Tuesday, December 23, 2008

AJS Conference Day One Session One (Patronage, Trust, and Agency: Networks of European Jewry)

(Synopses of lectures based on my notes. As always all mistakes are mine.)

Francesca Bregoli (University of Oxford)
“Livornese Hebrew Printing, Patronage, and Jewish Intellectual Networks in the Eighteenth Century”

This paper focused on the relationships between R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806) and R. Yehuda Ayash to their patrons, who made it possible for their books to be published, particularly by being able to provide access to books. There was no capitalist printing until the nineteenth century; before this printing was done through patronage. When we think of patronage we are used to thinking of either the Feudal model or the Renaissance model; we need to consider an alternative, one that is not hierarchal but is the result of a mutual relationship. One did not choose to engage in patronage. There is a give and take. The patron is a member of a political elite. He is not able to devote himself to study. He hires a rabbi in his stead. This explains the common theme that we see in dedications were the patron is described as a scholar, knowledgeable in all the human and divine sciences. In affect the patron is made the author and the author is put in the background. This goes against the traditional model of Sephardic merchants being irreligious. (To me this just sounds like Sephardic merchants imbibing the Catholic values of the surrounding Italian society; one can get an “indulgence” by being a patron of the faith. You do not need to be religious. The clergy can be religious for you.) Azulai and Ayash were already established figures so they would have been courted by patrons, wishing to support them in their publishing endeavors.

(The models of patronage that occurred to me as possible influences were those amongst Jews in Andalusian Spain and in the general society in Renaissance Italy. I asked Francesca about this and she responded that she was actually thinking in terms of the situation in Poland with merchants supporting Hasidic rabbis.)

Cornelia Aust (University of Pennsylvania)
“Jewish Commercial Networks in Central Europe: Trade, Trust, and Bankruptcy”

This paper dealt with the networks of Jews as military suppliers for European armies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Historians have traditionally viewed networks as static and have taken them for granted. We need to consider the position of the merchant and the ability to access commodities. Bills of exchange acted as currency. This relies on a system of trust; fake bills were quite common. In order to succeed under such circumstances one required carefully placed people in different places. Networks built around families are quite useful. An example is the situation in czarist Russia. Merchants were a privileged cast of Jews; this status could be passed down to only one child. This was something useful, but it had to be used strategically; which child gets the official status and how does one place the child to best take advantage of it?

Francois Guesnet (University College London)
“Jewish Political Networks and the Pogroms of 1881-82; Indentifying Agents, Objects, Motivations”

This paper was about the mechanisms for spreading reports on the pogroms of 1881-82 in Russia to the outside world. The czarist government tried to clamp down on reports, but such reports did reach the outside world and ignited international protest. Three major Jewish political networks passed on information, though they were operating from essentially the same sources. This makes a lot of the information problematic. The point of such political action was to send letters abroad to arouse European protest with exaggerated accounts. This also served to delegitimize those within the Jewish community who still advocated negotiating with the Czar.

Matthias B. Lehmann (Indiana University)

The study of modern Jewish history tends to focus on the nation state narrative and the major issues of emancipation and assimilation. Talking about networks served to go beyond these issues. The networks discussed here cross international lines so we cannot deal with them state by state. These networks also are not related to religious observance or even conversion to Christianity. Networks are dynamic that happen rather then simply are.

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