Faculty Books

Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History

Jeffrey Shandler

Published: Rutgers University Press, 2014

Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and LinguisticsClick image to purchaseIn Yiddish, shtetl simply means “town.” How does such an unassuming word come to loom so large in modern Jewish culture, with a proliferation of uses and connotations? By examining the meaning of shtetl, Jeffrey Shandler asks how Jewish life in provincial towns in Eastern Europe has become the subject of extensive creativity, memory, and scholarship from the early modern era in European history to the present.

In the post-Holocaust era, the shtetl looms large in public culture as the epitome of a bygone traditional Jewish communal life. People now encounter the Jewish history of these towns through an array of cultural practices, including fiction, documentary photography, film, memoirs, art, heritage tourism, and political activism. At the same time, the shtetl attracts growing scholarly interest, as historians, social scientists, literary critics, and others seek to understand both the complex reality of life in provincial towns and the nature of its wide-ranging remembrance.

Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History traces the trajectory of writing about these towns—by Jews and non-Jews, residents and visitors, researchers, novelists, memoirists, journalists and others—to demonstrate how the Yiddish word for “town” emerged as a key word in Jewish culture and studies. Shandler proposes that the intellectual history of the shtetl is best approached as an exemplar of engaging Jewish vernacularity, and that the variable nature of this engagement, far from being a drawback, is central to the subject’s enduring interest.

 

Return to Bookshelf

Faculty News

Professor Michal Raucher new book, Conceiving Authority: Reproduction and Ethics among Haredi Women in Jerusalem is published - Read more

Professor Nancy Sinkoff's blogpost for the Museum of Jewish Heritage - View blog

Article by Professor Nancy Sinkoff about her new book in The Forward. - Read article

Review of Professor Nancy Sinkoff's new book, From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History, in Mosaic magazine. - Read now

Music department's Associate Director, Rebecca Cypess, discusses the meaning of music on Work of Art: The Mason Gross Podcast. - Listen now

Professor Paul Hanebrink's book, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, is reviewed by Aidan Beatty. - Read review

More Items