EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2020/21
“What’s New, What’s Next? Innovative Methods, New Sources, and Paradigm Shifts in Jewish Studies” – online conference
3-7 October 2021
The original ‘event rationale’, and a reflection on whether and how the goals of the event have been achieved
The goal of “What’s New, What’s Next? Innovative Methods, New Sources, and Paradigm Shifts in Jewish Studies,” and international online conference organized by POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, was to explore new directions in the study of East and Central European Jews and to discuss the most pressing questions regarding the place of Jewish studies in the humanities today. The conference brought together scholars in a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, history, memory studies, museology, art history, and political science. Its success was due in large measure to partnerships with various universities, research institutes, and museums in Europe, the United States, and Israel.
The conference offered Jewish studies scholars an opportunity to respond to recent paradigm shifts in the humanities, explore new methodologies, especially those involving digital tools, and consider new sources (as well as new approaches to sources previously studied). At the same time, participants reflected on the nature of Jewish studies itself and its interdisciplinary character, one of its most important features, but also a challenge. Taking a broad perspective on Jewish history and culture, participants posed demanding questions and approached them with theoretical sophistication, methodological innovation, and consideration of the latest research, based both on newly available or newly discovered sources and on new approaches to those already known.
Jewish studies has grown in many directions in recent years but has lacked a profound debate about the methodological challenges it faces. In initiating this debate, the conference served as an important platform for critical reflection on the state and future of Jewish studies in relation not only to methodological issues, but also to innovative approaches to new and old sources, paradigm shifts, and national and political contexts in which scholars are working.
In that spirit, the conference brought together emerging and established scholars and provided opportunities for doctoral students to discuss their PhD dissertations with senior scholars. The goals was to stimulate academic exchange, create networking opportunities, and encourage cooperation on research projects.
Almost 600 participants from a wide range of universities, research centers, archives, and museums in 35 countries identified areas of study that have been neglected or newly identified – periods prior to the 20th century and aspects of the Holocaust, among others. They also considered practical issues of funding and the role of museums and other institutions in disseminating the results of research.
- Jonathan Brent, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
- François Guesnet, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London
- Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and New York University (Chair of the Academic Committee)
- Lisa M. Leff, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Enrico Lucca, Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow
- Artur Markowski, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and University of Warsaw (Conference Convener)
- Dan Michman, Yad Vashem
- Antony Polonsky, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
- Hubert Strouk, Mémorial de la Shoah
- Michał Trębacz, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
- Scott Ury, Eva and Marc Besen Institute for the Study of Historical Consciousness, Tel Aviv University
- Anat Vaturi, Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University
- Genevieve Zubrzycki, Copernicus Center for Polish Studies, University of Michigan
- Andrzej Żbikowski, Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute
A detailed overview of all sections and papers the comprise the event, including a reflection on the discussions, questions and answers that followed the presentations. Please do include names and affiliations of contributors
- 573 participants, including, 151 speakers
- 727 persons registered
- 35 countries – Austria, Australia, Belarus, Brasil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, England, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay,.
4 Keynote lectures (please see below for abstracts and full texts)
- Paradigms, methodologies, and sources
- Issues, emphases, and gaps
- Digital resources and methods
- Ethics and politics
- Academic and cultural institutions
1 Poster session
- PhD candidates presented methodological, theoretical, and source issues related to their dissertations
- “Creating a Legacy: The Impact of Jewish Studies in Poland”
- “The Future of Museum Architecture”
All sessions were recorded and will be accessible online by the end of December 2021:
Gerben Zaagsma, Exploring Jewish History in the Digital Age
This lecture explores the intersection of Jewish Studies and Digital Humanities in general, and the myriad ways in which new technologies affect the field of Jewish History in particular. Importantly, the digital turn in Jewish Studies needs to be historicized; as is the case for the humanities in general, applications of computing in Jewish Studies go back at least 60 years.
