Modern Rites: Politics and Antisemitism in Europe, 1880–1918

AHA Session 282
Society for Austrian and Habsburg History 5
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Berkeley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Helmut W. Smith, Vanderbilt University
Daniel Unowsky, University of Memphis

Session Abstract

This panel explores the unexpected upsurge of antisemitism that shook Europe beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century. We situate these episodes of antisemitism within a rapidly changing Europe, a continent being remade by the forces of urbanization, industrialization, rising literacy, and capitalist agriculture, as well as by new forms of governance, transportation, and communication. By including papers on Hungary and Moravia as well as on France and Great Britain, the panel will examine the extent to which antisemitism and anti-Jewish violence should be read as evidence that modern mass politics arrived in rural eastern Europe with little if any time-lag compared to the more “advanced” central and western European states. The papers approach antisemitism from a variety of perspectives: some focus primarily on provincial contexts and local actors, shifting attention away both from the intellectual history of antisemitism and from Europe’s great urban centers, whereas others draw attention to transnational connections and imperial frameworks. A common element in these approaches is the contention that the struggle against Jews was everywhere conceived as a struggle for control of the impersonal forces of modernization, and as not a nihilistic rejection of all change or an unqualified call for a restoration of a long-lost “traditional” society. The papers also share an interest in the ritualistic, mythic, and highly symbolic nature of much antisemitic activity, drawing attention to what scholars have called the “sacralization of politics.” In short, it is our contention that our case studies will shed light not just on a critical phase in the development of modern antisemitism, but will call attention to the patterns of violence and exclusion that accompanied the emergence of modern mass politics more generally.

See more of: AHA Sessions