Saint Louis University

Benjamin Looker, Ph.D.


Benjamin Looker, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of American Studies

(314) 977-3008

Adorjan Hall 112
3800 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108  

ON LEAVE FALL 2016        













Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University (2009)
M.A. and M.Phil. in American Studies, Yale University (2005 & 2006)
M.A. in Cities, Globalization, and Culture, Dept. of Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London (2001)
A.B. in Urban Studies and in Music, Washington University in St. Louis (2000)


Graduate Courses Taught:

ASTD 5000 – Perspectives in American Studies
ASTD 5700 – Metropolitan America
ASTD 5900 – The Practice of American Studies
ASTD 6300 – Jazz, Cities, & Social Movements
ASTD 6700 – From Satchmo to Strangelove: Cold War Cultural Politics and the "American Century" 

Undergraduate Courses Taught:

ASTD 3000 – American Decades: Culture of the Cold War, 1947–63
ASTD 3100 – Making the American City: Culture, Space, & 20th-century U.S. Urbanisms
ASTD 3200 – The Urban Crisis
ASTD 4960 – Senior Capstone

Teaching Recognitions:

  • Donald G. Brennan Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, SLU College of Arts & Sciences (2012)
  • Helen I. Mandeville Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Humanities Teaching, SLU College of Arts & Sciences (2014)
  • Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award, for St. Louis-area educators at all levels (2014)
  • Donald G. Brennan Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, SLU College of Arts & Sciences (2016)


Ben works in the areas of twentieth-century urban social and cultural studies, jazz history, and postwar U.S. cultural history. His book A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America, published in 2015, examines competing ways in which the city neighborhood has been imagined in U.S. arts, popular culture, and political discourse from World War II to the Reagan era. He is the author of articles and reviews on urban cultural history, as well as the 2004 book "Point from which creation begins": The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis, which narrates the history of a radical and influential arts collective of the 1960s. 


Ben serves on the Advisory Board for the university's Micah Program and the interdepartmental Urban Workshop Team, and as board member and secretary for the campus's AAUP chapter. He also represents the American Studies Department as board member for the Mid-America American Studies Association (MAASA), serving as MAASA president in 2015–16. In the past, he has been a member of the Faculty Council of the College of Arts & Sciences (2010–12, 2015–16), the SLU Mellon Faculty Development Grants Selection Committee (2009–11), the Des Peres Hall Learning Studio Advisory Committee (2010), and three departmental faculty search committees. Before joining SLU, he organized the two-day symposium and concert series "Music and Musicians of the Black Artists' Group in St. Louis" (2006), and he served as a volunteer union organizer for the Graduate Employees & Students Organization (GESO) at Yale University. Ben currently organizes an irregular departmental series of lectures, walks, and panels on local urban spaces and culture.


Book: A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). 

  • Recipient, 2016 Lawrence W. Levine Award (Organization of American Historians), for "best book in American cultural history" in the previous year
  • Co-recipient, 2016 Kenneth Jackson Award (Urban History Association), for "best book in North American Urban History" in the previous year

Book: "Point from which Creation Begins": The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2004). [Reviewed in J. American History, J. African American History, J. Royal Musical Association, Choice,, and Mo. Historical Review.]

Article: "Visions of Autonomy: The New Left and the Neighborhood Government Movement of the 1970s," Journal of Urban History 38, no. 3 (May 2012): 577–598.

Article: "Microcosms of Democracy: Imagining the City Neighborhood in World War II–Era America," Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (December 2010): 351–378.

Review essay: "Revisiting City and Race," Canadian Review of American Studies 33, no. 2 (2003): 171–183.

Essay: "Exhibiting Imperial London: Empire and the City in Late Victorian and Edwardian Guidebooks," Critical Urban Studies: Occasional Papers Series (London: Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College, 2002).

Article: "‘Poets of Action': The St. Louis Black Artists' Group, 1968–1972," Gateway-Heritage: The Quarterly Journal of the Missouri Historical Society 22, no. 1 (Summer 2001): 16–27.

Liner notes: Liner-note essay for LP reissue of Black Artists Group, In Paris, Aries 1973 (Berlin: Rank & File Records, March 2011).

Press: Contributor of articles on urban spaces, academic labor, and jazz for St. Louis–area media outlets including the Post-Dispatch, Metropolis, Marquis, The Commonspace, and others, 2000–2005.

Individual reviews: Review of Groping toward Democracy: African American Social Welfare Reform in St. Louis, 1910–1949, by Priscilla A. Dowden-White, Missouri Historical Review 106, no. 4 (May 2012): 245–246. Review of Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown, by Nayan Shah, Gateway-Heritage 23, no. 3 (Winter 2002/03): 53. Review of Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline, by Dora Apel, Michigan Historical Review 42, no. 2 (forthcoming Fall 2016).

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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