Full text of the keynote lecture: https://polin.pl/system/files/attachments/Zaagsma%20-%20DHJewish%20keynote%202021.pdf
François Guesnet, The Narcissism of Small Differences? Reflections on Jewish Studies and Jewish Area Studies
This lecture reflects on the historicity of this academic field, and what Eastern and Central European perspectives can contribute to it, as well as to the humanities and social sciences more generally. The main focus is on a specific area of Jewish-non-Jewish relations, namely the impact of the emergence of radically anti-Jewish attitudes across eastern central and south-eastern Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. It argues that it is only through a comparative analysis of Jewish-gentile relations in this region, the permutations of Jew-hatred and the emergence of politicised forms of antisemitism become transparent.
Full text of the keynote lecture: https://polin.pl/system/files/attachments/Keynote_FGuesnet.pdf
Marcin Wodziński ,“What’s Next in Jewish Studies: Prospects and Challenges”
The remarkable development of academic Jewish studies in Poland has been the subject of a number of scholarly and popular studies. A majority of these have focused on the transition from the ban on studying Jewish history and culture in most of the Soviet bloc countries before 1989 to the institutional maturing of academic centers and teaching programs in the period after the fall of Communism. Attention has also been given to the startling success of old, new, and refurbished Jewish museums and their associated academic activities. My intention in this lecture is, therefore, not to reflect on these long-term changes but rather to consider what are the most recent developments and where these are possibly heading. I shall begin with an analysis of the changing interests and motivations of students who have chosen to major in Jewish history and culture over the past ten years. As I hope to demonstrate, their motivations remain strongly correlated with wider public debates and developments among liberal segments in Poland, though at the same time they have become increasingly pragmatic. Next I shall discuss developments of research interests among Polish scholars. Here I trace three main characteristics of the research on Jewish history and culture conducted in Poland: ethnocentrism; a focus on a selected set of topics (mostly connected with Holocaust and antisemitism); and an increasing interest in contemporary issues to the detriment of historical studies.
Full text of the keynote lecture: https://polin.pl/system/files/attachments/Marcin_Wodzi%C5%84ski_Key_Presentation.pdf
Havi Dreifuss, “Beyond traditional methods: Five Thoughts of what is New and What is Next in Jewish Studies”In 1944, the famous Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem published a scathing critique of Wissenschaft des Judentums, and wondered: “Where is the building that we said we would build […] and if the building was not built – where is that intact stone that we said we would use building the house of the wisdom of Israel? […] Is something wrong in the house of wisdom and science […]? Or have we wrongly seen?”. In doing so, Scholem wondered about various obstacles and misconceptions that prevented Jewish studies from fulfilling their historical task in his eyes. Those words that were well-rooted in his historical and historiographical reality could raise questions regarding deceptive notions nowadays. This paper seeks to address problem of boundaries and schemes that must be crossed or preserved in Jewish studies, shining light on misconceptions, dichotomies and illusions.
Full text of the keynote lecture: https://polin.pl/system/files/attachments/Keynote_H.%20Dreifuss.pdf
Creating a Legacy: The Impact of Philanthropy on Jewish Studies in Poland – an online panel discussion of prominent donors
- Sally Berkovic, Rothschild Foundation Handiv Europe
- Shana Penn, Taube Philanthropies
- Irene Pletka, The Kronhill Pletka Foundation
Chair: Dariusz Stola
Donors play an important role in supporting Jewish studies in Poland and in the development of Polish Jewish studies in the United States and Israel. Prominent supporters of Jewish studies will respond to the following questions. What are your priorities? How do you decide what to support? What impact are you looking for? What has been the impact of your support of Jewish studies and specifically Polish Jewish studies in Poland, the United States, and Israel. How do you see the future of the field?
The Future of Museum Architecture – an online panel discussion with architects, focusing on Jewish and Holocaust museums.
Chair: Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
- Rainer Mahlamaki
- Andrzej Bulanda
- Jakub Szczęsny
It has been said that a museum’s unique architecture is its greatest single object and a prize architectural commission. Indeed, some of the most spectacular and innovative buildings are created for museums. This panel will explore the challenges, successes, and failures of museum architecture, with a focus on Jewish and Holocaust museums.
