Jessica Landau is a specialist in 19th and 20th century American art. Her research looks at images of North American megafauna and landscapes in order to understand the ways in which problematic settler colonial and masculinist tropes from these periods are still present in contemporary conservation discourse. Her methodology, which draws from the Environmental Humanities and Indigenous Critical Theory, understands animals and places as once living creatures and physical landscapes - incorporating ecological knowledges of species and habitats into her analyses. She uses this methodological approach in her current book project, “Critical Habitat: Picturing Conservation, Extinction, and the American Animal in the Long Twentieth Century,” which analyzes representations of currently or one-time at-risk species (including wolves, white tail deer, polar bears, and even Bigfoot) as part of a specifically American mode of image making she has termed the “conservation aesthetic.” According to Landau, the conservation aesthetic functions as a dialectic in that it works to engage viewers in efforts to preserve biodiversity while simultaneously reifying forms of Rooseveltian-era masculinity and settler colonial notions of belonging that led to species endangerment in the first place.
She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, National Louis University, and Eastern Illinois University. In 2019-2020 she was a Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellow in the Environmental Humanities at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Illinois. She has served as the managing editor of NAIS: the Journal of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and Media-N: the Journal of the New Media Caucus as well as Assistant Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA, and as Associate Curator of the Brinton Museum in Big Horn, WY.