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Goldstein participates in widely noticed forum on history of Antisemitism in the United States

The July 2020 issue of The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, a scholarly journal published by Cambridge University Press, features a roundtable on the history of antisemitism in the United States, which is drawing wide notice in scholarly circles. Participating in the forum is the director of Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, Eric L. Goldstein, along with three other leading scholars of American Jewry: Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University, Hasia R. Diner of New York University, and Beth S. Wenger of the University of Pennsylvania.

The scholarly forum, organized and edited by historian David S. Koffman of York University in Toronto, focuses on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it uses this history as a vehicle to discuss the broader contours of American antisemitism. As Koffman explains, the impetus behind the forum was the need to grapple with recent antisemitic episodes—Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and Poway, among others—and to create a more robust analytical and interpretive framework in which the history and nature of antisemitism in the United States might be understood.  In pursuit of these goals, Koffman posed two questions to each of the four roundtable participants, and each contributor was also asked to respond to two of their colleague’s answers. Central to all of the questions, answers, and responses is the notion that antisemitism can only be understood by examining the broader social, political, economic, and religious environment in which it is produced.

Among the specific questions addressed and debated in the forum are:  How was antisemitism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era motivated and shaped by economic forces? To what extent can antisemitism be read as a reflection of underlying American fears about social and cultural change? Did Jews suffer from structural discrimination, or was antisemitism of the period mostly a matter of “rhetoric.” How have previous historians understood the nature and trajectory of antisemitism in the United Sates and do those ideas need to be revised in light of recent events? How has antisemitism compared to other forms of racism and religious bigotry in the United States, and to what extent have these phenomena been interrelated and/or distinct from one another? Has the United States been fundamentally different from European societies in its treatment of Jews, or are there important parallels that historians have missed? Did antisemitism manifest itself differently in various parts of the country? How might a gendered analysis reshape our understanding of these issues? Finally, how must we change the way we teach, research, and write about antisemitism in order to help our students and readers better wrestle with its nature, complexity, and contradictions?

The forum has already received significant attention among scholars and students of American Jewish life, who have been focusing more sharply on the history of antisemitism in the United States since 2017, when the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville unexpectedly heightened the urgency of this issue on the academic agenda. A pre-publication version of the roundtable was the topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society’s Antisemitism Working Group, and several colleagues in the field have adopted it as required reading in their courses. The published forum may be accessed online by subscribers and those who have library access to the journal. The pre-publication version, however, has been posted with open access on the website of Brandeis University.