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Dr Elsa Devienne


Department: Humanities

I joined Northumbria University in 2019 as lecturer in US history. My research lies at the intersection of urban history, environmental history, and the history of gender, body and sexuality, with a focus on the 20th century. I am particularly interested in the history of Americans’ intense engagement with their coastlines, from the 19th-century beach-bathing boom until today’s climate crisis and its catastrophic consequences for coastal communities.

My first book, The Sand Rush: An Environmental History of the Los Angeles’s Beaches (Sorbonne Editions, 2020), recounts the formidable beach modernization campaign that transformed Los Angeles into one of the world’s greatest coastal metropolises, revealing how the city’s man-made shores served as a central locus for the reinvention of seaside leisure and the triumph of modern bodies.

I am also the author of several articles published in academic journals in the US and Europe, including in The Journal of Urban HistoryThe European Journal of American Studies, California History, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire and Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales. My article, “The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Muscle Beach: Reassessing the Muscular Physique in Postwar America, 1940s-1980s,” published in Southern California Quarterly (Fall 2018) was awarded the 2019 Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. Award by the Historical Society of Southern California.

I regularly try to write for a general audience. You can find an op-ed (in French) I wrote for Libération in reaction to the 2020 Australian bushfires here, a short article on the early 20th-century bathing suit controversies published for Metropolitics here, and some thoughts on urban beaches here

In a previous life, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities at Princeton University and an Assistant Professor in American History and American studies at Université Paris Nanterre in France. I hold a PhD in history from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). 

Elsa Devienne


  • History PhD
  • History MA

Key Publications

  • Please visit the Pure Research Information Portal for further information
  • La ruée vers le sable. Une histoire environnementale des plages de Los Angeles au XXe siècle, Devienne, E. 5 Mar 2020
  • La ruée vers le sable : Une histoire environnementale du littoral de Los Angeles au XXe siècle, Devienne, E. 2020
  • Spectacular Bodies, Devienne, E. Dec 2019, In: European Journal of American Studies
  • Urban Renewal by the Sea, Devienne, E. 1 Jan 2019, In: Journal of Urban History
  • The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Muscle Beach, Devienne, E. 2018, In: Southern California quarterly
  • « Il y a des lois sur la plage ! », Devienne, E. 2017, In: Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales
  • Plages de la discorde, Bidet, J., Devienne, E. 2017, In: Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales
  • La question raciale sur le littoral de Los Angeles (années 1920-années 1970), Devienne, E. 2016, In: Vingtieme Siecle: Revue d'Histoire
  • Shifting Sands, Devienne, E. May 2016, In: California History
  • The Right to the Beach? Urban Renewal, Public Place Policing, and the Definition of a Beach Public in Postwar Los Angeles, 1940s-1960s, Devienne, E. 2016, In: Revue Francaise d'Etudes Americaines

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