daniel Trottier.
  • “Posting the Presidency: Trump’s Cartoon Politics in a Social Media Landscape” Media, Arts, and Law Review 22:4, 403-419, 2019.
  • “Using Museum Audio Guides in the Construction of Prosthetic Memory” (with Laura Bertens). Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies 17(1), 2019. [https://doi.org/10.5334/jcms.182]
  • Polak S.A. (8 December 2015), "This is Roosevelt's World" - FDR as a Cultural Icon in American Memory (PhD thesis. Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), Humanities, Leiden University). Supervisor(s): Liebregts P.T.M.G., Korsten F.W.A.

Teaching activities

  • American Comics Against the Code: Autobiography and Journalism in Graphic Novels, MA North American Studies, 2019, 2020, 2021.
  • Migration Matters: (Im)migration, Memory, and Identity in American Literature and Film, MA North American Studies, 2018, 2020, 2021.
  • Slavery and Memory in the Black Atlantic, minor American Studies, 2021.
  • Close-reading Comics/Comics at the Crossroads, 2nd year BA International Studies, 2019, 2020.
  • The Hegemon of the Western Hemisphere? Imagining the United States (3rd-year Elective, BA International Studies), 2015.
  • Culture of North America, 1st/2nd year BA International Studies – designer and lecturer: 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020.
  • Literature 6A: Contemporary Literatures in English (3rd-year, BA English), 2012, 2013, 2015.
  • Literature 5A: American Literature 1917-present (3rd-year, BA English), 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.
  • Literature 4A: The Age of Realism: American Literature 1865-1917 (2nd-year, BA English), 2016.
  • Literature 4B: Nineteenth Century British Literature (2nd-year, BA English), 2011, 2012, 2014.
  • Thesis supervision in North American Studies, Literary Studies, English and International Studies

Grants and honors

  • 2020: NWO Open Science, Open Access Book Grant for Embodying Contagion.
  • 2017: NWO-KIEM “Voices of Cultural Memory: Oral/Aural Storytelling in the Museum” – research project with the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, with Laura Bertens, Yra van Dijk, Anthonya Visser.
  • 2016: NWO Rubicon Scholarship for research at Justus-Liebig Universität Giessen, with Greta Olson.
  • 2014: Fulbright Scholarship for 6-month research fellowship at Yale University, with Jay Winter.
  • 2010: NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen, PhD Grant.

University Lecturer

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Centre for the Arts in Society
  • Moderne Engelstalige letterkunde

Work address

Arsenaalstraat 1
2311 CT Leiden
Room number B1.26



No relevant ancillary activities

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