Accepted Papers:

Nation-building with images. Photography, ethnography and the construction of Jewish identities   


Olga Osadtschy (University of Basel)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper is focusing on the nationalization of the idea of a Jewish identity in the first half of the 20th century. Especially the conflicts that arise from the clash of a rural shtetl tradition and a globally operating network of Jewish scholars.

Paper long abstract:

The ethnographic expeditions of Salomon Ansky in 1912 and 1913 were quests for new foundations for Jewish life and Jewish art in the Russian Empire. Travelling the pale of settlement with photographer Salomon Iudovin and musicologist Michael Engel, Ansky sought to collect as many impressions, artefacts and folkloristic detail as possible to take back to St. Petersburg. Here, in the "laboratory of modernity" as Karl Schlögel puts it, the assimilated, cosmopolite Jews of the Empire were to be reminded of their religious and cultural roots. Preoccupied with the possibility of Jewish traditions disappearing due to assimilation, scholars worldwide engaged in similar endeavours.

The paper will be focusing on the photographic work of Salomon Iudovin and the tensions that arise from it. Human or not, the objects of ethnographic interest have to stay where they are in order to justify the ethnographer's endeavours. The use of modern technologies (photography and phonography) proves to be a pharmakon, means of conservation and of destruction at the same time. Just like the religious artefacts collected in the field, the inhabitants of the Shtetls were transformed into mobile objects. Their destination: The first Jewish Museum in St. Petersburg. They all became part of a 'nation-building' process that relied on contemporary media practices.

A close reading of the visual and textual archive material will show how Jewish identity figures as diasporic and therefore global issue and as highly normative 'dispositif' for national thought.

panel P02
Closing the door on globalization: cultural nationalism and scientific internationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries