Sharon Oster

Professor, English and Faculty Advisor, University of Redlands Hillel
English Department

Sharon Oster

Education

Ph. D., English, University of California, Los Angeles

M.A., English, University of California, Los Angeles

M.A., Comparative Literature, University of California, Los Angeles

B.A., English, University of Michigan

Contact

Hall of Letters 210
P: 909.748.8585
E: sharon_oster@redlands.edu

Sharon Oster

Currently professor of English at the University of Redlands, I received my Ph.D. in English and M.A. degrees in English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, and a B.A. in English at the University of Michigan. Before joining the U of R faculty, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Irvine, and Visiting Lecturer at UCLA. I have been a repeated Fellow at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.), where I have researched oral and written Holocaust testimonies; strategies in Holocaust pedagogies; piloted the Mandel Center’s digital teaching resource, “Experiencing History”; and in June 2017, I participated in a research workshop, “Photography of Atrocity.” In 2019 I was a Fellow at the Holocaust Education Foundation Summer Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization at Northwestern University.

RESEARCH

My research interests lie in American literary realism, the novel, memory studies, American Jewish literature, and Holocaust studies. My book, No Place in Time: The Hebraic Myth in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Wayne State University Press, 2018), traces the prevalence of the “Hebraic myth” in nineteenth-century fiction, journalism and poetry. This “philosemitic” trope of the noble biblical “Hebrew” has long buttressed Protestant providential narratives as a metaphor for the pre-Christian past, according to Protestant typology. The Hebraic myth, however, renders the Jew an anachronistic, atavistic throwback, an expressly un-modern figure. Confronting the modern “Jew” as part of a social, national “Jewish Problem”—a figure of religious or “racial” difference often subject to racist stereotypes—realist writers like Henry James, Edith Wharton, Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska and others struggled to write the “Jew” in time. I show how an understanding of the Jewish place in American literature is incomplete without an account of how, facing the upheavals of modernity, these writers reconfigured a philosemitic myth that imagined Jews outside of time by figuratively placing them in it, as guarantors of a promising American future.

My current book project reveals the ethical and aesthetic stakes embedded in the concept of the Muselmann so frequently referenced in Holocaust literature and visual culture, and places that figure at the center of Holocaust memory. Tentatively titled Living Death: Rethinking the Muselmann in Holocaust Literature and Visual Culture, this project challenges widespread assumptions about the term’s stability and coherence based on by Primo Levi and Giorgio Agamben. Drawing on range of textual and visual sources, I show that the term “Muselmänner” (plural)—understood as those at the bottom of the concentration camp hierarchy and fated to die—was actually for many a temporary condition, particularly for those who claimed to have been Muselmänner yet survived. As a trope in post-Holocaust literature, the “Muselmann” thus tells us more than we realize about concentration camp suffering—conceptually, historically, experientially, and aesthetically—but as a male-gendered term, it reveals less about the concentration camp experiences of women. Living Death also, therefore, provides a long overdue study of what we might call the “female Muselmann.” This project reads the “Muselmann” critically, to show the overlooked complexities of concentration camp experience, and the ways in which Muselmänner-figures and images in survivor accounts, liberation photography, film, and survivor visual art, have become iconic, at times problematic, literary and visual tropes, central to Holocaust memory. Portions of this project have been published in Prooftexts or are forthcoming in The Journal of Holocaust Research and Lessons and Legacies, Vol. XIII.

In addition to teaching a wide range of Jewish and American literatures, I engage ongoing work in the Digital Humanities. With support from the USHMM Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies and the University of Redlands Center for Spatial Studies, I have developed an interdisciplinary GIS mapping project, “Cartographies of Suffering: Mapping Holocaust Accounts,” that teaches students to create digital layered ESRI Storymaps in order to explore and map individual Holocaust survivor accounts on a collective geographical scale.

Degrees Held

Ph. D., English, University of California, Los Angeles

M.A., English, University of California, Los Angeles

M.A., Comparative Literature, University of California, Los Angeles

B.A., English, University of Michigan

Experience

MLA Forum Executive Committee in Languages, Literatures, and Cultures: Jewish American, 2017-2022.

Book Manuscript Reviewer, SUNY Press, 2017-present; Northwestern University Press, 2015-present; Journal Manuscript Reviewer, Shofar, 2019-present; English Language Notes, 2018-present; Contemporary Literature, 2013-present; Literature Compass, Blackwell Publishing, 2009-present.

Member, Southern California Americanist Group (SCAG), San Marino, CA (2004-); co-Convener (2007-2010).

