Astrid Oesmann

WEBSITE(S)| German Studies | Jewish Studies | European Studies

Astrid Oesmann studied German Literature and Literary Theory at the Universität Hamburg, Germany, at The Johns Hopkins University, and at Columbia University. At Rice, she serves as Program Advisor for German Studies and she is also a faculty affiliate of Jewish Studies.

Oesmann is the author of Staging History (2005), which argues that Bertolt Brecht’s theater opens experimental spaces to examine political ideology rather than simply representing it. A well-known scholar of Brecht, she is also on the editorial board of the Brecht Yearbook.

Currently, Oesmann is completing a book-length study, Masks, Politics, and the European Avant-garde, which focuses on the use of masks in avant-garde theater in moments of historical and social crisis during and after World War I. Another research project concerns memory formation. Specifically, she is interested in how different aspects of Holocaust history influenced the philosophical writings of Theodor W. Adorno and Siegfried Kracauer. Expanding on her work on Adorno and Brecht, she examines how the Holocaust has altered our reception and perception of tragedy.

Her research and teaching interests include questions of how historical trauma and radical political change are represented in literature, performance, film, and art.

Selected Publications

1. Books and Edited Volumes

  • Ed. with Matthias Rothe, Brecht und das Fragment (Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag, 2020).
  • Staging History: Brecht’s Social Concepts of Ideology (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2005).

2. Journal Articles and Book Chapters

  • “From Aesthetics to History: Brecht’s Encounter with Mei Lan-fang and Gestural Theatre,” The Brecht Yearbook 45 (2020).
  • “Inherent Estrangement: Brecht’s Reading of Shakespeare’s Tragedies,” The Brecht Yearbook 42 (2017), 20-32.
  • “Tragedy Out of Joint: Bertolt Brecht’s and Heiner Müller’s Interaction with a Genre,” The Brecht Yearbook 39 (2015), 168-87.
  • “Sebald’s Melancholic Method: Writing as Ethical Memory in Sebald’s Austerlitz,” Monatshefte 106 (2014), 452-71.
  • “‘Regeln für M.S.’ Von der Sterbelehre zur Überlebenskunst,” in Sabine Kebir (ed.), “Ich wohne fast so hoch wie er”: Margarete Steffin und Bertolt Brecht (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2008), 14-22.
  • “Disposition: From Film Theory to Human Action,” in Temenuga Trifonova (ed.), European Fim Theory (London: Routledge, 2009), 180-91
  • Nathan der Weise: Suffering Lessing’s ‘Erziehung,’” The Germanic Review 74/2 (Spring 1999), 131-45.
  • “Brecht’s Trommeln in der Nacht: The Theatrical Destruction of Subjectivity and History,” The German Quarterly 70/2 (Spring 1997), 136-51.

Recent Courses

  • GERM 410 The Politics of German Film
  • GERM 320 20th-Century German Thought
  • GERM 301 Third Year German I
  • FWIS 124 Witnessing the Holocaust

Research Areas

20th-Century Literature and Theater; Critical Theory; Aesthetics; Philosophy of History


PhD, Columbia University


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