Kaleidoscopic Knowledge: On Jewish and Other Encyclopedias in Modernity

Sep 10, 2009 - Sep 11, 2009

Workshop at the Simon Dubnow Institute, Leipzig | Conveners: Arndt Engelhardt (DI) and Ines Prodöhl (GHI Washington)

Participants: Yaakov Ariel (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Kirsten Belgum (University of Texas at Austin), Richard I. Cohen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dan Diner (Simon Dubnow Institute/The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Arndt Engelhardt (Simon Dubnow Institute), Ottfried Fraisse (Simon Dubnow Institute), Dagmar Glaß (University of Bonn), Gershon D. Hundert (McGill University Montreal), Thomas Keiderling (University of Leipzig), Markus Kirchhoff (Simon Dubnow Institute), Ulrike Kramme (Simon Dubnow Institute), Ines Prodöhl (GHI), Bettina Rüdiger (German National Library, Leipzig), Martin Rüesch (University of Zurich), Dirk Sadowski (Simon Dubnow Institute), Barry Trachtenberg (University of Albany), Jeffrey Veidlinger (Indiana University Bloomington), Philipp von Wussow (Simon Dubnow Institute), Hansjakob Ziemer (MPIWG Berlin)

At the latest since the onset of modernity, the encyclopedia has been a medium through which communities have sought to reassure themselves of their own selfhood. Encyclopedias became an important locus or space of negotiation over what a community regards as worth knowing. "Jewish" encyclopedias came into being in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a reaction to so-called general or universal encyclopedias that actually were largely oriented to national cultures. The general encyclopedia’s claim to universality was only a kind of foil for emphasizing the respective national distinctive features and particularities, specifically in a process of modernization. This international workshop on "Jewish and Other Encyclopedias" at the Simon Dubnow Institute in Leipzig aimed to analyze encyclopedias as constructs of particular identity formations. Nevertheless, the workshop organizers proposed that Jewish and other worlds of knowledge are more closely related to one another than has commonly been assumed because of a particular feature of encyclopedic texts: the continual return of forms of thought and modes of knowledge that have been deemed passé and outmoded. In contrast to other media, encyclopedic texts have a certain degree of persistence. That can be manifested, for example, in editions reissued over several decades without significant changes, and portions of text taken from other encyclopedias. Therefore, the workshop asked if the encyclopedia might be a kind of kaleidoscope in textual form. Do encyclopedic texts merely reorder the same contents of knowledge into new patterns? To what extent is the observation of recurrent textual building blocks diametrically opposed to the ambition of the encyclopedia to generate a collective sense of belonging? To what extent does the formation of identical or similar knowledge have consequences for the negotiation of concepts of value that are valid beyond borders, without borders? In what way is the encyclopedia then a medium with whose aid conceptions regarding the global order and "modernity" are negotiated?
In the introduction to the workshop, Dan Diner presented the concepts underlying various projects in the history of knowledge at the Research Institute in Leipzig. He argued that modern encyclopedias, especially in their alphabetical form, marked a transition from traditional forms of knowledge to a new canon. The first panel addressed ideas of identity and modernity in regard to encyclopedias from different societies. Dagmar Glaß focused on encyclopedias from Egypt in the context of the Arab renaissance in the nineteenth century. Taking Butrus al-Bustani’s never completed Dai’rat al-ma’arif (1876–1900) as an example, she analyzed how the Western concept of modernity manifested itself in the production of Arabic encyclopedias. She traced the substantial Western influence and even pressure on the new encyclopedic production of knowledge in Arabic at that time. Then, Yaakov Ariel spoke about the English-language Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906), the first modern Jewish encyclopedia, which would transform American Judaism into a global center of Jewish learning. He argued that, in America, the encyclopedia was crucial for putting Judaism on an equal footing with Christian groups. Jeffrey Veidlinger also underlined the connectedness of modernity and self-understanding. He investigated the Russian-language Evreiskaia entsiklopedia (1908–1913) within the context of the Jewish public culture movement after the 1905 Revolution. He argued that this encyclopedia marked a key moment in the creation of a distinct Russian Jewish identity.