Chair, Department of English, U of R (July 2013-July 2016); Faculty Advisor, Hillel, U of R (2006-); General Education Committee, U of R (2019); Spatial Studies Advisory, U of R (2019); Humanities Advisory Board, U of R (2019, 2015); Interfaith Council, U of R (Spring 2019); Salzburg Advisory, U of R (Fall 2019); Johnston APC, U of R (2018-2019); Grievance Committee, U of R (2014-15); First Year Experience (General Education revision) Task Force, U of R (2013-14); Co-Advisor, Sigma Tau Delta, English Honor Society, U of R (2010-11); Personnel Policies Committee, U of R (2007-09); Co-Chair (2008-09); Dean’s Advisory, U of R (2007-09); Steering Committee, U of R (2008-09); Nominating Committee, U of R (2008-09).

Visiting Lecturer in English, University of California, Los Angeles, 2004-05; University of Southern California, Fall 2004.

Courses Offered

Senior Capstone Seminar in English

American Jewish Literature

Holocaust Graphic Narratives

Representing the Holocaust: Reading, Writing, Mapping

First Year Seminar: “Love Stinks. (Yeah, yeah).”

“Rags to Riches”: Narratives in the Gilded Age (American Literature, 1865-1914)

The Origins of Totalitarianism: A Survival Guide

History of Literacy Criticism and Theory

Autobiography and Graphic Narrative

Literature of the Americas

Immigrant Literature

Coming of Age in the Gilded Age

Henry James

Mark Twain

Reading the 1960s

Satire

Critical Reading

Publications

Books

No Place in Time: The Hebraic Myth in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, forthcoming, Wayne State University Press, Fall 2018.

Articles, Book Chapters, Review Essays

“Emma Lazarus’ Cosmopolitanism,” in American Literature in Transition, Vol. IV, 1876-1910, ed. Lindsay Reckson, in series American Literature in Transition: The Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Cody Marrs, Cambridge UP, forthcoming 2021.

“The Female Muselmann in Nazi Concentration Camp Discourse,” The Journal of Holocaust Research, special issue: “Rethinking the Muselmann: Narratives, Concepts and Social Realities.” Guest editors, Dennis Bock and Michael Becker, forthcoming 2020.

Book review of Textual Silence: Unreadability and the Holocaust, by Jessica Lang (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2017), MELUS, forthcoming 2020.

“The Muselmann Liberated: Impossible Metaphors in Holocaust Literature and Photography,” Lessons and Legacies XIII, eds. Simone Gigliotti and Tim Cole, Northwestern UP, forthcoming 2020.

“Holocaust Shoes: Metonymy, Matter, Memory,” Palgrave Handbook of Holocaust Literature and Culture, eds. Victoria Aarons and Phyllis Lassner (Palgrave, 2020).

“Impossible Metaphors of Holocaust Representation: The Muselmann,” Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, Volume 34, Issue 3 (Fall 2014): 302-48.

“The Pupil,” “Anti-Semitism,” “The Dreyfus Affair,” in Critical Companion to Henry James: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Eds. Kendall Johnson and Eric Haralson. Clearmark Books, Facts on File (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009).

“The Shop of Curiosities: Henry James, ‘the Jew,’ and the Production of Value.” English Literary History 75.4 (Winter 2008): 963-992.

Book review: American Naturalism and the Jews, by Donald Pizer (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2008), American Jewish History 94.4 (Winter 2009).

“‘The Erotics of Auschwitz': Coming of Age in The Painted Bird and Sophie's Choice.” In Witnessing the Disaster: Essays on Representation and the Holocaust, eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Richard Glejzer (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003).



Selected Conference Presentations and Panels

“The Secret Life of Holocaust Shoes,” MLA Annual Convention, Seattle, WA, January 9, 2020.

Panel Chair, “Visualizing Holocaust Narratives and Memory in Graphic Memoir, Film, and Photography, AJS, San Diego, CA, December 15, 2019.

“Emma Lazarus’s Cosmopolitanism,” JAHLIT, South Beach, FL. November 12, 2019.

“Cartographies of Suffering: Mapping Holocaust Testimonies,” UCGIS, Dupont Hotel, Washington, D.C., June 10-13, 2019.

“The “Hebraic Myth” and Christian Typology in American Literature,” Western Jewish Studies Association, Cal State San Bernardino, Palm Desert, CA, May 5, 2019.

“A Figure Out of Time: The “Hebraic Myth” and Christian Typology in American Literature,” Jewish American and Holocaust Literature Symposium (JAHLIT), South Beach, FL, November 12, 2018.

“Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: Shoes, Matter, Memory,” Lessons and Legacies, Bi-Annual Conference of the Holocaust Education Foundation, Washington U, St. Louis, MO, November 2, 2018.

“Auschwitz Doubles: The Female Muselmann?” Panel Chair and Presenter, Western Jewish Studies Association, San Antonio, TX, March 11, 2018.

“A Figure Out of Time: The “Hebraic Myth” and Christian Typology in American Literature,” University of Redlands Faculty Forum, Redlands, CA, Jan. 25, 2018.

“Necropolitical Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann in Liberation Photography and Postwar Visual Culture,” Jewish American and Holocaust Literature Symposium (JAHLIT), South Beach, Florida, November 14, 2017.

“A Figure Out of Time: The “Hebraic Myth” and Christian Typology,” SCAG, Southern California Americanist Group, The Huntington Library, June 2, 2017.

“The Melting Pot and Progressive Reform: Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska and the Jewish American Future,” Western Jewish Studies Association, Claremont, CA, March 26-27, 2017.

“Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann,” Panel Author and Presenter, MLA, Philadelphia, PA, Jan. 5-8, 2017.

“Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann,” Lessons and Legacies XIV, Bi-Annual Conference of the Holocaust Education Foundation, Claremont, CA, Nov. 3-6, 2016.

“The Melting Pot and Progressive Reform: Anzia Yezierska and the Jewish American Future,” ALA Symposium, The American Short Story: An Expansion of the Genre, Savannah, GA, Oct. 20-22, 2016.

Roundtable Chair: “Making Our Way in the World Today: Early-Career Scholars, Community, Publicity,” MLA Annual Convention, Austin, Texas, January 9, 2016.

Invited Panel Chair, Respondent, and Roundtable Participant: Thinking Beyond the Canon: New Themes and Approaches to Jewish Studies, UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, March 8-9, 2015.

"Mapping Holocaust Memoirs: Technology, Ethics and Pedagogy, Center for Spatial Studies, University of Redlands, November 17, 2014.

"Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann," ARC, Americanist Research Colloquium, UCLA, October 16, 2014.

"Borrowed Time: Gambling, Chance, and Naturalist Fictions of Decline in The House of Mirth," SCAG, Southern California Americanist Group, The Huntington Library, October 3, 2014.

"A Cartography of Suffering?: Mapping Holocaust Testimony," American Comparative Literature Association, New York University, March 20-23, 2014.

"Mapping Holocaust Memoirs: Technology, Ethics and Pedagogy," ESRI Educational GIS Conference, San Diego, July 6-9, 2013.

Seminar Author, Co-Chair: "Mapping Oppression: Translating Literary and Geographical Sites of Terror"; Presenter: "Holocaust Memoirs: Reading, Writing, Mapping," ACLA, Toronto, Canada, April 4-7, 2013.

Panel Author, Organizer: "The Aesthetics of Time in American Literary Realism"; MLA, Los Angeles, CA, January 6-9, 2011.

Invited lecture: "Figuring the Muselmann: The Object Matter of Holocaust Representation," Aesthetics After the Holocaust, UCLA, February 7-8, 2010.

Panel Author, Organizer: "Religious Aesthetics in Nineteenth Century American Literature: A Comparative Approach"; Presenter: "A Figure Out of Time: The Noble Hebrew and Christian Typology in American Literature," MLA, Philadelphia, PA, December 27-30, 2009.

Panel Chair: "Race and Nation"; Presenter: "Lost in Translation: Strands of Jewishness in ‘The Pupil,'" International Conference of the Henry James Society Newport, RI, July 9-16, 2008.

Seminar Co-Chair: "Difficult Journeys: Texts That Challenge"; Presenter: "Why Teach Holocaust Texts?" ACLA, Long Beach, CA, April 26, 2008.

Panel Chair: "Beauty, Peace, War," Historical Formalism, or Aesthetics in American Literary History, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, May 18-19, 2007.

"‘The New Star of Realism': Immigrant Nostalgia and Messianic Time in Abraham Cahan's The Imported Bridegroom," MLA, Philadelphia, PA, December 27, 2006.

Awards and Honors

University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grants, 2016-2021.

Holocaust Education Foundation Fellowship, Summer Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization, Northwestern University, June 2019.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C., Research Workshop Fellowship, “Photography of Atrocity,” June 2017.

University of Redlands, Spatial Community of Practice Grant, 2015.

University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2014-15.

USHMM Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C., Fellowship, "Teaching the Holocaust Digitally: A Source Study Approach," 2014.

University of Redlands, LENS Faculty Development Grant, 2014.

University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2013.

University of Redlands, W. M. Keck Foundation LENS Faculty Fellowship in Spatial Learning, 2012.

University of Redlands, Nominated, Graves Award, 2011.

USHMM Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D. C., Jack and Anita Hess Seminar for Faculty, Jan. 3-7, 2011.

University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2007-08, 2009-10

University of California, Irvine, Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2003-04

UCLA, Alfred E. Longueil Dissertation Fellowship, 2002-03

UCLA, Chancellor's Dissertation Fellowship, 2001-02

UCLA, Philip and Ada Siff Educational Foundation Graduate Fellowship, (declined), 2002

UCLA, College of Letters and Science Charles E. and Sue K. Young Graduate Student of the Year Award, 2001.

Professional Affiliations

Modern Language Association (MLA)

Association of Jewish Studies (AJS)

Western Jewish Studies Association (WJSA)

American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)

Southern California Americanist Group (SCAG)

Huntington Library, Manuscript Reader