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? In that context I have written life narratives based on interviews with (usually elderly) people, and worked on oral history projects.

My doctoral dissertation was on Franklin D. Roosevelt as a cultural icon in American memory. It analyzes FDR’s construction as an icon of America from two perspectives: first of the historical leader who autonomously fabricated his public image, consistently aligning himself with modernity and future-proof narratives and modes of rhetoric; and second, from the vantage-point of the early twenty-first century, looking at representations and negotiations of the FDR icon in cultural memory. Thus the first half of my dissertation is a cultural history of how FDR created and managed his own public image, and the second is a cultural analysis of recent FDR representations in movies, documentaries, novels, popular biographies, museums and memorials. My conclusion is that FDR’s success at autofabricating himself as an icon into the future, is due to his positioning as a highly flexible entity. As such he continues to function as a vessel for a wide range of cultural narratives, so that he remains relevant as an icon beyond his own historical context.

I am currently moving on to research about other, less visible and ethically more problematic forms of memory than the (mostly celebratory) remembrance of iconic presidents.

Curriculum Vitae

  • 2015-present   Assistant professor of American Studies at Leiden Univerity
  • 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
  • 2008-2011      Founder and Owner of DesTijds Levensverhalen
  • 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

  • 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 (peer reviewed).
  • Don’t Hyde FDR’s Source of Strength! – Franklin Roosevelt’s Disability in American Memory” – Article in Geschiedenis Magazine (Uitgeverij Verloren, January 2015).
  • “Prosthetic Memories of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Infantile Paralysis as Narrative Embodiments for Traumatic American War Memory” – Chapter in Mapping Generations of Memory in American Trauma Narratives (eds. Mihaela Precup & Dana Mihailescu) – Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, 265-284.
  • Introduction to Meerstemmig Verleden, Persoonlijke verhalen over het Nederlandse slavernijverleden (2011), 9-19. With Paul Knevel and Sara Tilstra.
  • Meerstemmig Verleden, Persoonlijke verhalen over het Nederlandse slavernijverleden. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2011. Oral history of memories of Dutch slavery history. Interviewer and editor with Paul Knevel and Sara Tilstra.

Teaching activities

2010-2016, Leiden University

  • The Hegemon of the Western Hemisphere? Imagining the United States (3rd-year Elective, BA International Studies)
  • Culture of North America (2nd-year, BA International Studies)
  • Literature 6A: Contemporary Literatures in English (3rd-year, BA English)
  • Literature 5A: American Literature 1917-present (3rd-year, BA English)
  • Literature 4A: The Age of Realism: American Literature 1865-1917 (2nd-year, BA English)
  • Literature 4B: Nineteenth Century British Literature (2nd-year, BA English)
  • Thesis supervision in English and International Studies

2008-2010, University of Amsterdam

  • Survey Course in American History
  • A Rendezvous with Destiny: Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1882-1945 (history and memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the 1930s and 1940s in popular culture)
  • “Yes We Can!” The American Dream in the 21st Century

Grants and honors

  • 2014: Fulbright Scholarship for 6-month research fellowship with Jay Winter, Yale University
  • 2013: De Wereld Leert Door, research presentation on Dutch national television (in Dutch) ( www.dewerelddraaitdoor.vara.nl/media/215981)
  • 2010: NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen, PhD Grant
  • 2010: Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds publication grant for Meerstemmig Verleden
  • 2009: Guest editor of Biografie Bulletin



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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