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Early Modern Jewish Books in the Mediterranean

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Session Sponsor: Footprints: Jewish Books Through Time and Place (Columbia University)


The material book can be many things, beyond a vehicle for text: artisanal crafts, commercial merchandise, family heirlooms, illicit contraband, religious relics, and more. In this panel, four scholars attend to the production and circulation of Jewish books in the early modern Mediterranean, arguing that the study of books and their readers has the potential to reshape our understanding of Jewish society during this complex and turbulent period. Combining bibliography, material culture, textual analysis, and social history, these papers investigate how people, objects, texts, and ideas moved in the early modern Mediterranean, across and through national and regional boundaries.

Dr. Daniel Clasby’s paper compares the production of religious and secular Jewish texts in 16th- and 17th-century Venice, including Leon Modena’s text on Kabbala and his autobiography, Simone Luzzatto’s discorso, and Sara Copia Sullam’s poetry and salon literature, suggesting that these texts shed light on the diversity of civil society in the Venetian ghetto. Dr. Oded Cohen’s paper explores the bio-bibliographic dictionary of Haim Yosef David Azulai, and its attempt to map the Jewish literary world of the 18th-century Mediterranean. Dr. Martina Mampieri’s paper examines the library of Isaiah Sonne (1887-1960), tracing what we can learn about the circulation of manuscripts, incunabula, and early modern printed books that comprises his collection. Finally, Noam Sienna’s paper focuses on the printing and circulation of a 19th-century Maghrebi vernacular halakhic guide aimed at women, arguing that the methodology of following the material book can map out the Mediterranean networks of Jewish readers and writers.

While each of these papers highlights a different kind of Mediterranean Jewish book and a different cultural setting, they all share a focus on how books move through and across communities, and the meanings that these books assume for different readers, writers, and collectors. We hope that the panel will spark a vibrant interdisciplinary discussion, bringing together often-independent conversations on the nature of the political, economic, religious, artistic, intellectual, and personal encounters revealed by following the trail of the material book.

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