The second panel concentrated on how canons of knowledge have been shaped. How do canons arise, and who compiles them? Arndt Engelhardt showed that the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1928–1934), published in Berlin in the interwar period, preserved a common canon of knowledge for European Jewish communities in transformation, integrating secular elements into a tradition primarily characterized by sacred scripture. For the question of developing a scholarly canon, Ottfried Fraisse concentrated not on a single encyclopedia but on a certain author and his influence on the production of particular knowledge. Ignác Goldziher, a prominent Jewish Orientalist from Hungary and a widely respected scholar at the turn of the twentieth century, wrote several entries on Islam for various German- and English-language encyclopedias, spreading a specific picture of Islam in Western society. Barry Trachtenberg spoke on Di algemeyne entsiklopedye (1932–1966), which was supposed to be the first comprehensive encyclopedia in the Yiddish language. Its intended purpose of helping to craft a modern Jewish citizenry gave way, with the Nazi rise to power, to a more particularistic concern for memorializing destroyed Jewish communities and promoting the resettlement of Jews in new centers.
The third panel analyzed the transformation and adaptation of encyclopedic knowledge, in particular, in encyclopedias by the German publisher F. A. Brockhaus. Kirsten Belgum focused on the Jewish terminology in the 7th edition of Brockhaus’s Converstions-Lexicon and its English-language adaptation, Encyclopedia Americana (1829–1832). Both encyclopedias purveyed a socially distinguished form of cultural expression and served as repositories of information. Belgum highlighted the specific transfer of knowledge about Jewish culture and Judaism for predominantly non-Jewish readerships across the Atlantic as part of the larger process of transatlantic cultural translation. Ulrike Kramme then focused on Hungarian adaptations of the Brockhaus encyclopedia from the late nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, especially on the Jewish topics in these works. The last lecture in this panel also focused on the "Brockhaus." Ines Prodöhl addressed the phenomena of its numerous adaptations in different languages and for various countries throughout the nineteenth century. Taking those adaptations and the global flow of encyclopedic texts as an example, she discussed the possibilities for analyzing processes of cultural homogenization and heterogenization in Europe and North America.
In an evening lecture, "New History – Refined Memory," Gershon D. Hundert provided insight into the making of the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. He presented this encyclopedia as an up-to-date account of the history of Jewish experience in Eastern Europe, with scholarship based on research in recently opened archives, a large diversity of contributors, and special attention to previously overlooked aspects of that field. The discussion that followed centered on decision-making strategies for such a complex work and on the question of what is included in or excluded from the encyclopedia.
The workshop’s last panel addressed the question of how editors of encyclopedias have negotiated knowledge. Bettina Rüdiger discussed the production of the never completed Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste (1818–1889), initiated by Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber. She argued that the editors aimed to produce a work that would encompass knowledge on values and identity rather than provide practical information. Martin Rüesch then analyzed Pierre Bayles’s Dictionnaire historique et critique in relation to Bayles’s views on Jews and Jewish history. Rüesch dealt with the difficult question of whether Bayle, who was famous for propagating tolerance, was sincere or whether this was merely a beautiful facade. Finally, Dirk Sadowski presented the early modern Ma’ase Tuvia, a Hebrew compendium of knowledge first published in 1708. This encyclopedia sought to provide Jews in the time of Haskala with contemporary knowledge on the natural sciences. According to Sadowski, such "modern" knowledge was intended to enable the encyclopedia’s readers to hold their own in scholarly discussions with Christian interlocutors.
In his closing remarks, Richard I. Cohen compared encyclopedias to museums, focusing especially on forms of the Visual. He argued that both Jewish museums and encyclopedias aspired to raise Jews’ pride in a sense of Jewish belonging while asserting the desire to present Jewish culture and history to the non-Jewish world in the spirit of classic tendencies among the founders of the "Wissenschaft des Judentums" (the science of Judaism). Cohen highlighted the nature of Jewish visibility and the character of Jewish knowledge during the twentieth century.
One conclusion participants drew from the workshop was that encyclopedias are products of their time, reflecting the Zeitgeist, though sometimes in distorted ways. Encyclopedias serve different cultures as a space for developing concepts of values and norms. Yet they also transmit the norms of modernity to the world, thus multiplying them. Encyclopedias have always contained an invitation for readers to identify with their own society, and they proffer a catalog of suggestions on how to demarcate one's own self and society from "Other" societies.
Ines Prodöhl (GHI)

