My first book, The Icon Curtain: The Cold War's Quiet Border (University of Chicago Press, 2015), is about the German wall that didn't fall in 1989. It tells the story of how contemporaries (German refugees, especially) dramatized an uneventful Cold War landscape, which stretched between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. It brings together travelogues, accounts of defaced Christian imagery, poems, border police reports, church records, and other archival sources. The book received Honorable Mention for the Modern Languages Association's biannual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures for 2014-15. A Chinese translation appeared with the Shandong Pictorial Publishing House in 2018.
Together with Irene Kacandes, I co-edited the volume Eastern Europe Unmapped (Berghahn Books, 2017), which pushes against the perception that for this part of the world, geography has been destiny. The topic of Eastern Europe beyond its geographical borders runs through my research on the Cold War broadcaster Radio Free Europe. Drawing on the station's corporate archive at the Hoover Institution and documents in the German archives, I have written a number of articles about its meanings for televisual history across the Atlantic and its environmental history.
With Michelle Moyd and David Gramling, I co-wrote a programmatic book Linguistic Disobedience: Restoring Power to Civic Language (Palgrave Pivot, 2018). Its gist appears here and here. This project, which appeals to academics as much as to journalists, has compelled me to think more deeply and collaboratively about the political aspects of language use and multilingualism. This work has grown into the public-facing initiative Political Language in Multilingual Societies. Recent events have included a symposium on antifascist language and a workshop on countering the far right in translation.
I am currently writing two books. The first, Curious George: A Biography, reconstructs the genealogy, life, and afterlife of the fictional "monkey" Curious George--one of the world's most famous and successfully marketed literary characters--in his cultural and historical contexts. It uncovers the Northern German roots and global colonial connections of the figure's creators, Margret and H. A. Rey, and their German-Jewish families. The book traces the couple's circuitous migrations between Europe and South and North America, documenting their encounters with wild animals en route. And it recounts the stories of primate extraction, capture, and upkeep in zoos, private homes, primatology labs, and books for children and adults to introduce Curious George as a repository of changing cultural, zoological, and social knowledges about animals, rather than a metaphor for human experiences of uprooting and displacement, as he is currently known. Public writing related to this project has appeared in LA Review of Books and Hypocrite Reader.
The second book, about tightrope walking as a mirror of German history between spectacle and philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century, has grown out of my essay is "On the Wire above the Ruins" in The Cabinet Magazine. It focuses on just one troupe, the Camilla Mayer Troupe, and explains how its dramatic trajectory from World War I to Nazi Germany to the Cold War connects to romancing the heights and Alpinism, to stratospheric flight and aereal bombings, to Nazi "sacrifice readiness" and airmindedness, to Germany's postwar reconstruction and its Cold War division. It will appear in The Cabinet Magazine's book series.
You can find my academic articles on https://dartmouth.academia.edu/YuliyaKomska. I am passionate about rigorous public writing and have published with The Washington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, The Smithsonian Magazine, Boston Review, Euronews, LA Review of Books, Pacific Standard, Al Jazeera America, and others. I am always thrilled to work with students keen on pursuing this kind of work and frequently assign various forms of public writing in my seminars.
I teach across the German Studies curriculum (including language) and in Comparative Literature, where I am have served as graduate program director and M.A. advisor. My teaching interests include, aside from the core German Studies courses, critical animal studies, circus cultures, biography, graphic arts and book illustration, Cold War culture, German environmentalism, propaganda, science fiction under socialism, nostalgia for socialism, civic language and linguistic justice, multilingualism and monolingualism, and belonging in Germany.