Prof. Alexandra Herfroy-Mischler lectures on the topics of counter-terrorism, new media, and Jewish history at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School (RIS). She is also a research fellow at HebrewU’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, and has twice been honored with the university’s Highest Teaching Distinction. Prof. Herfroy-Mischler holds doctoral and master’s degrees in media studies, as well as a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Prof. Herfroy-Mischler’s involvement in media began as a practitioner: she worked in broadcast and print journalism in her home country of France, and completed an internship with the Swiss Press Agency. Her experiences eventually led her to dig deeper – and investigate not just the news itself, but how the news is made.
“That’s where the whole Ph.D. started … my doctorate was about comparing media coverage in French, German, and English about Holocaust transitional justice in Europe,” she explains. Her dissertation assessed how news agencies covered the story of the World Jewish Congress lawsuits filed against Swiss banks – over dormant bank accounts that held the funds of Holocaust victims.
Though she maintains a busy teaching schedule, Dr. Herfroy-Mischler’s research has continued since she joined the faculty at HebrewU. One recent project began in a classroom at RIS – with one of her students, Andrew Barr. She helped him develop a seminar on how ISIS uses execution videos as media strategy – and after his semester ended, they continued the study as partners, publishing two papers in the top-ranked journals “Studies of Conflict and Terrorism” and “Visual Communication.”
Prof. Herfroy-Mischler’s latest project focuses on how the language used in media coverage of peace negotiations influences outcomes. Often, she says, “it’s basically saying … ‘We need to wait until someone else comes along and saves the situation,’ or ‘We need to wait until the actors change.’ It’s done a lot in despair.” She believes such coverage can be dangerous “because it puts us in a situation where we have this nihilistic way of looking at conflict … But we believe what makes us human is that we want to fight for peace and resolution.”
In the Classroom
Prof. Herfroy-Mischler credits her interest in academia to one of her own teachers. “She changed my life … she believed in me, and she saw in me what I could never see,” she explains. “I wanted to pay this back to students … So if one or two have been challenged and want to study more, then I think I won.”
And, she says, she learns from her students as well – particularly in her class on blogging and social media. “Some of them already have a blog that is quite impressive, and they will teach me some technical tricks and new media things that happen.” She also encourages students to raise questions about what they study in class. “That’s why they came here, and that’s why I’m here … I might ask them to look for examples of things that contradict what we’ve studied, or things that illustrate what we’re saying … There is a lot of discussion, a lot of debate … Sometimes I feel like I’m more like a mediator of knowledge than teaching straightforward theory.”
Prof. Herfroy-Mischler says helping her students learn and explore is a “joy” – and she believes education is a gift. “We need educated people in the world, and … we live in a generation where it’s kind of easy to get an education. It’s open to everyone, more or less,” she says. “We should really enjoy that.”
Teaching at RIS
Prof. Herfroy-Mischler says it’s particularly special to be teaching at RIS. “It really feels like home, because I was a student at RIS during my doctorate,” she explains. “I got to know the faculty, and I thought to myself, ‘This is the place where I can see myself teaching.’”
Part of what she enjoys about the school is the international community – her classes are made up of students from all over the world, from China to Belgium to Turkey. That diversity of experience helps Prof. Herfroy-Mischler and her students better understand cultures beyond their own. For example, she says, “I once had a student ask, ‘What is YouTube?’ on the first day of class.” She used the question as an opportunity to teach the class about censorship on the web.
RIS, Prof. Herfroy-Mischler says, is different from everywhere else she’s been as a teacher or as a student – and she hopes to stay for “a very, very long time … There is nothing like feeling that you are in the right place and you’re doing the right thing in life, and that’s a blessing I have every day I pass the door at Rothberg.”
- Doctorate in media studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle University (2008)
- Master’s degree in media studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle University (2005)
- Bachelor’s degree in journalism, Sorbonne Nouvelle University (2003)