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The Nature of Zion(ism): Moving beyond the Nature/Culture dichotomy

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 2

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Following the “spatial turn” scholars have become increasingly interested in the ways in which nature is perceived and treated in various cultures. Studies by John Alexander Williams and Christopher Ely have demonstrated that the exploration of the intersection between nature and culture significantly enriches our understanding of German and Russian national history respectively. Furthermore, scholars such as Barbara E. Mann and Alon Tal have produced thought provoking studies about space, place and the environment in the field of Jewish and Israel Studies.
The aim of this panel is to bring nature to the foreground as a conceptual framework for the exploration of Zionist and Israeli culture. Yael Zerubavel will open the panel with a paper on the different, at times even contradictory, visions of the desert in Zionist imagination. These conceptions ranged from idealizations of the desert as a site of nature associated with the biblical roots of the nation, to hostile nature that poses a threat to pioneers’ efforts to settle the ancestral land. Na'ama Sheffi’s paper will offer an original analysis of the role of banknotes as means of nation building in Israel. While images of landscape and flora on banknotes are usually perceived to be ornamental, her paper will argue that the choice of these images was aimed at shaping a “territorial identity”. Closing the panel, Yuval Jobani will present an overview of A.D. Gordon’s philosophy of nature, which has maintained an exceptional prominence in Israeli culture. The paper examines Gordon's original conception of the constitutive relationship between man and nature, which led him to remarkably foresighted observations on issues such as ecology, feminism and secularism.
Together, these three papers emphasize the centrality of nature and its numerous representations to various domains of the Zionist project; settlement and nation building, economy and the public sphere as well as philosophy and ideology. This, in turn, underscores the degree to which the interdisciplinary study of nature is a promising avenue for further research in Israel studies.

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