27 doctoral candidates presented posters related to their dissertations. They represented wide spectrum of topics and methodologies. Their research dealt with the shtetl, Holocaust trauma, biographical approach, gender analysis, family studies, transnational Jewish history, visual culture, the spatial turn, the affective turn, and queer studies.
Major questions and discussion points:
- What is the potential relevance of new theoretical directions in the humanities and social sciences to specific research problems in Jewish studies?
- How has work in Jewish studies contributed to theoretical developments in the humanities and social sciences more generally?
- Which new sources are being explored in Jewish studies? Which kinds of sources have been neglected by researchers and what is their potential?
- How might a wider range of disciplines and greater degree of interdisciplinarity enrich Jewish studies? What potential might comparative approaches hold?
- How has the emphasis on the modern period and especially the 20thcentury shaped Jewish studies more generally? To what extent has this emphasis overshadowed the study of earlier periods? What are the critical questions for scholars of the medieval and early modern periods, as well as for scholars of the long 19th century, and how might greater attention to those periods shape the study of East and Central European Jews in the modern period?
- In what ways are new technologies revolutionizing Jewish studies?
- How, where, and why do these communities engage with the legacy of the civilization created by East and Central European Jews?
- What is the role of museums, memorials, and cultural centers in the development and popularization of Jewish studies?
- How are scholars affected by contemporary concerns, whether contested histories, conflicted memory, or historical policy, among others?
- How are large databases of archival documents, photographs, objects, and press, coupled with more sophisticated search tools, changing the way scholars work and Jewish studies as a field?
Scott Ury: “The academic discourse that emerges from this week’s conference, however, is vastly different from the one that framed the study of modern Jewish history and society for generations. Not only are traditional themes no longer dominant, but they no longer define or bind the study of Polish Jewry. Instead, we have a number of fascinating new topics that were simply not on our agenda a generation ago, including: the visual turn, the spatial turn, the cultural turn and the material turn as well as papers on key themes in the humanities like gender, memory and race. (…) Again, the very sense of community that one could observe over the past few days of Zooming, presenting and chatting, was made possible by the lack of participation by scholars from other fields in the otherwise large program”
Genevieve Zubrzycki: “The research showcased on panels and the discussions and debates that animated different cyber rooms in the last several days demonstrate the extent to which borders between disciplines are porous, with scholars borrowing methodological and theoretical insights from various fields to shed light on their specific “Jewish” object of study. (…) The digital humanities’ turn appears to have provided technical and methodological innovations that have opened the most and the broadest avenues for future research, and it is shaping present research on older topics too. Gerben Zaagsma‘s keynote presented us with an exceptionally rich array of applications of digital humanities,(…).
These “turns” inspired scholars to take a close look at new types of sources or a fresh look at known sources —from cookbooks to musical scores, to architectural plans to domestic interiors—revealing different ways of being, acting, and feeling of Jewish individuals and groups in the immediate environment and the diverse social and political contexts they inhabit. (…). Perhaps more politically cutting-edge is the postcolonial turn and renewed attention to intersectionality — the focus on hybrid, fluid, contested identities and different Jewish cultural, social, religious locations, which often intersect, but also sometimes compete or conflict. The postcolonial framework, or even critical race theory some suggested, could provide new tools to think about the lives of Jews in different national contexts, past and present, and to understand power relations between Jews and gentiles in Europe, or Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and Jews and Palestinians in the Israeli context.
Poland’s Jewish turn
That this international conference was organized by POLIN Museum is significant in itself. POLIN Museum plays an important role as a bridge between the academy and the public, especially now. Polish-Jewish studies has experienced an impressive boom during the last quarter century, although not without challenges, most consequential, Poland’s sharp turn to the right and the state’s efforts to shape historical knowledge and public debates. The conference stressed the importance of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the independence of scholarship. The conference concluded with a strong expression of solidarity.
A summary highlighting the most significant and productive threads in papers and discussions, with a reflection on the tasks ahead
Jewish studies has been dominated by a few fields and periods: history, literature, and Jewish thought, all important, and by the modern period and the Holocaust, also of critical importance. Jewish studies has suffered from what might be considered a “double marginality.” The social sciences and the arts have been marginal to Jewish studies, while Jewish topics have been marginal to those disciplines. The conference demonstrated what might be gained by broadening the disciplinary scope of Jewish studies in terms of topics, theory, and methods. While the conference encouraged attention to earlier periods, they still remain to be represented more fully.
