Jews and the History of American Diversity

This graduate research seminar seeks to place the experience of American Jews into the context of the nation’s religious, ethnic, and racial diversity from the colonial period through the later part of the twentieth century. This seminar is intended for students with some, much, and no background in American Jewish history but rather encourages students of American history and students of Jewish history outside of the United States to think together about the many problems raised by this subject. Graduate students interested in race, immigration, and religion in America should find this particularly stimulating. Through our readings and through student research projects, we will explore the ways in which this minority group, which never constituted more than 4 or 5 percent of the population of United States, by necessity interacted with a wide variety of individuals representing a range of religious, ethnic and racial groups. The Jews’ expectations for political, economic, and social and cultural integration required that they engage with others. Some of the Americans with whom they engaged had greater political and cultural power, while others less. Jews in America also had to cope with the ways in which these many other Americans evaluated and understood them, including but not limited to the degree to which anti-Semitism shaped public life. The Jewish encounter with various kinds of Americans varied group by group, and each encounter represented a different kind of history. Major events in American and Jewish history left their mark on these relationships. We will ask how the Jews’ concentration in the commercial sector, their whiteness in the eyes of the state, and the legacy of European anti-Semitism structured the Jewish encounters with other Americans. The Civil War, the era of mass migration, and the vast expansion of American industry, and the conquest of the North American continent will be considered. The Holocaust indeed functions as a watershed event, but the Great Depression and the New Deal, post-war suburbanization, the civil rights movement, and the turmoil of the late 1960s also proved formative. As such, the course will be organized by group, yet within each one of these histories a chronological presentation will be followed. We will look at political developments but also literary, artistic and intellectual manifestations of how Jews constructed these other Americans, and conversely how these many others made sense of the Jews in their midst. Keep in mind that the course is not organized chronologically, but by group, but we will in the classroom lectures explore development over time and deal with the chronology that way.

Course Information



4 Points

Term Section Instructor Schedule Location

Spring 2018

Hasia R Diner
W: 11:00 AM - 1:45 PM KJCC 109