Saturday, June 8, 2019
June 8-9, 2019: Jewish American Journeys: Michael Hoberman’s Books
[On June 1, 1916, Louis Brandeis was confirmed to the Supreme Court, becoming the first Jewish American Justice. So this week I’ve highlighted the American stories of Brandeis and four other exemplary Jewish Americans, leading up to this special weekend tribute to one of our best Jewish Studies scholars!]
In honor of both this week’s series and the New England American Studies Association conference (happening Saturday right here at Fitchburg State), a tribute to three wonderful works through which my colleague and friend (and longtime NEASA contributor) Michael has expanded the disciplines of Jewish Studies:
1) How Strange It Seems: The Cultural Life of Jews in Small Town New England (2008): Michael’s second book combines oral history and folklore studies (among other disciplinary lenses) to consider the voices, lives, stories, and contexts for Jewish New Englanders across the 20th century and into the 21st. I remember chatting with Michael about this project when I interviewed at FSU back in the spring of 2005, but to be honest I had no idea just how many different layers he would find to his focal subjects and their stories and histories. This book remains a model of oral history for me, among its many other significant meanings.
2) New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America (2011): I had the great good fortune of getting that FSU job, and thus of being Michael’s colleague as he pivoted to his third book project and a much more overtly historical frame. But Michael weds his broad historical topics and themes (such as the development of Puritan religious ideology, in direct conversation with other religious and communal perspectives such as the era’s Jewish Americans) with intimate engagement with individual voices and lives (often through rich close readings of letters, journals, and other primary sources), making this compelling book both a personal and a regional and national history (as well as a pioneering Jewish Studies analysis of these early American figures and stories).
3) A Hundred Acres of America: The Geography of Jewish American Literary History (2018): I’m sure it will come as no surprise that Michael once again pivoted to a new disciplinary lens for this most recent book, which analyzes a series of seminal Jewish American literary works and authors through the geographical and symbolic frames of land and home. Those frames, among many other aspects of the book, do connect it very fully to his prior works, however, creating a series of through-lines across which Michael has been building his own many acres of Jewish Studies real estate throughout this multi-decade career. I won’t pretend to be an expert, but for this AmericanStudier at least you can’t tell the story of 21st century Jewish Studies without a prominent spot for the works and perspective of Michael Hoberman.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other Jewish Americans (or scholarly works) you’d highlight?