An Interview with Jeffrey Gurock, Editor of Conversations with Colleagues

In Jeffrey S. Gurock's new book, Conversations with Colleagues: On Becoming an American Jewish Historian, sixteen senior scholars of American Jewish history—among the men and women whose work and advocacy have moved their discipline into the mainstream of academia—converse on the intellectual and personal roads they have traveled in becoming leaders in their areas of expertise. Through their thoughtful and candid recollections of the challenges they faced in becoming accepted academics, they retell the story of how the study of the Jews and Judaism in the United States rose from being long dismissed as an amateurish enterprise not worthy of serious consideration in the world of ideas to its position today as a respected field in communication with all humanities scholars. They also imagine and chart the direction the writing on American Jews will take in the coming era.


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Academic Studies Press: How does the development of a community of scholars contribute to the development of a field of study?

Jeffrey Gurock: Readers of this book will be struck by how interactive the sixteen of us have been over our careers. Several writers actually identify colleagues who influenced them to enter what is a most porous field that has welcomed into its midst men and women who have specialized in American studies, women’s history, and even anthropology. Others have noted how often they turn to fellow historians for advice and inspiration. Research and writing can be a very lonely endeavor.  Having colleagues who converse with one another had helped grow our field.

ASP: What inspired this book? How did you go about selecting contributors and compiling their essays?

JG: I consider myself both a scholar-educator and an advocate for the discipline of American Jewish history. I became aware that over the past few years comparable volumes have appeared detailing how the study of women in America and ethnic history have entered the mainstream of the academy. I wanted American Jewish historians of my generation, the senior practitioners today in our area, to go “on the record” about the road and travails they have taken in bringing what they are interested in into communication with American and modern Jewish historians. I chose a representative sample of the men and women who have done the most path-breaking work in our field.

ASP: To what extent is the study of American Jewish History separate from or connected to Jewish Studies and to the study of American history in general?

JG: Clearly the study of American Jewish history has to be closely connected to Jewish studies and American history; indeed, a true professional has to be trained in American and Jewish history in addition to his or her specific interests in American Jewish history.

ASP: The cover of Conversations with Colleagues visually represents the contributions made to the field by the contributors to the book. Can you speak to the importance of these contributions?

JG: The cover with its sixteen books stacked one on top of another—one from each contributor—offers a visual representation of the many areas of interest that have captivated my colleagues. It is my hope that after reading Conversations with Colleagues, readers will pick up these wonderfully accessible monographs and delve in the religious history of American Jews, American Jewish urban history, Jewish life during the Civil War, Southern Jewish history, the use of material culture to tell the American Jewish story, the Lower East Side as an iconic place, women’s history and so many other important themes.

 
 Jeffrey Gurock, Jonathan D. Sarna, Shuly Rubin Schwartz, and Gary P. Zola at the book launch for  Conversations with Colleagues , Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, May 15, 2018

Jeffrey Gurock, Jonathan D. Sarna, Shuly Rubin Schwartz, and Gary P. Zola at the book launch for Conversations with Colleagues, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, May 15, 2018

 

Jeffrey S. Gurock is Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. A prize-winning author or editor of twenty books in the field of American Jewish history, he was twice chair of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society and for twenty years an editor of its journal, American Jewish History.

Contributors to Conversations with Colleagues: Joyce Antler, Dianne Ashton, Mark K. Bauman, Hasia Diner, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Eli Lederhendler, Deborah Dash Moore, Pamela S. Nadell, Riv–Ellen Prell, Jonathan D. Sarna, Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Gerald Sorin, Beth S. Wenger, Stephen J. Whitfield, Gary Phillip Zola