A worthy goal might be to imagine Jewish studies as not only disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary, but also postdisciplinary. While grounded in the specific competencies the field requires, Jewish studies could benefit from new paradigms in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, and more fully from the digital revolution. Museums, universities, archives, libraries, and research institutes play an important role in bringing the fruits of scholarship to the public. Foundations and individual donors are playin their part in the development of Jewish studies in Europe and elsewhere. The conference made a strong case for their continued support, especially where their support helps to protect the independence of scholars and their research.
If relevant, a brief description of any engagement with the public or Jewish communal impact.
POLIN Museum widely publicized the conference, which was open to the public and free of charge. Online access made it possible for more people from more countries to take part. All the sessions were recorded and will be posted on POLIN Museum’s website, thereby reaching an even wider public. In these ways, the conference has raised awareness of the role of Jewish studies not only as an academic enterprise in its own right, but also its value for the humanities and social sciences more generally. The conference also demonstrated the importance of Jewish studies in supporting the renewal of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, the focus of the conference. The future of Jewish life in Europe today stands much to gain from a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jewish history and culture.
A statement about planned outcomes (projects, future workshops, collaborations) and outputs (publications).
POLIN Museum is planning several publications of a selection of the papers presented at the conference, including a book and special issues of academic journals.
Networking will lead to collaboration on new research projects, grant applications, and publications.
POLIN Museum’s Global Education Outreach Program (GEOP) offers support for many of these developments through its various programs, including Research Workshops and future conferences.
The actual final programme of the event
The complete final program is online: https://polin.pl/en/program-whats-new-whats-next
Major parts of the program:
Keynote: The Narcissism of Small Differences? Reflections on Jewish Studies and Jewish Area Studies
- Narratives of Conversion and Belonging in Jewish and Polish History
- New Paradigms, Methodologies, and Sources for the History of Hasidism
- Historians of Societies in Turmoil: Cultural Memory and Politics of Memory
Keynote: Exploring Jewish History in the Digital Age
- Between Memory and Education: Challenging Holocaust Transmission and the Fight against Antisemitism
- Exhibiting Loss: Discovering New Museum Possibilities
- Inside the Eruv: Inclusive Approaches to Haredi Language, Religion, and Culture
- Creating a Legacy: The Impact of Philanthropy on Jewish Studies in Poland
Keynote: Beyond Traditional Methods: What is New and What is Next in Jewish Studies – Five Thoughts
- The Corporeal Turn: Cookbooks, Food, and Embodied Memory
- Reconsidering the Spatial Turn in Jewish Studies: A Relational Approach
- Multilingual Jewish Popular Culture from the end of the 19th Century until 1939: Routes to Modernity
- Focusing on Families: What Does Polish Jewish History Have to Gain?
- New Interactive Internet Approaches to Studying Eastern European Jewish Music
- Approaches to Jewish Architecture: From Nationalism to Post-Modernism
Keynote: What’s Next in Jewish Studies: Prospects and Challenges
- City, School, and Family: Exploring New Sources for the History of Galician Jews
- Ilanot: Kabbalistic Iconotexts and New Frontiers of Digital Humanities
- Looking At, Looking Away: The Testimonial Agency of Holocaust Photography
- Fin-de-Siècle Łódź: Jews, Patrons, and the Art of Samuel Hirszenberg
- Transregionalism, Local Identities, and Jewish Geography in Early Modern Ashkenaz
- Jews and Conversion in Eastern Europe: New Approaches, Methodologies, Sources
- Polish Jews: Towards a New Past
- The Network of Inns in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 18th century: A Spatial Humanities Approach to Jewish Socio-Economic Activities in Early Modern History
- Mobility and Migration in German-Jewish Photography during the National Socialist Era
Roundtable: The Future of Museum Architecture
The conference was made possible thanks to generous funding from the European Association for Jewish Studies.
The conference was supported by Taube Philanthropies, the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.