Call for Papers

Since the onset of the modern era, if not before, the encyclopedia has functioned as a medium infusing communities with a sense of self-assurance and identity. Down into the present, characterized by a seemingly planetary hyper-medial networking of knowledge, the encyclopedia has proven itself to be attractive for negotiating a consciousness of collective belonging. People always turn in particular to this genre in times of political upheaval and political changes which demand new social orientations. Precisely on the basis of this attempt to determine what is characteristically one's own, distinguished from what is Other, encyclopedias represent in a special and distinctive way the accumulated knowledge of their time. They inscribe a canon whose conditions of transformation can only be discerned from a great remove in time. Thus they offer researchers the possibility to explore the construction of images of Self and Other as shaped and determined by social forces, but above all to investigate them in their capacity for transformation. It is possible through encyclopedias to vividly illustrate the influences, processes of transformation and adaptation which the knowledge of a particular community is subject to.
"Jewish" encyclopedias arose in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a reaction to "general" encyclopedias, which for the most part were nonetheless strongly oriented to national cultures, and whose claim to universality functioned principally as a contrastive backdrop for showcasing their own respective national particularities and virtues. Like other encyclopedias explicitly oriented to culture or religion, the will was manifest in Jewish encyclopedias to establish one's own forum of cultural and religious representation, along with the need to defend oneself against prejudices in the majority societies.
The workshop will examine the development of Jewish and supposedly universal encyclopedias in the modern era from a cultural-historical perspective. One point of departure is the thesis that it is necessary to interrelate Jewish and general worlds of knowledge more closely than has previously been assumed. This assumption is grounded on the observation that Jewish knowledge became part of the general store of knowledge in and through processes of translation. Those processes can be manifested not only in the form of transfer of content, but also through overlapping among encyclopedia authors and editing staff. The Jewish textual tradition was likewise influenced by the cultures surrounding it. For that reason, it is important to analyze the points of reference intrinsic within the transformations of the encyclopedia, and the cross-references to other realms of knowledge. Looking at the transfer of knowledge, the workshop will investigate (a) the actors and agents in encyclopedic undertakings, (b) the concrete conditions shaping the composition of their texts as a communication also molded by material interests, and (c) cross-section analyses of series of articles and texts. The aim is to uncover commonalities and lines of separation in traditions of knowledge and science which superficially appear to diverge; that will also be accomplished through a critical evaluation of the metaphors of this form of traditional codification and presentation of knowledge (atlas, mappemonde, organon).
Seen as a whole, one paradoxical feature of encyclopedic texts is of especial interest: namely the continual return of forms of thought and modes of knowledge which were deemed passé and outmoded. In contrast with other media, encyclopedic texts have a certain degree of persistence. That can be manifested, for example, in editions reissued over several decades without significant changes, portions of text taken from other encyclopedias, and an immanent reference to the genre. Is the encyclopedia then, we may ask, a kaleidoscope in textual form? Does it always order and array the same store of knowledge, albeit in new patterns? On the one hand, it is questionable to what extent the observation of ever reoccurring fragments of text is diametrically opposed to the proposed encyclopedic aim of generating a sense of collective belonging. On the other, it is an open question as to whether the formation of the same or similar knowledge has consequences for negotiating conceptions of value that are valid extending across boundaries. To what extent then is the encyclopedia a medium with whose aid concepts about a global order can be negotiated? One possibility for approaching this phenomenon is to search for models of the "encyclopedia" in areas outside Europe, but without subordinating these forms methodologically to the prototype from Europe, and without ignoring possible alterities.
Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes. Conference languages are English and German.
For further questions send an email to Arndt Engelhardt (DI) or to Ines Prodöhl (GHI).
Call for Papers (pdf file)