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Jewish Lives and Jewish Deaths across the Modern Mediterranean

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

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Identity and belonging have long constituted important themes for historians of Mediterranean Jews. In particular, scholars have emphasized the role of national and colonial states in designating and imposing new identities on the peoples of the region. The three presentations in this session mobilize hitherto unused historical sources to take new perspectives on the question of Jewish identity across the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean. The papers also break the boundaries typically imposed by area studies by bringing to light the connections between Europe and North Africa, with a focus on Algeria-France and Tunisia-Italy. By examining the technical strategies and processes—legal, medical, funerary—by which individuals and communities negotiated their livelihoods and expressed community aspirations, these papers add to our understanding of identity formation as a historically contingent process. They also force a reconsideration of the historiographical categories and periodizations conventionally used to study Jewish life in the Mediterranean region.

The paper presented by Jessica Marglin uses an inheritance battle surrounding the estate of Nissim Shamama, a Tunisian Jew who died in Livorno in 1873, as a window through which to observe the fluidity of identitarian categories in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean. Hannah-Louise Clark’s paper excavates the lives and livelihoods of Jewish medical professionals in twentieth-century Algeria and questions their relationship to “colonial” medicine, the dominant paradigm through which the history of modern medicine in the southern Mediterranean. has been understood. Finally, Naomi Davidson shows how disagreements over the proper handling of the Jewish dead in an Algerian cemetery mapped onto competing visions of Mediterranean Jewish futures in the postcolonial Mediterranean.

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