Alena J. Williams received her PhD in 2014 in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University with a dissertation on the archaeology of expanded cinema practices. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, where she teaches art history as well as media history and theory. Her work examines experimentation in modern visual culture, theories of modernity, and the epistemology of the image with a long-range view across the twentieth century.
At the MPIWG, she is affiliated with Department II where she is currently working on her next book project, The Electric Modern: Modernity, Labor, and the Visual Archive, 1883-1933, on the early image practices of the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft. Diverging from existing historical accounts of the AEG, this project closely analyzes the company’s archive of photographs and films, tracing its rationalist drive to depict “meaningful” work by giving abstract scientific concepts, research, and inventions a visible form. With a focus on the decades at the turn of the twentieth century, it examines the economy of work within modern visual culture when experimental and laboratory work double-tasked as commercial imagery, and visualization techniques in the natural sciences became coterminous with economic marketing interests.
She has forthcoming contributions in the edited volume Anton Pannekoek’s View on Science and Society. Modernism in Science, Radical Politics, and Art on the Dutch astronomer and socialist theorist and his legacy in contemporary art with the University of Chicago/University of Amsterdam Press, and the retrospective publication of contemporary artist Lothar Baumgarten with Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.
She is the recipient of the Hellman Fellowship (2016–2017) and the Faculty Fellowship / Center of Humanities (2015–2016) at the University of California, San Diego, and was a research fellow at the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris (2012–2013). Her research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2004–2005), and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft as a member of the "Media of History / History of Media" DFG-Graduiertenkolleg of the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Universität Erfurt, and Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (2008–2010).