The Early Modern Workshop: Introduction Jews are an intrinsic part of the history of many parts in the world, where they lived among non-Jews, drew from, contributed to, influenced, and were influenced by developments in the larger “non-Jewish” context, and where their culture flourished. Until recently scholars of the Jews also made only some degree of effort to situate the Jewish experience in a larger context of the environment of where Jews lived, “Jewish history” has been largely excluded from broader historical narratives, and treated as a field separate from general history, European or non-European. This is true for the early modern period as well.
Scholars of early modern European history have seen this period as a period of rapid change. The increasing power of the centralized state, the invention and spread of printing, new economic forms and ideologies, changed demographic patterns, and significant improvements in communications and transportation have all been noted and linked to new patterns of cultural activity, the intensification of social discipline, and changing formulations of identity. Scholarship, in other words, has recognized the early modern as a distinct period well worthy of study on its own.
Historians of the Jews have widely studied phenomena connected with the early modern period. However, all too often, their immediate historical context and parallel changes in other Jewish centers and the non-Jewish world in the same period have been overlooked. Earlier, scholars of Jewish history have tended to view the period between the late fifteenth and the late eighteenth centuries as “the late middle ages” using the medieval world as a frame of reference, while others have preferred to ascribe the period of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the modern age. The concept of an “early modern period” in Jewish history has just recently been gaining recognition.
But history rarely has visible chronological breaks, and more frequently it represents continuities from period to period. This project, the Early Modern Workshop in early modern Jewish history, seeks to establish both the singularities of the early modern period and longer lines of development from the medieval period and into the modern age of the history of the Jews as an inseparable part of the general history. Through the Early Modern Workshop, we plan to examine developments in all aspects of early modern Jewish life in order to deepen our understanding of their significance. Our central aim remains, however, to establish a broad framework for the study of early modern Jewish history and to involve all those engaged in research on the field in a lively and ongoing academic discussion.
To this end, since 2004, we have held a series of workshops with the aim of defining the characteristics of Jewish development in the early modern period. This website presents the fruits of these meetings, a collection of primary sources and scholarly presentations dealing with different aspects of Jewish early modernity. Sources are available in both the original and English translation together with explanatory notes provided by the scholars who post them. In addition, selected lectures on, and discussions of the sources are available as video or audio. The Early Modern Workshop’s lectures can be found on iTunes University.
Browse the contents of Early Modern Workshop: Resources in Jewish History:
- EMW 2004: Early Modern Jewries
- The first workshop’s goal was to look broadly at the early modern period, and develop a number of themes that might be pursued at subsequent workshops.
- EMW 2005: Jews and Urban Spaces
- The 2005 workshop addressed the complex interaction between Jews and their urban environment on various planes: physical and architectural, legal and jurisdictional, economic, social, and cultural.
- EMW 2006: Gender, Family, and Social Structures
- The 2006 Early Modern Workshop on the topic of “Gender, Family, and Social Structures” addressed a spectrum of topics about the transformation of the concept and form of family in general, and of Jewish family in particular in the early modern period.
- EMW 2007: Jewish Consumption and Material Culture in the Early Modern Period
- The 2007 workshop explored questions about the role of material culture and consumption in early modern Jewish society.
- EMW 2008: Law--Continuity and Change in the Early Modern Period
- Using both both an historical and a jurisprudential lens, the 2008 workshop explored what types of legal developments were characteristic of the early modern period. It addressed broader questions about historical changes within law, particularly, how law affects and is affected by historical developments.
- EMW 2009: Reading across Cultures: The Jewish Book and Its Readers in the Early Modern Period
- The 2009 Early Modern Workshop discussed developments in reading within Jewish society, of the impact the Jewish book may have had on culture in early modern Europe among both Jews and Christians.
- EMW 2010: Jewish Community and Identity in the Early Modern Period
- The workshop aimed to understand different ways, formal and informal, in which Jews understood what a community meant, how they identified as a community, or communities, and fashioned their own identities in the early modern period.
- EMW 2011: Egodocuments: Revelation of the Self in the Early Modern Period
- The 2011 Workshop focused on a genre, or genres of documents that aimed to help us understand how individuals in the early modern period wrote and thought about themselves.
- EMW 2012: Cross-Cultural Connections in the Early Modern Jewish World
- The idea of the workshop is not to show how any single exchange altered the course of Jewish (or non-Jewish) cultural development, but rather what those exchanges can teach us about the ways in which Jews and non-Jews interacted, learned about each other's culture, and were changed as a result.
- EMW 2013: Jews and Violence in the Early Modern Period
- The 2013 Early Modern Workshop on “Jews and Violence in the Early Modern Period” sought to contextualize the violence involving Jews in the early modern period in order to understand this crucial aspect of their experience. Participating scholars tried to complicate not only the over-simplified notion of Jews as solely victims of violence in the premodern period, but also examined complexities of the question of Jews as victims of violence.
- EMW 2014: Healing, Medicine, and Jews in the Early Modern World
- Early modern healing and medicine continued medieval traditions and were simultaneously transformed as a result of radical scientific, religious, and social changes. Early modern scholars, pharmacists, medical doctors, and popular healers advanced significant arguments that drew from and shaped new understandings of human nature and subsequently altered the interactions between healing, religion, and society. Such changes afford a unique opportunity to discuss forms of Jewish interaction with Christian and Muslim societies and developments within Jewish learned and popular culture.
- EMW 2015: Continuity and Change in the Jewish Communities of the Early Eighteenth Century
- Between the late seventeenth century and the middle of the eighteenth century, much of European Jewry (and elements within Ottoman Jewry as well) appear to have shifted from a generally traditional and religious way of life to a way of life that embraced non-traditional and/or non-halakhic practices and fashions. There were no great intellectual or political upheavals within the Jewish community during this period. It was the era of the early Enlightenment and a moment of great religious and political shift in Western Europe, yet few Jews were great stakeholders in the intellectual or religious upheavals of the day. Nevertheless, the religious commitments and cultural mores of the Jewish community apparently went through profound changes in this short period.
- EMW 2016: History of Emotions/Emotions in History
- Alongside earlier “turns” such as the linguistic and the cultural, an “emotional turn” has provided historians with a fresh perspective to consider the past. Emotion structures human experience. But emotions are shaped by languages of expression that can have ramifications for human thought and behavior.
- EMW 2017: Cultures of Record Keeping: Creation, Preservation, and Use in the Early Modern Period
- The 2017 Early Modern Workshop's theme was "Cultures of Record Keeping: Creation, Preservation, and Use in the Early Modern Period." The workshop focused on the creation, preservation, organization, collection, translation, and use of records, evidence, and information.
- EMW2019: Senses and Perceptions
- This year's theme, "Senses and Perceptions," encourages participants to historicize and theorize a domain of human experience that is often uncritically naturalized.