Forum on Pedagogy: Views from Beyond Jewish Studies

For this section of the Migration Issue, we approached scholars who do not identify primarily with the field of Jewish Studies, but whose teaching and research engages with issues of diaspora, displacement, and identities in motion in crucial ways. We asked these colleagues to reflect on how Jews, Jewish migration, and the Jewish experience of diaspora typically figure into their teaching.

University of Toronto

Although I am by no definition a specialist in Jewish history, my undergraduate teaching has always incorporated the work of scholars researching Jewish migration. Beginning in the 1990s, my undergraduate teaching shifted from US history toward world history and thus away from courses with titles like “Immigration and American Diversity” and toward courses with titles like “Migration and Mobility in Global History.” This shift required me to draw from changing corners of Jewish Studies.

In the fairly conventional course on “Immigration and American Diversity” that I taught under varying titles in Europe and the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s, I selected two groups’ migrations to exemplify each of three main waves of immigration into the United States. For the second wave of “new immigrants,” arriving in the United States between 1880 and 1930, I usually encouraged students to explore and contrast the homeland experiences, migration patterns, and urban adjustment challenges of Jewish and Italian immigrants. Often enough, New York City provided a concrete focal point. As Nancy Green noted in her study of comparative methods in immigration history, this “converging comparison” tended to result in rather sharp contrasts of the groups compared, and students almost always imagined it was culture that drove the differences. The best students recognized other influences—for example, how the temporary and heavily male Italian labor migrations led to different family and work patterns than those found in Jewish family and refugee migrations. Comparison of Jewish and Italian migrants also revealed antisemitism and antiradicalism as differing and overlapping dimensions of American racism and xenophobia. Especially in the 1990s students pondered the origins of the very different gendering of Jewish socialist and Italian anarchist activists. At the same time, the comparison of two groups in one city meant that commonalities—in the form of clustering of Yiddish-, German-, and Italian-dialect speaking groups, and forms of institution building, such as newspapers—also came into focus.

Once I began teaching world history and undertook the writing and editing of a series of books on the world-wide migrations of people originating in the Italian peninsula, I found myself turning instead to the rich, interdisciplinary, and at times more theoretical work on Diasporas within Jewish Studies. Here, what Green called “diverging comparisons” became more salient, as did opportunities to explore the changing typologies and much longer temporality of the Jewish Diaspora, from early, biblical notions of exiles and to Zionism, Diaspora nationalism, and state building. Case studies of the Jewish Diaspora provided both an opportunity to explore critically Diaspora historiography (with graduate students) and a unique series of provocative comparisons (to Greeks, Africans, and Armenians) with undergraduate students.

Donna Gabaccia is professor of History at the University of Toronto. Her most recent book, Gender and International Migration: From the Slavery Era to the Global Age (co-authored with Katharine Donato, Russel Sage, 2015), received an honorable mention from the American Sociological Association’s Section on International Migration’s Thomas and Znaniecki Award.

University of Michigan

As a scholar, I do not identify with the interdisciplinary field of Jewish Studies, but employ two particular Jewish experiences in history, namely the Shoah and the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. I do so as follows:

First, understanding and making sense of the Shoah has led to a very significant ontological shift in the social sciences and the humanities, a shift that was initially spearheaded by the Frankfurt School of critical theory. That shift formed the foundation of the current poststructural approaches to society, ones that specifically focus on the prejudice and discrimination experienced by the marginalized. Hence, I would argue that gender, race, queer, and postcolonial theories are all informed by and originate in the analysis of this fundamental violence in modern European history, namely the Shoah. As such, the Shoah informs my theoretical stand.

Second, my particular expertise is the Armenian Genocide, a collective violence that preceded the Shoah. I recently finished a book on the denial by Turkish state and society of the collective violence they committed against the Armenians from the late eighteenth century to the present. In order to understand the origins, development, execution, and aftermath of this collective violence, I drew extensively on the large literature on the Shoah, its public acknowledgement, and contemporary denialism. Studying multiple instances of collective violence side by side enabled me to better see the dark violent underbelly of modernity. Hence the Shoah also contributed to my empirical work.

