From Monumental Histories to a Multiplicity of Histories: The Persistence and Meaning of Master Narratives of Jewish History
Forthcoming in AJS Review
Histories like Heinrich Graetz’s Geschichte der Juden (1854-76) may have once been prominent and popular, but more recently this genre has fallen out of favor as scholars generally no longer try to write monumental histories of the Jews. This article traces the turn away from monumental histories and how it represents fundamental changes in how scholars understand Jewish history: Graetz and his contemporaries constructed Jewish history as a unified field, but today some question the notion of “a” Jewish history, instead looking to a combination of multiplicity of histories and narratives. Nevertheless, a cohort of leading scholars and popular writers continue to produce synthetic histories of the Jews, and many still produce linear narratives of Jewish history for introductory Jewish history courses. Consequently, this article brings together historiography and pedagogy to comprehend the persistence and meaning of master narrative frameworks as scholars and the public continue to envision Jewish history.
Active Learning and Public Engagement in the History Survey: Teaching with Service-Learning, Wikipedia, and Podcasting in Jewish History Courses
Forthcoming in The History Teacher
The article will explore how scholars can incorporate active learning and public engagement into history survey courses by designing innovative assignments. It presents a report on classroom techniques I developed in 2017–18 for a sequence of Jewish history courses where students pursued research and service projects tied to community engagement and public knowledge: service-learning, editing wikipedia articles, and developing podcast episodes. The article explores challenges in designing survey courses and the possibilities of “backwards design” principles to incorporate learning objectives into course content, assignments, and assessment strategies. Includes appendices detailing the assignments and rubrics discussed in the article.
Archival Science 20, no. 1 (Mar. 2020): 65-89.
This article explores epistemological bases for debates over the nature of archival research and practice, and argues that the lens of historical epistemology helps us best understand the critiques of the so-called “archival turn” as well as continued interest in archives among the public. Close reading of the rise of “scientific” his- tory in the nineteenth century and modern archival practice, as articulated in early twentieth-century archival manuals, offers a new theorization of principles like provenance, respect des fonds, and custody, as well as historians’ “archive stories,” as part of an overarching though usually unspoken epistemology of archives rooted in intellectual project of the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey to create an epistemological foundation of the human sciences. Following this line of inquiry, it suggests that we can reconceptualize the rise of archival research, the develop- ment of the modern archival profession, and the critiques of these trends through the so-called “archival turn” and the post-custodial era of archival practice as shifts that were not just methodological in character but also epistemological. Ultimately, approaching the history of archives through the framework of epistemology helps us make sense of new critiques and continued interest in archives. Despite a growing chorus of acknowledgement of archives’ constructed nature, the instinct that docu- ments provide access to the past with some kind of evidentiary value leads toward the value imbued into archives by professionals and the public alike and their con- tinual contestation.
Shofar 37, no. 2 (July 2019): 122-165
Since the early 2000s, podcasts have grown into an important global article introduces the Jewish History Matters podcast and situates it in within this broader history of podcasting and the role of aural culture in academia and Jewish studies. It details the origins and aspirations of the project and the possibility of podcasting as a means of scholarly communication, service, and reaching a broader public. Alongside this general introduction to the podcast, the article presents an edited transcript of a conversation on the podcast between Jeffrey Blutinger, – ern Jewish studies, from the emergence of Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1818 to the present. We discuss why studying Jewish history mat- tered to nineteenth-century scholars of Jewish studies, why it is still has changed over the generations, and why this history of history matters in terms of understanding the modern Jewish experience and the past, present, and future of Jewish studies.
History of the Human Sciences 32, no. 3 (July 2019): 49–75
Gotthard Deutsch (1859–1921) taught at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati from 1891 until his death, where he produced a card index of 70,000 ‘facts’ of Jewish history. This article explores the biography of this artefact of research and poses the following question: Does Deutsch’s index constitute a great unwritten work of history, as some have claimed, or are the cards ultimately useless ‘chips from his workshop’? It may seem a curious relic of positivistic history, but closer examination allows us to interrogate the materiality of scholarly labor. The catalogue constitutes a total archive and highlights memory’s multiple registers, as both a prosthesis for personal recall and a symbol of a ‘human encyclopedia’. The article argues that this mostly forgotten scholar’s work had surprising repercussions: Deutsch’s student Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–1995) brought his teacher’s emphasis on facticity to the field of American Jewish history that he pio- neered, catapulting a 19th-century positivism to the threshold of the 21st century. Deutsch’s index was at an inflection point of knowledge production, created as his- torians were shifting away from ‘facts’ but just before new technologies (also based on cards) enabled ‘big data’ on a larger scale. The article thus excavates a vision of mon- umentality but proposes we look past these objects as monuments to ‘heroic’ scho- larship. Indeed, Deutsch’s index is massive but middling, especially when placed alongside those of Niklas Luhmann, Paul Otlet, or Gershom Scholem. It thus presents a necessary corrective to anointing such indexes as predecessors to the Internet and big data because we must keep their problematic positivism in perspective.
American Jewish History 102, no. 3 (2018)
Awarded the Wasserman Award for best article published in American Jewish History in 2018.
This article explores the efforts to create a central archive of American Jewish history in the 1950s. These years represented an era of growth for the field of American Jewish historical studies, when scholars like Salo Wittmayer Baron, Oscar Handlin, and Jacob Rader Marcus all sought to professionalize the field. In addition, the advent of the Tercentenary celebration in 1954 led to great public interest in American Jewish history. But the records of American Jewish history were scattered in various repositories and archives, leading the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service to discuss creating a central archive of American Jewish life. While the plan did not come to fruition, it represents an important precursor to the formation of the Center for Jewish History nearly a half-century before. The article looks at two case studies bookending the 1950s, the NCJSS effort as well as the debate over the location of the American Jewish Historical Society, to show what was at stake in building a home for the past.
Who Are to Be the Successors of European Jewry? The Restitution of German Jewish Communal and Cultural Property
Journal of Contemporary History 52, no. 3 (2017): 519–545.
Who are to be the successors of European Jewry? This question faced Jewish leaders after the Holocaust, in terms both legal – inheriting heirless property – as well as spiritual – carrying forward Jewish culture. Looted Jewish property was never merely a matter of inheritance. Instead, disputes revolved around the future of Jewish life. While Jewish restitution organizations sought control of former communal property to use around the world, some German-Jewish e ́migre ́s and survivors in Germany sought to establish themselves as direct successors to former Jewish communities and institutions. Such debates set the stage and the stakes for mass archival transfer to Israel/Palestine in the 1950s. The fate of the German Jewish communal archives highlights the nature of postwar restitution debates as proxy for the issue of the con- tinuation of Jewish culture and history, calling into question the nature of restitution itself. As opposed to policies of proportional allocation to meet the needs of radically diminished Jewish communities, wholesale transfer of archives reflected a belief in a radical rupture in German Jewish existence as well as Israel’s position as successor to European Jewry. The fate of the archives, which broke with archival practices of provenance, concretized and validated the historical rupture represented by the Holocaust.