Alice Goff
Alice Goff Office: Social Science Research Building, room 509 Mailbox 4 Phone: (773) 834-3763 Email Interests:

German cultural and intellectual history; Vormärz Prussia; history of museums, collections, and material culture; looting; East/West Germany post 1945

Assistant Professor of German History and the College

University of California, Berkeley, PhD '15


I am a historian of German cultural and intellectual life in the modern period. My research and teaching center on material culture, the history of museums, and the history of aesthetics.

My first book, The God Behind the Marble: The Fate of Art in the German Aesthetic State (University of Chicago Press, 2024) is a history of German cultural politics and aesthetics during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. It tells this story through Germans’ engagement with the French looting of European art collections, a Kunstraub [‘art robbery’] that challenged the faith that art offered a powerful source of societal liberation in a period of revolutionary violence. By following conflicts over the ownership, interpretation, conservation, and exhibition of objects, the book argues that the world of arts administration at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a ground of struggle over the powerlessness of art to convey political meaning, a struggle with lasting consequences for how we understand the modern public museum of art. In addition to the monograph, two additional essays draw on this research: “The Honor of the Trophy: A Prussian Bronze in the Napoleonic Era” in The Things They Carried: War, Migration and Material Culture, ed. Leora Auslander and Tara Zahra (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018); and “Lüdwig Völkel’s Sababurg List: An Inventory of the Public Museum of Art,” in Taking Stock: Media Inventories of the German Nineteenth Century, eds. Sean Franzel, Ilinca Iurascu, and Petra McGillen (Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming).

I am currently at work on two projects which shift my focus from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries both forward and backwards in time. The first, Postwar Premodern: A Baroque History of Germany after 1945 investigates how the artistic and craft traditions of the baroque period became political, personal, and aesthetic resources for making sense of the future of German society amidst the proliferating critiques of modernity in the wake of Nazism and the Holocaust. Rather than looking at historical preservation, my research is focused on episodes of historical re-use, in which a premodern past became a consumable utility for the reconstitution of German society in east and west. Chapters focus on the reuse of buildings, the restitution of art collections, the recreation of cabinets of curiosity, the study of early modern statecraft, and postwar typographical and handwriting reforms. An initial case study from this project was published as "The Splendor of Dresden in the United States, 1978-79” Representations 141, no. 1 (Winter 2018).

A branch of this book has turned into a separate project of its own about the restitution of European church bells after 1945. During the Second World War, the National Socialist regime requisitioned bells from across German and German occupied territory to be melted down and recast as armaments. This study of the many thousands of bells, largely from before 1800, that remained at the war’s end in depots in Hamburg and across northern Germany engages the fields of sounds studies, material cultural studies, history of religion, legal history, and memory studies to show how bells became tools of Cold War politics, and complex sources of cultural historical identification in the postwar world.

 I received my PhD in History from the University of California Berkeley, and hold an MSI in Archives and Records Management from the University of Michigan and a BA from Bryn Mawr College. From 2015-2017, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan in the Departments of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures. My research has been funded by the Neubauer Collegium and the Center for International Social Science Research at the University of Chicago, the American Academy in Berlin, the Mabel Mcleod Lewis Foundation, the DAAD, and the Council for Library and Information Resources.


On February 12, 2024 from 6:00-7:00pm, I will discuss my new book, The God Behind the Marble. I will be joined in conversation by Catriona MacLeod. RSVP HERE 

Histories of Culture in Disastrous Times, research project with Jennifer Allen at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society

Received a 2024-2025 CISSR grant for the European church bell project

Recent Research / Recent Publications