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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), won the 2021 Willi Paul Adams Award awarded by the Organization of American Historians for the best book on American history published in a language other than English (awarded every two years). The Sand Rush 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. You can read a review published in Le Monde here, and a review in English here. The English version of the book is under contract with Oxford University Press. 

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. Another article of mine, "Urban Renewal by the Sea: Reinventing the Beach for the Suburban Age in Postwar Los Angeles,” Journal of Urban History (2019) received an honourable mention as part of the 2020 HOTCUS Article Prize.   

I regularly appear on radio, podcast and tv shows to speak about my research (for instance here and here) and I also 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 in English in reaction to the 2020 covid beach closures here, a short article on the early 20th-century bathing suit controversies published for Metropolitics here, and some thoughts on urban beaches here

I have been active in several learned societies. I am a member of the BAAS (British Association of American Studies) executive committee, where I co-chair the Award subcommittee and co-lead our sustainability initiative GREEN BAAS. I was treasurer and vice-president of RUCHE, the French branch of the European Society of Environmental History, for several years (2012-2019) and I am now an ordinary exec committee member. 

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

Key Publications

  • Please visit the Pure Research Information Portal for further information
  • Places and Cultures of Capitalism: Histories from the Grassroots, Devienne, E., Diamond , A. 22 Mar 2021, In: Transatlantica
  • 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: Los Angeles Beach Cultures and the Making of the “California Look” (1900s-1960s), Devienne, E. Dec 2019, In: European Journal of American Studies
  • Urban Renewal by the Sea: Reinventing the Beach for the Suburban Age in Postwar Los Angeles, Devienne, E. 1 Jan 2019, In: Journal of Urban History
  • The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Muscle Beach: Reassessing the Muscular Physique in Postwar America, 1940s–1980s, Devienne, E. 2018, In: Southern California quarterly
  • « Il y a des lois sur la plage ! »: Régulation et surveillance des comportements sur les plages de Los Angeles, années 1910-1970, 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: A Social and Environmental History of Los Angeles's Beaches, 1920s–1970s, Devienne, E. May 2016, In: California History


  • History PhD
  • History MA

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