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
  • Disability studies


My central research focus is how the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves shape who we are, as individuals and as groups. I am particularly intrigued by the role of memory and history in the creation of identity: how do we negotiate the interface between History and personal narratives and family histories?

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. A book, "This is Roosevelt’s World" - FDR as an Icon in American Memory, based on my dissertation will, hopefully, appear with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2021.

Following my PhD, I did a one-year NWO Rubicon postdoc at the Justus-Liebig Universität in Giessen, Germany, with Greta Olson. This project focused on the Ebola epidemic in, and as a trigger for, 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 History, Affect and Effects of Violence and Trolling on Social Media: Online Vitriol (with Daniel Trottier, Amsterdam University Press).

I am doing research on Donald Trump’s media communication and his use of what I call "cartoon logic".

Curriculum vitae

  • 2015-present  Assistant professor of 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

  • “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]
  • “And with all she lived with casual unawareness of her value to civilization” – Close-reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s Autofabrication – European Journal of American Studies Spring, 2017. [https://ejas.revues.org/11926]
  • 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.
  • Does My Cock Still Work? – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Prosthetic Masculinity in FDR American Badass!” – Article in The Mid-Atlantic Almanack vol. 23, 2014, 59-75.

Teaching activities

  • American Comics Against the Code: Autobiography and Journalism in Graphic Novels, MA North American Studies, 2019, 2020.
  • Migration Matters: (Im)migration, Memory, and Identity in American Literature and Film, MA North American Studies, 2018, 2020.
  • 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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