The Jews in the Modern World

Beyond the Nation


May 02 – 03, 2006
Conference at the Canadian University Conference Centre in Berlin
in cooperation with the University of Toronto and the University of Southampton

Conveners: Derek Penslar (University of Toronto), Tobias Brinkmann (University of Southampton), Simone Lässig (GHI, Washington, DC)


    The conference "Jews and Modernity: Beyond the Nation" approaches the history of the Jews beyond the nation-state from a micro and a macro perspective. The individual papers will highlight different aspects of the complex relationships between transnational and local Jewish identities. The focus will be on Europe and North America after 1750.

    Is modern Jewish history simply the sum of different national histories? How do we assess and balance modern Jewish history’s European, transatlantic, and transnational dimensions? Most scholarship in the field of modern Jewish history treats Jewish life primarily within the sphere of the nation-state. No doubt, the nation-state did play a key role in the processes that transformed Jewish life since the late 18th century: it was a trailblazer of Jewish emancipation, defined expanding national cultures and provided the delimiting framework for education and careers. Jews, in turn, identified strongly with the nation-state, yet clearly Jewish history transcended the national paradigm. Thus this conference will focus on mutual relationships between local, regional and transnational Jewish identities in the modern world.

    The importance of the transnationalJewish Diaspora has been widely acknowledged. Already in antiquity Jews built highly developed and far-reaching networks for the exchange of economic and cultural goods. And indeed, for the period up to the mid-18th century Jewish history has been treated largely within an international context. However, most historians for the period after 1750 keep within the confines of the nation-state, neglecting (with a few exceptions) transnational Jewish relationships. Nor have scholars of the Jews in late modernity thought through the relationship between the Jews’ position within early modern internationality and their new role in the nascent nation-state. How, this conference will explore, did Jewish networks and spheres of communication reposition themselves during the transformation from early to late modernity?

    It is ironic that the historiography of a diverse and far-reaching Diaspora still moves primarily within the paradigm of the nation-state, although the latter’s salience has been increasingly questioned. Scholars in the fields of comparative literature and cultural studies increasingly deal with transnational issues. Research on supra-national and multiethnic empires has simultaneously widened and sharpened the focus of global history as a newly emerging field.

    The mutual exchange between colonies and the metropole, intra-colonial relationships and the emergence of an international cultural sphere cannot be treated within the confines of the nation-state. The history of the Jews offers many case studies for this range of themes: Jews played an important role in opening up the Atlantic world, Jewish trading networks connected the Mediterranean with the Western hemisphere and the Muslim world. International Jewish organizations in the fields of education and philanthropy like the Alliance Israélite Universelle, were precursors of today’s global NGO's. The history of Jewish immigration to North America from Central and eastern Europe illustrate impressively the importance and the persistence of close transnational links between Jews in the New and Old worlds.

    A second focus of the conference, which is closely related to the transnational theme, aims in the opposite direction, towards the exploration of Jewish local and regional identities. The construction and the longue duréeof such identities could support the project of the nation-state but also weaken it. It is no coincidence that historians of the fissiparous German lands have stressed the importance of local and regional difference. But even for France, the centralized modern nation-state par excellence, influential scholarly works have shifted the perspective to the regional level. Accordingly, this conference intends to follow the "regional turn" in recent historiography: By leaving the ghetto, Jews became not only Germans or Americans, French or English, but also Frankfurters, Chicagoans, Parisians and Mancunians. An indication of the importance of Jewish local identities in the 19th and 20th centuries are the many local histories of Jewish communities, especially in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe and in the United States. Strong local affiliations of Jews were not one-sided love affairs. Jews often acted as respected local insiders, even when they had to defend themselves against widespread anti-Semitic stereotypes as outsiders on the national level. 

  • PROGRAM (as of February 09, 2006)

    May 02, 2006

    09:00 am Welcome

    I. Jewish Transnationalism

    09:30 -10:30 am
    Panel 1: Modern Jewish History as International History

    Jonathan Skolnik - Narratives of Jewish History in 19th Century Europe: Between Nation, Minority, and Region
    Derek Penslar - An Unlikely Internationalism: The Jewish Experience of Warfare in Modern Europe

    10:30 - 10:45 am Coffee

    10:45 am - 12:15 pm
    Panel 2: Capital, Exchange and Jewish Internationality

    Adam Sutcliffe - Culture and Commerce in the Early Modern Jewish Atlantic
    Rainer Liedtke - A Jewish Transnational Business Network? N M Rothschild & Sons in 19th-century Europe
    Abigail Green - Sir Moses Montefiore and the making of the 'Jewish International'

    12:15 - 01:30 pm
    Lunch followed by Coffee

    01:30 - 03:00 pm
    Panel 3: The Limits of Deutschtum Among Germany’s Jews

    Tobias Brinkmann - A Diaspora on the Move? Jewish Migrants from Eastern Europe in Berlin after 1918
    Joachim Schloer and Katharina Hoba - Lost and Found Heimat among German-Jewish Emigrés
    Michal Bodemann - Jews in Germany since 1989: A Model of a Transnational Community?

    06:00 pm Reception and Dinner

    08:00 pm
    Keynote Address
    Dan Diner - Modern Jewish History beyond the Nation State

    May 03, 2006
    II. Sub-National Roots of Modern Jewish Life and Identity

    09:00 - 10:30 am
    Panel 4: Empire and Locality

    Stephan Wendehorst - The Emperor's Jews: Imperial and Local Jewish Spaces in the Holy Roman Empire 1648–1806
    Michael Miller - "Bless the land that nourishes your children": Habsburg Jewsbetween Empire and Nation-State
    David Rechter - Geography is Destiny: Region, Nation and Empire in Habsburg Jewish Bukovina

    10:30 - 10:45 am

    10:45 am - 12:15 pm
    Panel 5: Urban Identities and Local Diasporas: Jews in Eastern Europe

    Scott Ury - Bright Lights, Big City: Jewish Urban Anxiety in Fin-de-Siecle Warsaw
    Rebecca Kobrin - Bialystok's Exile: Jewish Regional Identity in the Age of Mass Migration
    Anna Lipphardt - Reconstructing Vilne throughout the World: Vilne and the Yiddish Diaspora after the Shoah

    12:15 - 01:30 pm
    Lunch followed by Coffee

    01:30 - 03:00 pm
    Panel 6: Locality and Heimatgefühl Among German Jews

    Simone Lässig - Locality as the Centre of Bourgeois German-Jewish Life
    Nils Roemer - Locating German Jewish Cultures Between the Province, the Nation, and the Diaspora
    Nicolas Berg - Luftmenschen and Living Space: German-Jewish Concepts of Heimat at the Fin-de-Siecle

    03:00 - 03:15 pm

    03:15 - 04:30 pm
    Öffentliche Podiumsdiskussion (Public Roundtable Discussion)

    Transcending the Nation? Implications of Sub- and Transnationality for the Jewish Future
    Derek Penslar (Chair)

    David Cesarani
    Dan Diner
    Reinhard Rürup