alana wolf

Ph.D. Candidate, Visual and Cultural Studies University of Rochester


My research asks how the historical conditions of technology and human perception impact the ways in which we experience and represent space and place.


Areas of specialization

  • Modern and Contemporary Art
  • American Modernisms
  • Sound Studies - Acoustic Ecology
  • Human Geography and Spatial Humanities
  • Digital Humanities and Histories of Technology


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A B O U T   M Y   D I S S E R T A T I O N 

Sensational Atlases of New York City: Mapping Modern Perception between the Wars

The primary subjects of my dissertation, "Sensational Atlases of New York City: Mapping Modern Perception between the Wars," are three canonical representations of interwar New York City: Joseph Stella's polyptych The Voice of the City of New York Interpreted (1920-22), Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand's film, Manhatta (1921), and Hart Crane's long-form poem, The Bridge (1923-30). Prompted in part by art historian Wanda Corn's assessment nearly twenty years ago that the trio comprise "the summa" among the countless modernist visions of the city that artists produced between the wars, I consider these objects alongside the visual production of New York City's Noise Abatement Commission for their public health campaign to reduce urban noise during the 1920s. While their motivations may have differed, I argue that the artists and government officials were linked in their sensitivity to the sonic terrain of their city and were invested in working out a representational language adequate to the lived experience of that percussive score.


Reading these objects as imaginative cartographies, my project follows contemporary thought in human geography, sonic ecology, and media theory to recover a critical moment in the perceptual history of the American landscape. The technological advances of the moment not only informed machine-age aesthetics, but re-defined commonly-held assumptions regarding the act of perception itself. Employing experts in efficiency science, medicine, engineering, and psychology, New York City's Health Department emphasized the scientific nature of the Abatement Commission's noise surveys, declaring audiometers' readings more accurate than the subjective fallibility of human ears. Sheeler, Strand, Stella, and Crane similarly envisioned a metropolis wherein modern technologies undertook somatic functions that had once been the exclusive domain of human sensation. My dissertation provides an overdue trans-disciplinary reassessment of canonical American artworks by unpacking the representational strategies and material conditions underpinning these very different interpretations of contemporaneous auditory landscapes.

m a k e _ c o n t a c t

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