Dr. Raechel Lutz, Upper School history teacher, has published her first book, American Energy Cinema, a collection of essays exploring how Hollywood movies have portrayed energy from the early film era to the present. Dr. Lutz was inspired to organize and contribute to this collection during a discussion with colleagues at the annual conference for the American Society for Environmental History in 2018. Her passion for history, energy and the environment, along with a keen interest in visual culture, made participation and leadership in the project a no-brainer.
“We were talking about movies and energy history and decided to make it a book,” Dr. Lutz said. “I appreciated the chance to explore these topics with historians who have some of the same questions I have.”
Dr. Lutz believes that “movies are a product of the society that creates them and a reflection back on that culture. They show us what society values. The U.S. has changed its relationship to energy so much during the twentieth century. What are the values we have about that transition?”
According to a summary provided by the West Virginia University Press: “The essays in this collection show how film provides a unique and informative lens to understand perceptions of energy production, consumption, and infrastructure networks. By placing films that prominently feature energy within historical context and analyzing them as historical objects, the contributing authors demonstrate how energy systems of all kinds are both integral to the daily life of Americans and inextricable from larger societal changes and global politics.”
The book is divided into five parts: When Disaster Strikes, Energy and Nature, Critiquing the Western, Energy and Morality, and Energy and the State. Dr. Lutz contributed an essay to Part 4: Energy and Morality with her essay "The Formula (1980): Corporate Villains, Synthetic Fuel, and Environmental Fantasies."
“Oil companies are often seen as the big bad,” Dr. Lutz said. “I wanted to explore how films address the perception of oil companies as malicious by analyzing The Formula. It was very obvious that Marlon Brando’s oil company were the bad guys. The film has a lot of flaws but tells us a lot about what Americans thought about oil companies in the late 1970s.”
In addition to writing her 5,000-word essay, Dr. Lutz is also one of three editors for the 376-page collection. The editors collaborated on writing the introduction and organizing the book.
More broadly, Dr. Lutz’s historical research has been supported through fellowships and grants from the American Society for Environmental History, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Graduate School of Rutgers University, the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. She is a member of the advisory council of the Committee for the Women's Environmental History Network and earned her doctoral degree from Rutgers University in 2018.
“I hope people read the book and learn something from it,” Dr. Lutz said. “I love being a historian and I love my job. It’s really rewarding to talk with people about big ideas. I love being a history teacher because I’m able to share my intellectual curiosity with students.”
Dr. Lutz’s book is available for purchase on Amazon and also via the link below at 30% off with free shipping using the discount code APPALACHIAN30 through April 30: