Faculty News

Getting to Know Humanities Institute Fellow Daniel Hershenzon

Daniel Hershenzon, professor in UConn’s Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and Judaic Studies faculty member, was recently interviewed by the Humanities Institute in a series that features their 2016-2017 Fellows. The interview can be found below.

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

My first degree, from the University of Tel Aviv, is a double major of Philosophy and History. Before getting this degree , I was studying industrial design. I left the world of design for the university when I realized that I was enjoying the history and theory classes much more than the design workshops. After receiving my B.A., I continued to study towards a Masters degree and in 2004 enrolled in a PhD program in the Department of History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was lucky to spend two years of my graduate studies researching in Spain (in Madrid, Valladolid, Barcelona, and the Canary Islands!), and another year in Florence, Italy, with a postdoctoral fellowship after I graduated. Then, I took my current position at the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, where I mostly teach medieval and early modern Spanish history.

What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am completing a book that examines the entangled histories of early modern Spain, Morocco, and Ottoman Algiers, and by extension the entangled lives of Christian and Muslim captives in the region. Captivity was a serious problem in the early modern Mediterranean, and scholars estimate the number of captives, Muslims and Christians, in 2 to 3 millions. The book argues that piracy, captivity, and redemption shaped the sea, a space integrated on the social, economic, and political levels. It demonstrates that despite confessional differences, the lives of Muslim and Christian captives were interrelated and formed part of a single Mediterranean system of bondage. These captivities were connected by a political economy of ransoming shaped by ecclesiastic ransom institutions; Spanish, Ottoman, and Moroccan rulers; captives and kin; and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian ransom intermediaries. They all interacted through texts that captives created and circulated across the sea. The history that emerges from these stories is both local and Mediterranean. It offers a comprehensive analysis of competing Spanish, Algerian, and Moroccan imperial projects intended to shape Mediterranean mobility structures. Simultaneously, the project reveals the tragic upending of the lives of individuals by these imperial maritime political agendas.

How did you arrive at this topic?

I became interested in captivity when I wrote a seminar paper analyzing the autobiographies of former Spanish captives. I was fascinated by how ex captives sought to convince their readers that they did not convert to Islam during their captivity, and yet, their accounts abound with different forms of religious, cultural, and imperial boundary crossing. I also began to see how problematic the absence of Muslim captives from this history is. Finally, I was struck by the importance of writing for captives—not only as a medium to make claims about one’s past after ransom, but also during captivity. Captives constantly wrote letters trying to arrange their ransom, and in its turn, this epistolary circulation extended the boundaries of maritime communities across the sea, putting captives in charge of channeling information about community members who had died, converted as captives, or suffered martyrdom. As importantly, researching Mediterranean captivity allowed me to spend two years in the Mediterranean.

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

As a historian, I engage in debates on the emergence of European territorial identities, cross-Mediterranean maritime networks, the political economy of forced migration, and the struggle between state and church over that mobility’s control and meaning. I do so by analyzing early modern interactions among 17th century Christian and Muslim captives, enslavers, redeeming friars, merchants, and rulers who struggled to shape piracy, slavery, and redemption according to their shifting vision – religious, economic, and political. The multiple cross-maritime interactions I explore do more than counter an image of a declining 17th-century Mediterranean dissolving into nation-states. They force us to rethink early modern Europe and its others questioning how seemingly European territorial identities were shaped by transnational maritime networks and their transformation. In this sense, the framework that my book proposes for the history of the early modern Mediterranean and Europe have repercussions beyond that specific history and can provide a lens through which to understand the current ongoing crisis surrounding mobility across the sea.

The original post by the Humanities Institute can be found here.

Remembering Louis Gerson

Emeritus professor and political science department head at the University of Connecticut, Louis Gerson, passed away on October 16, 2016. Gerson led an extraordinary life; he fled his native Poland just months prior to the Nazi invasion and fought with the United States Army in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war ended, he studied political science and diplomatic history at UConn, where he would meet his future wife Elizabeth Shanley. Gerson completed his doctorate in political science at Yale, afterwards returning to UConn to teach. This led to a 40-year career at UConn where he made many notable contributions to the political science department and the university as a whole.

According to Stuart Miller, Academic Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, Gerson “was certainly an early and prime mover in getting UConn to pursue the study of the Holocaust, Eastern Europe, and Human Rights.” Gerson, with the help of grants and scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and Oxford University in England, secured important Holocaust records in Poland. While UConn did not become the official repository for the material, Gerson was crucial in committing the university to support Judaic studies. His work helped attract the interest of Simon Konover, who would become the Center for Judaic Studies’ major benefactor.

The Hartford Courant article featuring the life of Louis Gerson can be found here.

Holocaust Memorial Exhibit Relocates to the University of Hartford

By Jillian Chambers

After 25 years at the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford, a Holocaust memorial exhibit is moving to the University of Hartford thanks to efforts by Mandell JCC executive director David Jacobs, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford executive director Estelle Kafer, and Professor of Modern Jewish History and Director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization Avinoam Patt.

The Museum for Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford will become the new home for the Holocaust memorial exhibit. It contains descriptions of Jewish life in Europe pre-World War II, during the Holocaust and after the war. There is also a display of artifacts and documents provided by local survivors who settled in Hartford. According to the Connecticut Jewish Ledger article “Hartford Remembers the Holocaust,” school groups often visited the room, where they had the opportunity to meet with survivors. Some artifacts and documents were returned to the survivors and their descendants, but the rest was incorporated into a new exhibit titled “Hartford Remembers the Holocaust.”

The new exhibit opened at the Greenberg Center’s annual Holocaust Educators Workshop on Oct. 31, guided by the theme “Teach for the Future: Holocaust Education in the 21st Century.” The workshop featured a panel discussion of six Greater-Hartford survivors, who are also very involved in local Holocaust education. In the near feature, the exhibit will feature video testimonies from survivors who came to the community but are no longer with us. Most of these video testimonies are from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University.

Professor Patt told the Jewish Ledger that this exhibit will allow them to “provide the local connection for students and community members to understand that this is not just something that happened long ago in a faraway place, but still continues to have an impact on people who live in our community and on their descendants – who are committed to teaching about the Holocaust to make sure that it never happens again.”

A project titled “In Their Own Words” featuring interactive videos conducted by the Greenberg Center and Voices of Hope will also be incorporated into the exhibit. The opening of “Hartford Remembers the Holocaust” was on Wednesday, November 9 at the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford. The original article featured in this story can be found here.

Panel Discussion on Defending Space: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights in Uncertain Times

What will be the future of interdisciplinary spaces in a Trump administration? Will they come under direct attack from federal authorities, and if so, how? How has the knowledge produced in such spaces prepared us for the political turn that we are now seeing? What kinds of solidarity can our students and faculty expect to find in this moment of danger? And what is our strategy going forward?

A panel discussion entitled “Defending Space: Race/Ethnic Studies, Gender/Sexuality Studies, and Human Rights in Uncertain Times” will be held in the Dodd Research Center’s Konover Auditorium on December 5 from 3:00-5:00pm.  

The panel will bring together leaders and faculty of interdisciplinary units devoted to social justice at UConn to address these questions, and to engage the audience in dialogue.

The panelists include:

Debanuj DasGupta, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies

David Embrick, Africana Studies

Kathryn Libel, Director, Human Rights Institute

Glenn Mitoma, Director, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center

Mark Overmyer-Velàzquez, Director, El Instituto

Cathy Schlund-Vials, Director, Asian and Asian American Studies

Jeffrey Shoulson, Director, Center for Judaic Studies

Chris Vials, Director, American Studies


This event is co-sponsored by the UConn Humanities Institute, American Studies, Institute for Asian and Asian American Studies, El Instituto, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Africana Studies, Judaic Studies, the Dodd Center, and the Human Rights Institute.

Center Director Jeffrey Shoulson Reflects on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

By Jillian Chambers

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, to the surprise of many, was awarded to the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Center Director Jeffrey Shoulson was recently featured on Trash Flow Radio, a radio program in Cincinnati, to discuss the implications of, and fallout over, the Swedish Academy’s decision to award the prize to Dylan.

Professor Shoulson began by explaining that there have been two general reactions in the world of literature, both on the extreme side of the spectrum: those who are thrilled and those that are disappointed. Especially in the age of social media, response has been swift and decisive. Shoulson recalled how he found out: a friend messaged him saying “Dylan WTF?” and, not having heard the news himself, he thought that Bob Dylan had died until he checked Facebook.

There have been many objections to awarding Dylan the Prize, the most common being that popular music is not legitimate enough for a Nobel Prize in literature. Shoulson found fault with this objection, arguing that if other forms of writing can be recognized, so should music. He also commented on the influence of Bob Dylan and the debate over measuring the quality of literature. Should the measure of the quality of the literature be independent of its influence? Is influence even relevant? Shoulson said that, in his estimation, easily two thirds of the people who had been given the award have had significantly less influence than Dylan and are not nearly as well known. At the same time, there are also writers who, despite their extensive influence and literary importance, never received the Prize.

Another objection raised by the radio host during the interview was that songwriting is different than prose or poetry because the lyrics of a song cannot be separated from the music. In choosing Dylan, Shoulson argued, the Academy has signaled that it is going to be more expansive in what and whom it considers literary. Dylan’s prize is also an acknowledgement of poetry’s roots. Before it was ever written down, poetry was sung; the term “lyrics poetry” takes it name more a musical instrument, the lyre, which was the standard ancient accompaniment to poetry, not at all unlike the acoustic guitar Dylan strums when he sings.

In addition to the last two objections, people have taken issue with Dylan’s plagiarism. Shoulson offered the counterargument by saying that Dylan’s work does not diminish what he borrowed, rather he “refined and raised it to the level of brilliance that we associate with Dylan’s music.” Shoulson added that this is a common feature of the folk tradition, and the literature Prize to Dylan is a recognition of the American folk tradition.

Shoulson and the radio host also discussed Dylan’s religion Dylan was born Jewish but converted to Christianity in the late 1970s. Some people have protested Dylan receiving the award by arguing that if the Academy was going to choose a Jewish American writer, it should have chosen someone like Philip Roth. Shoulson countered both Dylan and Roth have notoriously fraught relations with their Jewish roots.

You can listen to the podcast below:

Professor Fred Roden to Present at Temple Emanu-El in NYC

Fred RodenSunday Brunch’s with the Men’s Club
Special Guest
Dr. Frederick Roden
Modernity and New Jewish Identities
Sunday, December 11, 2016 – 10:00 AM
Temple Emanu-El – One East 65th St. NYC

The modern world created new Jewish identities encompassing a range of experiences: from intermarriage and conversion to full participation in the civic life of the nation. The 19th century proclaimed Judaism as a religion, not a race. The 20th century had to reckon with both Zionism and the Holocaust to answer, “Who is a Jew?” Today, we continue to reinvent what it means to be “Jew-ish.” The ideals of our heritage are alive and well in the 21st century. Modernity has resulted in gains, not losses, to the unfolding Jewish legacy. Join Professor Frederick Roden as he tells this story from his latest book.
Temple member Dr. Frederick Roden is the author and editor of seven books in the fields of 19th-century literature, religion and culture, and gender studies. He teaches in the Department of English at the University of Connecticut, where he serves on the faculty of Judaic studies and the women’s/genders/sexualities studies program.
The charge for this event is $30 for Men’s Club and Women’s Auxiliary members; $35 for all other temple members and guests (includes brunch). Register online at www.emanuelnyc.org/mc-identities.
Please return this reservation slip in the enclosed envelope with your check payable to:
The Men’s Club of Congregation Emanu-El
______ Yes, I (we) will attend the lecture with Dr. Frederick Roden on Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 10 a.m.
$30 for Men’s Club and Women’s Auxiliary members; $35 for all other Temple members and guests
Enclosed is my check for _____ reservation(s) for a total cost of $________

NAME _________________________________________________________________
GUEST(S) _______________________________________________________________
TELEPHONE /EMAIL _______________________________________________________

Center Director Jeffrey Shoulson Contributes to the Association for Jewish Studies

Jeffrey ShoulsonCenter Direct Jeffrey Shoulson contributed to the November 2016 issue of AJS News, which focused on the topic of contingent faculty.  In On Contingent Faculty, Professor Shoulson considered the role of non-tenure-track faculty in the university system and specifically within Jewish Studies programs and predicted that the reliance on contingent faculty would continue to increase as fiscal pressures persist in constraining university spending.  Professor Shoulson discussed the ways contingent faculty members can be supported by their programs and departments and expressed the hope that standards of pay and benefits would rise.  Read the full article here.

Professor Daniel Hershenzon Awarded Fellowship

Daniel HershenzonWe extend our congratulations to our colleague, Daniel Hershenzon, on receiving a UCHI internal fellowship for next year. Dr. Hershenzon is an assistant professor in the department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages.  His fellowship topic is: “Captivity, Commerce, and Communication:  Early Modern Spain and the Mediterranean.”  We look forward to learning about his research.

Mazel Tov!

Dr. Nehama Aschkenasy to Present Paper at Symposium

Cmla symposiumongratulations to Dr. Nehama Aschkenasy whose paper, “Thoroughly European, Perennially an Outsider: The Hebrew Writer David Vogel (1891 -1994),” has been accepted for inclusion in the program for the Modern  Language Association’s 2016 International Symposium, Other Europes: Migrations, Translations, Transformations, to be held in Düsseldorf, Germany in June 2016.

The symposium will feature approximately sixty sessions and will open with Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2016 MLA president, with Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, followed by a reading and reflection by the authors Eva Hoffmann, Isaac Julien, and Yoko Tawada.  A distinguished and diverse group of scholars will discuss Europe’s role amidst shifting migrations.

This is the first conference hosted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) to be held outside of the United States and Canada. The conference is being organized in collaboration with the Heinrich Heine University and will be held in Düsseldorf from June 23 to 25 and is the first in a series of international symposia being held by MLA.  

Course Development Grants Awarded to Three Faculty Members

faculty awardees

The Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life invited proposals for new undergraduate course development grants in all fields, areas, and periods related to Judaic Studies. Congratulations to our successful applicants Sarah S. Willen (Assistant Professor & Director, Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights) and Richard Sosis (James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology), who will share an award and develop an anthropology course, and Andrea Celli (Assistant Professor, Italian and Mediterranean Studies), who will develop a course on Medieval Italian Literature.  Grant awardees will receive $2,000 in funding to support course development.