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Benjamin Looker, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
American Studies

Courses Taught

ASTD 3000: American Decades: Culture of the Cold War, 1947–63; ASTD 3100: Making the American City: Culture, Space and 20th-century U.S. Urbanisms; ASTD 3200: The Urban Crisis ASTD; 4960: Senior Capstone; ASTD 5000: Perspectives in American Studies; ASTD 5700: Metropolitan America; ASTD 5900: The Practice of American Studies; ASTD 6300: Jazz, Cities and Social Movements; ASTD 6700: From Satchmo to Strangelove: Cold War Cultural Politics and the "American Century"; ASTD 6930: The Cultural Studies Movement: Origins and Contemporary Practice


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)

Research Interests

Looker 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.

In earlier work on urban cultural history and representation, Looker has explored topics including arts collectives of the 1960s, post-war social movements and the role of urban cultural texts such as city guidebooks.

Publications and Media Placements


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

"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.]

Articles and Essays
"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.

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

"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 & File Records, March 2011).


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 (Fall 2016): 97–98.

Honors and Awards

A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America

  • Recipient, 2016 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize (American Studies Association), for "best-published book in American Studies" from 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

  • Finalist, 2016 Jane Jacobs Urban Communication Book Award (Urban Communication Foundation)

Teaching Recognitions

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

  • 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 Mentoring, SLU College of Arts and Sciences (2016)

Professional Organizations and Associations

Looker represents the Department of American Studies as a board member for the Mid-America American Studies Association, serving as MAASA president in 2015–16.

Community Work and Service

Looker serves on the advisory board for Saint Louis University's Micah Program and the interdepartmental Urban Workshop Team. He is also a board member and secretary for the campus AAUP chapter.

He is a past member of the Faculty Council of the College of Arts and 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, Looker 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 and Students Organization (GESO) at Yale University.

Looker  currently organizes an irregular departmental series of lectures, walks and panels on local urban spaces and culture.