Moira Weigel

Moira Weigel's picture

Education History

B.A. summa cum laude, English and American & German Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, 2007
M.Phil Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge University, 2008


“The Life of Nature in an Age of Celluloid: Animal Media Theory 1889–1951”

Research Interests

Modernism and modernity; philosophy and critical theory; film and media theory; feminism, gender, and sexuality; translation; world literature; world cinema; modern China


Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating (forthcoming from Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux in 2016)


I was born and raised in Brooklyn, but my language-learning addiction led me to spend a lot of my young life conniving my way to other places. After beginning with Latin in grade school, I went on to study German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese on several continents. For a long time I worried that my intellectual inclinations were hopelessly peripatetic. Slowly, I came to realize that at the most fundamental level I am fascinated by form—the forms that give shape to our thoughts and determine how we express and exchange them, both as individuals and across cultures.

As a scholar, I am passionate about the history of ideas. I have always recognized cinema and literature to be powerful modes of thinking as well as seeing, hearing, feeling. In my research, I attempt to uncover how material histories, and aesthetic protocols, shape values and beliefs that people take for granted. As a writer, I deeply believe that investigating these deeper structures empowers us to shape our present. 

I have pursued two major projects during my time at Yale.

The first is my book, Labor of Love, a feminist “secret history” of dating. In Labor of Love, I explore how the history of the form of courtship we call “dating” in America overlaps with the history of other kinds of gendered labor since the late nineteenth century. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from YA novels to police reports and romantic advice manuals to sociological monographs, I argue that waged work and the emotional or affective labor involved in courtship have shaped each other in turn.

My dissertation, The Life of Nature in an Age of Celluloid, investigates the themes of animacy and nonhuman life in early cinema and in media theory. I focus on the decades before the discipline of film studies began to establish itself in dedicated journals and academic institutions and before philosophers and computer scientists began to articulate the founding principles of what we now call “posthumanism.” Drawing on Miriam Hansen’s concept of “vernacular modernism,” I propose that the cinema became a key “sensory reflexive horizon” in which dreams and anxieties about the mass disappearance of “the life of nature” were negotiated during the first half of the twentieth century—from New York and Chicago, to Paris and Berlin, to Shanghai.

In addition to these projects, I have published peer-reviewed articles on the history of literature, literary translation and film. You can find some of the essays I have published on cinema and media, feminism, and other subjects on my website.