Michael Butter has been Professor of American Literary and Cultural History at the University of Tübingen since 2014. He received his PhD from the University of Bonn in 2007 and his Habilitation from the University of Freiburg in 2012. He is the author of four monographs: The Epitome of Evil: Hitler in American Fiction, 1939–2002 (New York: Palgrave, 2009), Plots, Designs, and Schemes: American Conspiracy Theories from the Puritans to the Present (Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2014), Der »Washington-Code«: Zur Heroisierung amerikanischer Präsidenten, 1775-1865 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2016), and “Nichts ist, wie es scheint”: Über Verschwörungstheorien (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2018), a German introduction to conspiracy theories aimed at a general audience which was translated into English as The Nature of Conspiracy Theories (London: Polity, 2020). Translations into Portuguese and Polish will be published in 2022.
Michael Butter’s research interests include conspiracy theories and populism, the colonial period and the Early Republic, popular culture, the poetics of contemporary TV shows, the construction of heroes and their cultural functions, and American culture after 9/11. From 2016 to 2020, he was Vice Chair of the COST Action “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories.” Since April 2020, he has been Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project “Populism and Conspiracy Theory.” His expertise is frequently sought by media outlets in Germany, Europe and North America, and he has contributed op-eds to, among others, Die Zeit, FAZ, Der Spiegel and The Conversation. He serves on the advisory board of veritas, which offers counseling for people affected by conspiracy theory, and the project Decoding Antisemitism. In July 2021 he was awarded the Tübingen Prize for Knowledge Communication.
- “Eine gute Ausgangsposition. Verschwörungstheorien als Herausforderung für die Demokratie.” Zur Zukunft der Demokratie. 36 Perspektiven. Ed. Frank-Walter Steinmeier. München: Siedler, 2022. 141-148.
- “Bad History, Useless Prophecy: The ‘Paranoid Style’ Revisited.” symploke 29.1/2 (2021): 21–42. [Peer- reviewed]
- “Conspiracy Theories – Conspiracy Narratives.” DIEGESIS. Interdisciplinary E-Journal for Narrative Research/Interdisziplinäres E-Journal für Erzählforschung 10.1 (2021): 97–100.
- (with Birte Christ) “9/11 – Der 11. September 2001.” Die Geschichte hinter dem Bild. Ed. Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen. Erfurt: LZT, 2021.
- “Why Do We Believe in Conspiracy Theories?” Cicero Foundation Great Debate Paper 23.3. (2021): 1–16.
- “Das Bild Amerikas in Hollywoodfilmen und Fernsehserien.” Länderbericht USA. Eds. Andrew Denison et al. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2021. 311–320. Print.
- “Verschwörungstheorien: Eine Einführung.” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 71.35–36 (2021): 4–11. Print.
- The Nature of Conspiracy Theories. London: Polity, 2020.
- "Verschwörungstheorien: Zehn Erkenntnisse aus der Pandemie." Jenseits von Corona: Unsere Welt nach der Pandemie - Perspektiven aus der Wissenschaft. Ed. Bernd Kortmann and Günther G. Schulze. Bielefeld: transcript. 225–31.
- (edited with Ute Caumanns, Johannes Großmann, Johannes Kuber and Bernd-Stefan Grewe). Von Hinterzimmern und geheimen Machenschaften: Verschwörungstheorien in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Special Issue of Im Dialog – Beiträge aus der Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg 3 (2020). (https://ojs2.uni-tuebingen.de/ojs/index.php/idadrs/index)
- (edited with Peter Knight) Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. London: Routledge, 2020. Print.
- (with Peter Knight) General Introduction. Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Ed. Michael Butter and Peter Knight. London: Routledge, 2020. 1–8. Print.
- (with Peter Knight) “Conspiracy Theory in Historical, Cultural and Literary Studies.” Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Ed. Michael Butter and Peter Knight. London: Routledge, 2020. 28-42. Print.
- (with Eiríkur Bergmann) “Conspiracy Theory and Populism.” Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Ed. Michael Butter and Peter Knight. London: Routledge, 2020. 330–43. Print.
- “Conspiracy Theories in Films and Television Shows.” Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Ed. Michael Butter and Peter Knight. London: Routledge, 2020. 457–68. Print.
- “Conspiracy Theories in American History.” The Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Ed. Michael Butter and Peter Knight. London: Routledge, 2020. 648–59. Print.
The ERC-funded project “Populism and Conspiracy Theory (PACT)” investigates the significance of conspiracy theories for populist movements in four European countries and two in the Americas. The project is scheduled to run until March 2025. The PI, Michael Butter, and his team (one postdoc and four PhD students) will employ a combination of discourse analysis and ethnographic methods to study the connections between populism and conspiracy theories in online and offline discourses in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Brazil and the United States. Michael Butter will focus on right- and left-wing populism during the 2020 presidential election campaigns.
Michael Butter is currently writing From Panem to the Pandemic: An Introduction to Cultural Studies. The book, which is under contract with Narr and scheduled to appear in spring 2023, aims to introduce first-year students to the basic concepts and methods of cultural studies.
Between 2016-2020, The COST Action “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories” synthesized and moved forward the European research on conspiracy theories. The network comprised more than 160 scholars from 40 countries and over a dozen disciplines. In March 2020, the Routledge Handbook for Conspiracy Theories was published which provides the most comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon to date. Additionally, recommendations for dealing with conspiracy theories, educational material and an extended bibliography of academic research on conspiracy theories have been made available for the project website.
In 2016 and 2017 Michael Butter worked on a general introduction to conspiracy theories which was published to great acclaim in 2018. The updated and revised English translation was published by Polity Press in fall 2020.
Between 2012 and 2016, Michael Butter was a member of the Collaborative Research Center “Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms” at the University of Freiburg and directed a project on “New Washingtons? The Heroization of American Presidents from the Revolution to Reconstruction.” He wrote a short monograph about this topic as well as articles on the heroization of William Henry Harrison and Donald Trump. Another important outcome of the project is a database of nearly 2,000 poems written on American presidents between 1789 and 1865.
Between 2009 and 2012, Michael Butter worked on the history of conspiracy theories in American culture from the Puritans to the present. The resulting monograph, which focuses on the 19th century, was published in 2014.
Between 2005 and 2008, Michael Butter was a member of the network “The Futures of (European) American Studies,” which discussed possible venues for the discipline in the 21st century. Funded by the German Research Council, the project organized a number of conferences and edited a collection of essays.
Between 2004 and 2007, Michael Butter pursued a PhD project that investigated how American literature employs the figure of Adolf Hitler to negotiate genuinely American concerns. The project resulted in a monograph published in 2009 and a number of articles on literary and visual representations of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust and the genre of alternate history in which they frequently occur.