In Memoriam: Thomas Elsaesser

December 05, 2019
Thomas Elsaesser

Dear School of the Arts Faculty, Staff and Students: 

We are sad to announce the passing of Professor Thomas Elsaesser, Visiting Professor since 2013 in Film and Media Studies. An absolutely seminal scholar in the field that he helped to found, Thomas Elsaesser helped to define film theory, classical and post-classical Hollywood, German film history, melodrama, silent cinema, digital cinema, and cinema and philosophy. Professor Emeritus from the Department of Media and Culture which he founded at the University of Amsterdam, Thomas Elsaesser continued after his retirement to be an amazingly prolific scholar in a career spanning fifty years. After retirement he published The Persistence of Hollywood (Routledge, 2012), German Cinema—Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 (Routledge, 2013), and Film Theory—An Introduction through the Senses (Routledge, 2015) (with Malte Hagener). Always early to identify and formulate trends, he developed a distinctive approach to media archaeology, most notably in his book Film History as Media Archaeology (Amsterdam Press, 2016). Last year he published European Cinema and Continental Philosophy: Film as Thought Experiment (Bloomsbury, 2018), profoundly exploring the meeting between European thinkers and cinema as “thought.”

On November 28 of this year Professor Elsaesser delivered his last lecture--the Keynote Address at the “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt was the home of his architect grandfather, Martin Elsaesser, one of the figures featured in Elsaesser’s fascinating The Sun Island (2017), a quasi-biographical documentary which has been screened worldwide at conferences and festivals. Current and former students will recall Professor Elsaesser's enormous intellectual generosity and we will all miss him immensely.


Carol Becker

Professor of the Arts

Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts