Social History of European Jewry in Comparative Perspective

Course Description: 

This class will deal with the collective developments that shaped modern Jewish societies in Europe during the high period of Jewish modernity in 1850-1939. As the emancipation period had disbanded pre-modern autonomous institutions, and secularization trends started weakening the religious norms of Jewish modernity, Jewishness came to be defined increasingly in social and ethnic categories; and Jewish self-identity became a matter open to a personal choices. While Jews took an important part in urban economy and culture, rising antisemitism created new and often subtle forms of their social exclusion. The ambivalent minority situation that was the result has been the object of studies in social history following the models of classical twentieth-century sociology and demography; more recently, influences from social anthropology and the "turns" of cultural studies have been incorporated to Jewish history. Discussing quantitative as well as qualitative methodologies, our class will study successively the demographic evolution of modern Jewish societies, their political geography and economic inequalities, their interaction with the non-Jewish environment, their family structures and internal cultural diversity, placing a particular emphasis on the study of Jewish social identity. The seminar adopts a comparative perspective by exploring the juxtaposition and interaction of Jewish modernities in Western/Central and in Eastern Europe and by placing Jewish groups against the backdrop of their respective societies and political regimes. We will occasionally insert the era under study into a larger historical time frame extending from the Enlightenment to the post-Holocaust period.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will learn to define the object field and method of social history in relation to other historical sub-disciplines, such as political, intellectual, and cultural history. They will be able to discuss the evolution, merits, problematics, and ongoing relevance of the social history approach. In a comparative social history perspective, the Jewish collectivity will be analyzed as an exemplary case of a modern diasporic "status group"; but at the same time distinguished by its peculiar self-definition and its distinctive historical past. The Jewish social historian will understand why generalizations about modern European Jewry are problematic, though nonetheless its regions and social environments need to be studied in their interconnectedness.


     Students wishing to earn credits for this class are expected to participate actively in at least ten sessions and prepare all the weekly mandatory readings. Twice in a term, each student will orally present in the seminar discussion a supplementary text from the lists of elective readings given in the syllabus. A research paper of 3,500-4,000 words on a topic chosen in agreement with the instructor should to be handed in no later than April 15, 2014. Participation will account for 30%, the two reports for 20%, and the term paper for 50% of the grade.