Kathy Peiss

Wolf Humanities Center Penn Faculty Fellow

20172018 Forum on Afterlives

Kathy Peiss

Nichols Professor of American History, University of Pennsylvania

Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research and teaching interests center on the 20th century United States and the making of modern culture.  Her work includes studies of the history of women, gender, and sexuality; beauty and style; mass consumption, leisure, and everyday life; and popular and print culture.  She is the author of Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986), Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998), and Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (2011).  She is currently completing a history of collecting missions carried on by American librarians, archivists, intelligence agents, and military personnel in the World War II era, a project spurred by her discovery of the hidden life of a family member. 


Looted Jewish Books, Nazi Collections, and their American Afterlives

The University of Pennsylvania libraries hold two unusual sets of books: a collection of German imprints with Nazi and militaristic content, and several hundred volumes of Judaica looted by Nazis in Germany and German-occupied countries. These collections, so different in their content, are the material manifestations of an entangled and largely hidden history, part of the “unfinished business” of World War II. My project examines the ‘afterlives’ of these books: their journey to the United States, their quiet existence in research libraries punctuated by occasional controversy, and their sudden visibility at the end of the 20th century, as the work of Holocaust memory and asset claims made them objects of attention and inquiry.