New Looks at American Jewish History
In the minds of many historians, and of many Jews as well, American Jewish history is comprised mainly of the travails of immigrant ancestors, the pursuit by grandparents and parents of prosperity and the American way of life, the founding of this or that Jewish organization, and the assorted biographies of Jews who have made their presence felt in national life. As an academic field, American Jewish history is still frequently regarded by professional historians as so much filiopietism, current events, and local color: anecdotes, in short.
The historiographical achievements of the last four decades, however, should have dispelled all such notions. If, in 1892, at the first meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), it was declared that patriotism required every American ethnic group to record its contributions for posterity, by the 1940′s the imperatives of the field had broadened considerably, through the work, among others, of my teacher Jacob Rader Marcus, the founder of the American Jewish Archives. Today, there are almost 100 local Jewish historical societies in North America and 63 professors at American universities who consider American Jewish history their primary field of interest. There is, as well, a growing monographic literature of high quality and an impressive roster of journals devoted to the study of the American Jewish past.1
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