Third, I have myself written a couple of articles on the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. I did so because I was interested earlier in my career on how the millet system, namely the system regulating the non-Muslim communities in the Ottoman Empire, operated. I specifically studied the eighteenth-century probate records of Ottoman Jews living in the imperial capital Istanbul to understand when, in settling their legal affairs, they went to a Muslim court rather than their own communal one. It turned out that their geographical proximity to a Muslim court did not make a difference. Rather, how content they were with the rulings of the rabbi heading the Jewish community at that particular time was a much better measure: their use of Muslim courts increased when they were unhappy with their rabbi and decreased when they were content. Hence the Jewish experience in the Ottoman Empire contributed to my historical archival work.

In summary then, the Jewish experience in the Ottoman Empire and contemporary Turkey informs my empirical work while the Shoah impacts my theoretical stand in the social sciences.

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Fatma Müge Göçek is professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. In her work Göçek is interested in issues of social change in non-Western states and societies in general and as it impacts minority communities in particular. After finishing a book on the denial by Turkish state and society of the collective violence committed against Armenians, she is now working on the continuity of that violence and denial onto the Kurds of Turkey.

Catholic University

I teach general graduate and undergraduate courses in American immigration and ethnic history as well as more specific graduate and undergraduate courses in Irish American history, my specialty. In all my graduate and undergraduate courses I use the article “The Invention of Ethnicity” by Kathleen Conzen et al., in the Journal of American Ethnic History, 1992, as well as Charles Tilly’s “Transplanted Networks,” in Virginia Yans-McLaughlin’s Immigration Reconsidered (Oxford, 1990). They establish two of the most important theoretical frameworks for the courses: first, that assimilation is a poor, not very helpful, way to talk about the history of ethnic groups in America and that it is better to understand that ethnic groups and communities are shaped in the historical contingencies of space and time; second, that immigration is a social process, that networks are critical to who leaves one country and why, and how those people adapt in a new one. In my graduate course, I have used Deborah Dash Moore’s fine books, At Home in America (Columbia UP, 1981) and To the Golden Cities (Harvard UP, 1996), to illustrate both this kind of change over time and variation over space, and books by Chris McNickle, To Be Mayor of New York (Columbia UP, 1993), and Joshua Zeitz, White Ethnic New York (UNC Press, 2007), on Jewish and other ethnic politics in New York City. In my undergraduate course, I have used the example of Jewish emigration in a discussion of the causes of emigration, and lectured on the history of interactions between German Jews and east European Jews as a case study in the evolution of ethnic groups. That lecture comes in the first half of the course, when I draw on the history of several groups to establish the general principles and themes of the course.

In that part of the course, I have also given the students copies of two pages of passenger lists from ships carrying Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants from European ports to New York in the early twentieth century, and asked them to pick out and quantify the most important differences among the three groups of immigrants. Those differences are dramatic (perhaps even exaggerated in these small samples, though I chose the pages randomly), and the exercise in studying them powerfully illustrates the variety among immigrants in who came and how they came to America: single Irish women often migrating in migration chains made up largely of other Irish women; single and married Italian men traveling in small bands without their families, many of them returning to America after previous visits; and Jewish families, led by wives and mothers, traveling with their children to meet husbands in America. They illustrate not only the diversity of migration experience, but also the critical significance and variety of networks in the migration process.

Finally, in my undergraduate Irish American course, I have devoted a class to the antisemitic Father Charles Coughlin. I have a joint appointment as both a tenured member of the history faculty and director of Catholic University’s Archives and Manuscript Collections. Some years ago we discovered two cryptically and confusingly labeled recordings in our holdings. We were able to have them digitized. One was a recording of Monsignor John Ryan’s broadcast in 1936, organized by the Democratic Party, defending Franklin Roosevelt against attacks by Coughlin. The other turned out to be a national broadcast, sponsored by Catholic University, of talks by ve bishops and Al Smith in 1938, condemning Kristallnacht, four days after that Nazi atrocity. For the class session in my Irish American history course I invited Dr. Maria Mazzenga, the education archivist at our archives and an expert on Catholic antisemitism, to speak on the Ryan-Coughlin controversy. We have teaching websites focusing on each of the broadcasts with contextualizing historical background and documents. They can be found at the Catholic University Archives, American Catholic History Classroom website:

Timothy J. Meagher is associate professor of History and curator of American Catholic History Collections at Catholic University. He co-edited with Ronald Bayor a collection of essays, The New York Irish (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), and is the author of Inventing Irish America (University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) and The Columbia Guide to Irish American History (Columbia University Press, 2005).

