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The Yiddish Press: An Americanizing Agency?"

Tue, December 18, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 3 Ballroom


This paper will explore the role the concept of Americanization has had in shaping the development of the Yiddish press in America, as well as shaping the scholarship that has been produced about it. At the turn of the twentieth century, publishers and editors of Yiddish newspapers in America were deeply engaged with progressive-era discussions of the so-called "Americanization" process of new immigrants to the United States. They used the pages of their papers to debate different understandings of what streams of American culture their readers should absorb, if any; what visions of America their paper should promote; and what role foreign-language newspapers could play in progressive-era Americanization processes. During World War I, Yiddish and other foreign-language newspapers were also subject to a variety of forms of censorship and restriction aimed at curbing the potentially negative influence they might have on their readers, restrictions which impacted the shape and communal role of these papers in important ways.
In addition, the scholarship on the Yiddish press has also engaged with the concept of Americanization on a variety of levels. Debates in this field have centered around the extent to which the Yiddish press was an Americanizing institution-a concept that has meant a variety of things to a variety of scholars. However, much of the early scholarship on the American Yiddish press in English, including foundational works by Robert Park and Mordecai Soltes, were also direct outgrowths of academic and governmental efforts to Americanize new immigrants. Placing discussions of Americanization in the American Yiddish press and in the early scholarship about it within the context of the Progressive Era, this paper will raise questions about the boundaries between American culture in Yiddish and English, the influence of a variety of streams of American thought on the foreign-language press, and the early and seminal influence of progressive ideology in shaping the field of American Jewish history.