1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Jennifer Petersen

Associate Professor

224 Wilson Hall

Office Hours:

By appointment only.

Class Schedule:



Dr. Jennifer Petersen is an Associate Professor of Media Studies. Her interests focus on media history, technology studies, communication law, and conceptions of emotion in the public sphere. Her articles in these areas appear in journals such as Media Culture & Society and Critical Studies in Media Culture. Her first book,  Murder, Media, and the Politics of Public Feeling (Indiana University Press, 2011), explores the emotional mediation of and legal responses to two of the most publicly visible and commented upon hate crimes of the late 1990s. Using textual analysis of media and legal texts as well as interviews with activists and lawmakers, the book analyzes the ways that media texts encouraged and conveyed feelings about the men and their murders, and traces how these feelings became the grounds for local political action and the eventual passage of hate crimes laws.

She is currently writing a second book, How Machines Came to Speak: Media Technologies and Freedom of Speech. Drawing on close readings of legal texts and “distant reading” of a large digital corpus of legal decisions, the book traces the history of legal conceptions of speech in free speech law. While most histories of free speech focus on the expansion of rights and freedoms granted under the First Amendment – the “free” in free speech—this book focuses squarely on the historical evolution of “speech” itself, from a narrow, self-evident category of strictly deliberative and linguistic communication to a broad category that encompasses symbols, aesthetics, and feeling. The book argues that this transformation has been driven in large part by media technologies and social scientific ideas about communication.

Dr. Petersen earned her PhD in the Radio-Television-Film Department of the University of Texas at Austin. She was a 2016-2017 Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University and the 2015-2017 Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at UVA; her work has also been supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). She will be on leave for the academic year 2018-2019, while she is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton University.