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? The early Christian writer Tertullian’s question came to my mind when I was asked to contribute to this discussion. My first reaction was that the Jewish experience of Diaspora doesn’t figure in my teaching at all. My field is Classics, and Jews tend not to figure prominently in most of the standard courses that I teach (classical mythology, Latin prose authors, Roman law). Although this absence is so well established that it seems natural, it is actually somewhat surprising, since Jews did figure prominently in the Greco-Roman world, at least from the time of Alexander the Great. Their artificial absence from the typical Classics curriculum results in large part from the disciplinary divides between Classics on the one hand and Religious Studies or Jewish Studies on the other. Indeed, the one course I teach in which Jews do figure prominently is one in which I cross into territory normally allotted to Religious Studies, that is, Greek New Testament. I have just finished teaching the Gospel of Mark in our fourth-semester undergraduate Greek course, and although the focus was on issues of grammar and syntax and textual transmission, there was naturally much discussion of the way that the text constructs the Jewish leaders of the day as opponents of Jesus. Yet even in that context the Jewish experience of Diaspora does not play much of a part. I can see possibilities for change, however. The Greco-Roman world was one replete with groups who were displaced, voluntarily or involuntarily, from their original homelands, of which the Jews are by far the best documented. Although the experiences of these groups have left relatively little trace in the elite texts that are the focus of most courses in Greek and Latin, the way that they negotiated their identities in complex multicultural situations has become a major focus of research and is gradually filtering down into the undergraduate curriculum. Since many of our students are themselves members of Diaspora communities and are in their own lives engaged in similarly complex cultural negotiations, I can see courses built around these themes as a way to diversify the undergraduate audience for Classics, something that we in the field need urgently to do. In this respect, the Jewish experience of Diaspora may well become increasingly relevant.

James B. Rives is Kenan Eminent Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research focuses on religion in the first few centuries CE, especially the interconnections between religion and sociopolitical authority and the transformation of religion as a cultural category.

New York University

As a New York City–based historian, curator, and cultural organizer, Jewish history, intellectuals, organizers, and activists have been influential at every turn. This impact began in a Levitttown-like suburb and continues in my teaching today.

All Diaspora and migratory experiences have been touchstones in my efforts to understand Chinese and Asians in the Americas histories and now New York Anglo- American political culture in a global frame. Yet none has been as deeply affecting and informative as the Jewish experience for my reflections as part of a refugee family moving to Park Forest, Illinois at age four. I’ll brie y touch on three intersected research “knots,” then get to my teaching approach. Not linear, questions return in cycles, renewed and made more complex
each time.

First, when we started the New York Chinatown History Project I gained an appreciation of the deeply rooted Jewish historical and organizational presence infused in the Chinatown/Lower East Side area. I wanted to establish an Asian American parallel to Yiddishkeit culture rooted in both neighborhood and deep translocal histories. Stories of the Garden Cafeteria (now Wu’s Wonton King), a place where local writers, organizers, and community folks would gather, intrigued me. I imagined Isaac Bashevis Singer and Emma Goldman sitting across time over American coffee. (It soon became a Cantonese eatery in 1983.) Why hadn’t the Chinese New York community developed in similar ways? A good part of the difference: the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882–1943, but effectively lasting till 1965/68, when Emanuel Celler helped author the Hart-Celler Immigration Reform Act. There simply had not been a critical number of Chinese New York families to create comparable networks and inroads. Or had this in fact happened yet that history was not documented?

Second, just as Chinese Exclusion was “forgotten,” eugenics-driven policies and laws also devastated the communities of Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Redlining was preceded by Robert Moses and “slum clearance,” which was preceded by Anglo- Protestant Progressives “planning” and rezoning away immigrant and migrant “dirtiness.” While the nation today is well coached in remembering the immigrant history of Little Italy and the Jewish Lower East Side, the eugenics history remains hidden (in plain sight). The 1924 National Origins Quota effectively ended the migration streams and the racialized exclusion of “inferior” “unfit” Europeans now largely un-told and un-noted—another parallel to the public ignorance of Chinese Exclusion. What could I glean from this systemic public erasure?

And more intersected yet, a nod to a third knot, Park Forest, Illinois, was one of those post–Korean War GI suburbs where excluded European whites could “become white.” Philip Klutznick—part of the FDR administration that continued the exurbanizing policies of “slum clearance,” builder of highways and Chicago region developer—wanted to build a suburb that Jews could move into. Racial covenants, for so many “others,” kept my family from being able to move into Oak Park, but Klutznick allowed young Chinese American professionals to enter Park Forest, where I grew up amidst unresolved feelings of living in a placeless home.

Each of these three time/place stories, for me, constitutes a meaning-filled fragmented “artifact” theorizing my life experience. Many qualify as Marianne Hirsch’s “postmemory” tidbits—conveyed unresolved traumas to descendants innocent of and dislodged from the lived knowledge yet filled with unresolved, inchoate feelings. Conceptualizing such artifacts together enables me to link my refugee, Diaspora family with a larger set of Jewish, Italian, Puerto Rican, and African American Lower East Side stories that challenge foundational paradigms of what it means to be an American, retrospectively and today.

Jack Tchen, historian, curator, and teacher, has just been appointed as the Clement A Price Chair of Public History and Humanites at Rutgers University - Newark. He is the founding director of the Program in Asian/Paci c/American Studies at New York University. He cofounded the Museum of Chinese in America. He is currently completing work on a PBS documentary with Ric Burns and Li-shin Yu on the Chinese Exclusion Act and curating a visual study on New York City–based eugenics Progressives.

University of Oregon

I am a historian of Latin America, and my research focuses on honor, gender, law, and political culture in Venezuela during the eighteenth-nineteenth century. The subject of Jews arises in a number of the courses I teach, which include world history, European history, and various courses on Latin America. As an active, vibrant minority, Jews help to illuminate for my students numerous crucial aspects of history, including identity, hegemony, prejudice, oppression, as well as efforts at tolerance and inclusion.

In ancient world history, we study the book of Genesis and the Mosaic laws to demonstrate the Babylonian roots of the Hebrew Bible and introduce students to fundamental features of the Abrahamic religions.

In early modern and modern world history, Diaspora Jews show how their host society treated a vulnerable minority, and how the host society pursued racist, nationalist, or imperialist ends. The story of Castilian antisemitism in the fifteenth century arises in several courses. This case illustrates how religious politics and ethnic cleansing helped to unify Iberia. This story also illuminates the creation of racism, which became so potent in Europe, the Americas, and eventually across the globe. In courses that include postindependence Latin America (1820s–80s), in order to explore the difficulty of the region’s first attempts at religious freedom and pluralism, we consider the first community of Jews in Venezuela, who arrived in 1823 but then suffered pogroms in 1830 and 1858. In modern world history, we cover nineteenth-century antisemitism to explore modern racism and nationalism, and also consider the Holocaust as an example of a contemporary genocide.

While the above examples look at Jews largely in the role of a minority group victimized by its dominant society, in modern world history we also study Arab-Israeli relations, in which Jews demonstrate far more control of their destiny. We study Arab-Israeli relations as a case study of postcolonialism, nationalism, the rise of violent religious fundamentalism, and complications in the Middle East generally.

Reuben Zahler is associate professor of History at the University of Oregon. His research considers how Latin America transformed from colonies to independent, liberal republics during the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries. Specifically, he explores the evolution of honor, law, and gender as Venezuelans adopted civil rights, capitalism, and elections into their institutions and daily lives.