HISTORIANS


HISTORIANS. Though Jews began to take part in modern European cultural life in the 18th century, none made anything of a mark in historiography until the 19th. Isaac d'Israeli's attempted rehabilitation of the character of Charles I attracted some attention in his day, but was of slender value. On the other hand, Sir Francis *Palgrave (Cohen) was perhaps the first English scientific historian, and founder of systematic research into archivistic source material in England. Samuel *Romanin may be said to have done the same for Venice. Later, Jews (e.g., Harry Bresslau and Philip Jaffe), took a prominent role in the publication of the great collection of source material of German history, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH). It is perhaps natural that the Jew should be drawn to the investigation of the history of other countries than his own. Thus the Germans Robert *Davidsohn and Ludo Hartmann were among the foremost historians of Italy, Felix Lieberman of Anglo-Saxon England, and the Frenchman Elie Halévy (only remotely Jewish) of the Victorian period. Among the great historiographical organizers was Sir Sidney *Lee, who was responsible for bringing the Dictionary of National Biography to successful conclusion. Jewish writers such as Lewis *Melville, Philip *Guedalla, and Stefan *Zweig were among the best known popularizers of history. In later years historians like Daniel *Boorstin, Eric *Hobsbawm, Simon *Schama, and Barbara *Tuchman achieved considerable popularity.

For writers on Jewish history see *Historiography.

Women Historians

American Jewish women became prominent within the historical profession during the 1960s, as discrimination against Jews and prejudice against women declined in the academic world in the decades after World War II. Perhaps because of their sensitivity to the situation of powerless groups, many focused their attention on ordinary people, workers, peasants, minority groups, Jews, and women.

Jewish women who became leading social historians included historians of Europe, such as Natalie Zemon *Davis and Joan Wallach Scott, and historians of America, such as Tamara Hareven. In a series of ground-breaking articles and books, Davis explored family relationships, daily life, and religion among peasants in 16th- and 17th-century France. Scott wrote on the lives of industrial workers in France, and Hareven studied workers and the family in the United States. Other Jewish women who became leading American social historians in the 1950s and 1960s include Elaine Tyler May, Paula S. Fass, Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Sheila Rothman, and Mary Flug Handlin.

By the 1970s many of these social historians helped develop the newly emerging field of women's history. Joan Wallach Scott turned to the study of female workers and how industrial wage work failed to liberate women from traditional power relations within the family. Similarly, Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossman, and Marion Kaplan explored the experience of women in Weimar and Nazi Germany from a feminist perspective. Among historians of the United States, Alice Kessler-Harris, Nancy Cott, Gerda Lerner, Linda Kerber, and Kathryn Kish Sklar took the lead in developing the new field of women's history in the 1960s and 1970s. Nancy Cott and Kathryn Kish Slar dealt with the "cult of domesticity" in colonial and 19th-century America, while Linda Kerber wrote important studies of women in Revolutionary America. Alice Kessler-Harris focused her attention on the experience of female workers, and Gerda *Lerner, a refugee from Nazi Vienna, discussed black and white women who fought against slavery and injustice.

In the late 1980s many women's historians, influenced by developments in literary criticism like deconstructionism and post-modernism, turned to the issue of gender and the ways gender hierarchies are created and legitimized. Joan Wallach Scott was at the forefront of this development with her book, Gender and the Politics of History (1988). Other Jewish women who study intellectual or political history, often influenced by modern theory, include Jan Goldstein, Jane Caplan, Temma Kaplan, Gabrielle Spiegel, and Brigitte Bedos-Rezak.

Gertrude *Himmelfarb, an active scholar since the 1950s who wrote over 10 works on intellectual and political culture in England in the 19th century, resisted many of these new trends in historiography. Her book, The New History and the Old (1987; 2004), was especially critical of social history and post-modernism.

Jewish women were also prominent in developing the field of modern Jewish history in America. Such pioneering professional Jewish historians were Naomi W. *Cohen, a prolific scholar who taught at Hunter College, who concerned herself with Jewish politics, Jewish-non-Jewish relations, and the status of Jews in American society; Lucy *Dawidowicz, a professor at Yeshiva University, who worked on East European Jews and on the Holocaust; and Nora *Levin, an instructor at Gratz College, who wrote about the Holocaust, Jewish Socialist movements, and the Jews of the Soviet Union.

As modern Jewish history grew as a field in the 1970s, women became increasingly prominent, publishing path-breaking works in Jewish social history, including Jewish women's history, and occupying prominent positions at leading American universities. Paula *Hyman, professor at Yale University, wrote on the social history of the Jews in France and also devoted much scholarly attention to Jewish women. Marion Kaplan of New York University was the leading historian of German-Jewish women. After her 1979 study of the Juedischer Frauenbund, a feminist Jewish organization in early 20th century Germany, she wrote The Making of the Jewish Middle Class (1991), on the crucial role Jewish women played in Imperial Germany in acculturating their families into bourgeois social mores and in maintaining religious tradition, social life, and Jewish ethnic solidarity. Kaplan also wrote about how Jewish women helped their families cope with persecution in Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (1998). Other important historians of European Jewry include Frances Malino of Wellesley College, who worked on Sephardi Jews in France and North Africa; Harriet Freidenreich of Temple University, who wrote on interwar Yugoslavian and Viennese Jewry and on the first generation of Central European Jewish women to receive higher education; Marsha Rozenblit of the University of Maryland, who studied Jewish assimilation in late Habsburg Vienna and Jewish identity in Habsburg Austria during World War I; Vicki Caron of Cornell, who worked on French Jews; Deborah Hertz of the University of California at San Diego, who published several books on the salon Jewesses of late 18th century Berlin; and Elisheva Carlebach of Queens College, who studied Jews in early modern Central Europe.

Within American Jewish history, Jewish women have been equally prominent since the 1970s. Deborah Dash Moore of the University of Michigan wrote such major works as At Home in America: Second Generation New York Jews (1981), a study of the process by which the children of East European Jewish immigrants in New York in the 1920s and 1930s Americanized and yet still maintained a strong Jewish ethnic identity; To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. (1994); and GI Jews (2004), which analyzes the impact of military service on the Jewish identity of American Jewish soldiers during World War II. Jenna Weissman Joselit of Princeton University is likewise an important figure in American Jewish social history; her books included Our Gang: Jewish Crime and the New York Jewish Community, 1900–1940 (1983); New York's Jewish Jews: The Orthodox Community in the Interwar Years (1990); and The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880–1950 (1994). Beth Wenger of the University of Pennsylvania wrote on the experiences of New York Jews during the Great Depression; Susan Glenn, Sydney Stahl Weinberg, and Judith E. Smith have studied the experience of Jewish immigrant women, and Pamela Nadell of American University and Karla Goldman have dealt with the role of women in American Jewish religious life.

Hasia Diner of New York University made major contributions to the fields of American immigrant history, women's history, and Jewish history. Her first book, In the Almost Promised Land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915–1935 (1977), studied how the Yiddish press viewed the civil rights struggles of the early 20th century. The author of several innovative studies of immigrant groups, as well as a number of books on the American Jewish experience, Diner provided a new understanding of 19th-century Jewish immigrants to America from German-speaking Central Europe in her volume, A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration, 1820–1880 (1992).

[Marsha L. Rozenblit (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.