The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

GC EventsHistory Program Events

October 5th – David Sorkin on “When Jews Became Citizens: A History of Emancipation, 1550-2000”

This lecture will analyze how Jews became citizens in the modern world. It focuses on the political and legal process of gaining and retaining, losing and recovering rights (Europe, America, Israel, North Africa, and the Middle East).

Emancipation was not a one-time, linear event that commenced with the Enlightenment or French Revolution and culminated with the acquisition of rights in Central Europe (1867-1871) or Russia (1917). Rather, it began with the attainment of extensive privileges in corporate society and continues to the present day. Emancipation was inherently ambiguous, consisting of deflections and reversals, defeats and successes, triumphs and tragedies. It belongs to the general development of citizenship and especially the problematic inclusion of dissenting religions and national minorities. Emancipation is modern Jewish history’s principal and interminable event.

The colossal events of the mid-twentieth century, the Holocaust and the State of Israel’s establishment, have overshadowed emancipation. They were, however, reactions to it. The restriction or abrogation of rights were the first step toward the murder of Europe’s Jews. The post-war restoration of citizenship included rights, property and reparations. Jewish nationalism presumed emancipation’s failure. The State of Israel has struggled from its foundation to institute equality among its heterogeneous citizens. Similarly, American Jews mobilized twice for emancipation: in the nineteenth century for political rights, in the twentieth century for lost civil rights.

Friday October 5, 10:30am, in room 9204.

Co-sponsored Center for Jewish Studies and the PhD Program in History