Agents of Cultural Change: Jewish and other Responses to Modernity, ca. 1750–1900


International Conference at the German Historical Institute, Washington DC, October 8–10, 2018

Conveners: Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute, Washington DC), Zohar Shavit (Tel Aviv University), Kerstin von der Krone (German Historical Institute, Washington DC)

Deadline: November 15, 2017

Everyday language posits a dichotomy between the traditional and the new, but as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger taught us, ostensible traditions can be modern responses to new challenges. We have to be careful about easy dichotomies that assume the apparently old is really that. Educational, religious, and other cultural practices that appear to merely manifest the old can very well represent innovative adaptations of the traditional in response to new social, cultural, political, and economic challenges. This is the premise of the German–Israeli research project “Innovation through Tradition? Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Transformation in the Face of Modernity.”

Adopting the perspective of this DFG-funded project, our conference starts from the assumption that the history of Ashkenazi Jewry in German-speaking Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries can offer not only new insights into Jewish history but also an exciting point of departure for more general questions about the resilience and coping strategies that groups develop when confronted with deep-reaching, sometimes existence-threatening social change in an increasingly complex world. The conference asks how members of a distinctive socio-cultural system—characterized by a particular set of linguistic practices, cultural meanings, religious practices, and knowledge orders—transformed that system. Further, it seeks to understand how members of this system communicated and translated major changes, how they made them socially relevant and acceptable.

Exploring these questions on the basis of a variety of sources and perspectives, we are particularly interested in processes of cultural translation and knowledge production. Although Jewish history is the point of departure in our research, this conference aims at a broader perspective and will focus on entanglements and comparisons of Jewish and other responses to modernity. Thus, we encourage proposals for papers that address the full sweep of the modern religio-cultural landscape—especially in the German-speaking territories—and that offer conference participants a chance to relate Jewish historical experiences to broader aspects of cultural transfer and translation. We are particularly interested in contributions that discuss the interdependencies of education and religion and their impact on prevalent systems of knowledge and practices of knowledge production.
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Second Project Phase approved – New Affiliation: German Historical Institute Washington DC

We are delighted to announce that the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) approved a second project phase from January 2016 to December 2018, which enables us to continue our research and deepen the fruitful collaboration we experienced in the last two years.
Beginning with January 2016 the project group will continue it’s work under the auspices of the German Historical Institute in Washington DC and carry on the research cooperation with the Tel Aviv University. This new institutional affiliation will contribute to our intention to broaden the perspective by extending our research focus towards English-speaking Jewry and Jewish History in Tsarist Russia. As intended this will include comparative perspectives and approaches from cultural transfer which shall enable us to highlight how Jews in different historical settings coped with fundamental social and cultural change, what role religion and tradition played, and to what extant their actions where shaped by the respective political and socio-economic conditions they were living in.
Further information will follow soon.

Workshop “Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Translations” – Program

FlyerCollage1-1024x862The workshop Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Translations, organized by the Georg Eckert Institute and to be held on May 5-6, 2015, in Braunschweig, aims to bring together scholars from the fields of history and educational history, Jewish studies and cultural studies to inspire and stimulate discussion on the concept of cultural translation. The workshop will present initial findings of the German-Israeli research project Innovation through tradition? Approaching cultural transformations during the Sattelzeit via Jewish educational media and give insights into related projects, and will hopefully serve as a forum for a lively discussion on the value of Jewish educational media as sources for research in the history of cultural transformation. We hope to increase our understanding of acts of cultural translation between tradition and innovation, and of the dissolution and (re)formation of cultural boundaries, and thus generate new knowledge which may hold significance far beyond the area on which the project is focusing, that of research on Central European Jewish history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries drawing on the history of Jewish education and educational media as key sources.

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