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Benjamin Looker, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
American Studies


Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University (2009)
M.A. and M.Phil. in American Studies, Yale University (2005 and 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)

Practice Areas


Looker’s research focuses on areas including twentieth-century urban studies and representation, jazz and other American musics, and the politics of culture in the postwar United States. His most recent book, A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America, was published by the University of Chicago Press and received four book prizes from academic professional organizations. The work 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.

Other past and in-progress projects in urban cultural studies examine topics such as arts collectives of the 1960s, postwar social movements, the Great Society aesthetic and imaginary, Filipino theatre and diasporic politics in North America, and the function of urban textual genres such as city guidebooks.


Since arriving at SLU, Looker has designed and offered courses on topics including the postwar U.S. city, urban representation and culture, the politics of culture in the early Cold War era, American Studies theory and method, jazz studies, and cultural studies practice. From 2017 to 2021, he served as the department’s faculty internship supervisor.

At the graduate level, Looker’s teaching has included the introductory theory seminar Perspectives in American Studies (ASTD 5000); a biennial urban history seminar titled Metropolitan America (ASTD 5700); the department’s professional development workshop The Practice of American Studies (ASTD 5900); and, on an intermittent basis, topic-oriented seminars such as Jazz, Cities, and Social Movements (ASTD 6300); Cold War Cultural Politics and the “American Century” (ASTD 6700); and The Cultural Studies Movement: Origins and Contemporary Practice (ASTD 6250).

For undergraduates, Looker from 2010 to 2021 led the department’s annual urban-studies lecture course, The Urban Crisis (ASTD 3200), which typically enrolls 70–85 students per offering and is integrated with SLU’s first-year Learning Community experience. His smaller courses have included Intro to American Culture: Myths, Movements, and Methods (ASTD 1000); Making the American City (ASTD 3100); American Decades: U.S. Culture and the Cold War (ASTD 3000); and the senior-thesis seminar for American Studies majors (ASTD 4960). Looker is currently developing a new undergraduate seminar on the intersections of culture and politics during the Reagan era.

Publications and Media Placements


Co-editor (with Amanda L. Izzo): Left in the Midwest: St. Louis Progressive Activism in the 1960s and 1970s (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2022).

A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). [Reviewed in J. Historical Geography, J. American History, IN Magazine of History, Choice, History of Education Quarterly, J. Urban History, American Historical Review.]

"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.]

Selected Articles and Essays

"Neighbourhood Exceptionalism and Racial Liberalism in the Great Society City: Integration as Civic Showpiece at St. Louis' LaClede Town," Urban History 49, No. 2 (May 2022): 401–434.

"Staging Diaspora, Dramatizing Activism: Fashioning a Progressive Filipino Canadian Theatre in Toronto, 1974–2001," Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue d'études canadiennes 53, No. 2 (Spring 2019): 423–465.

"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.

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

"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).

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


Book reviews for publications including American Historical Review, Canadian Review of American Studies, Michigan Historical Review, Missouri Historical Review, and Gateway-Heritage.

Honors and Awards

  • Recipient, 2020 Dyos Prize (Urban History, Cambridge University Press) for "best article submitted to the Urban History journal" that calendar year
  • Recipient, 2020 Richard Plant Award (Canadian Association for Theatre Research), for “best English-language article on a Canadian theatre- or performance-related topic"
  • 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

  • Finalist, 2016 Jane Jacobs Urban Communication Book Award (Urban Communication Foundation)
  • Honorable Mention, 2020 Canadian Studies Network (CSN) award competition for previous year's best article in the Journal of Canadian Studies

Teaching Recognitions

  • Donald G. Brennan Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, SLU College of Arts and Sciences (2016)

  • Helen I. Mandeville Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Humanities Teaching, SLU College of Arts and Sciences (2014)

  • Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award, for St. Louis–area educators at all levels (2014)

  • Donald G. Brennan Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, SLU College of Arts and Sciences (2012)

Professional Organizations and Associations

From 2010 to 2021, Looker filled the SLU American Studies department’s permanent faculty seat on the board of the Mid-America American Studies Association (MAASA), serving as MAASA president in 2015–16. He has been a peer reviewer for American Quarterly, Urban History, the Journal of Urban History, Missouri Historical Review, the University of Chicago Press, Indiana University Press, Temple University Press, and Routledge. Other professional service includes membership on prize and grant committees for the Urban History Association, the State Historical Society of Missouri, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Community Work and Service

At SLU, Looker has served on the Micah Program advisory board, the Diversity and Global Citizenship learning community’s faculty affiliates committee, and the Graduate Academic Affairs Committee (GAAC) as humanities representative. Looker organizes an irregular departmental series of lectures, walks, and panels on local urban spaces and culture.

Looker is a past member of the Arts and Sciences Faculty Council, the SLU Mellon grants selection committee, the Des Peres Hall Learning Studio advisory committee, and three departmental faculty search committees. From 2013 to 2018, he was board member and secretary for the campus AAUP chapter. Regular on-campus speaking includes invited talks for groups including the McNair Scholars Program, the Micah Program, the Black Student Alliance, the SLU Family Medicine residents’ program, U-101 classes, the Campus Ministry Immersion Program, the Global and Local Social Justice Program, and the American History Forum.

In the wider St. Louis community, Looker has shared research on city culture, urban spaces, and urban arts in lectures and interviews for the St. Louis Public Library, Jazz at the Bistro, the Luminary Gallery, the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU-FM), and KDHX-FM community radio. Before joining SLU, Looker organized the two-day symposium and concert series "Music and Musicians of the Black Artists' Group in St. Louis" (2006)—named the year’s Best Local Music History Event by the Riverfront Times—and he served as a volunteer union organizer for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) at Yale University.