2015 Recipients

Kate Brackney, Graduate Student in History

My dissertation examines images of the horizon in memory of the Holocaust and their relation to changing cultural conceptions of transcendence and representation. Scholars in many different fields have claimed that the Holocaust is qualitatively indescribable and that, historically, it marks a moment when major narrative techniques and metaphoric conventions in both the Jewish tradition and in the broader Western canon were revealed to be inadequate to the task of depicting modernity. Yet the poetic tropes of sky and horizon—ancient images in literature and art—persist in many pieces of writing, visual art, and even oral testimony about the Holocaust, performing an enormous range of formal and symbolic work. Their persistence suggests something other than representational collapse. Before the Holocaust was deemed unimaginable, what did it look like and how was it situated on a figurative landscape? This project focuses on three different periods. Immediately after the war, when Jews who had survived found themselves in DP camps, awaiting immigration, how were relatively conventional photographic genres—portraiture and landscape—used to frame and ground survivors in a rapidly transforming postwar world? Meanwhile, in the realm of high culture, how did Jewish writers and poets map out their memories of the Holocaust in ashen spaces between earth and sky? In the 1960s, when the murder of Europe’s Jews began to receive broad international attention and became an archetype for modernity, how were figurations of “Planet Auschwitz” influenced by other limit discourses of modernity—namely the rhetoric of space exploration during the Cold War? Finally, after the landmark airing of the miniseries “Holocaust” in 1978, survivors found an increasing number of platforms to voice their own experiences and deliver testimony in the public sphere. As this history “came back to earth,” where did the horizon move—particularly for deconstructionist literary critics, artists and memorial designers who reacted to “popularization” of the the Holocaust with an aesthetics of fragmentation, opacity, and blank landscape?
This summer, a grant from YPSA will allow me to conduct extended research at archives and memorial sites in Jerusalem and Poland, and study Yiddish at YIVO in New York City. I am grateful for the program’s continued support.

Jacob Prince, Yale Undergraduate Student

“To what extent is the European antisemitism of today different than that of past generations? To what degree do French Jews feel threatened (or protected) as they go about their daily lives in 2015? I am applying for the Baron Research Grant to help fund summer research at Yale and in Paris into the historical roots and contemporary state of French antisemitism. According to an oft-cited statistic from the ADL, France is now the most antisemitic country in Western Europe, with nearly 40% of its adult population harboring negative attitudes toward Jews. For the first time, French Jews are immigrating to Israel at a faster rate than American Jews, purportedly a direct result of rising violence over the past decade––the killing of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the murders of Jewish children and teachers in Toulouse in 2012, and the recent massacre at the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes following the tragic Charlie Hebdo affair stand out, among other incidents. Through this project, I seek to give voice to those whose perspectives are often less glamorous, but whose opinions are of superior value to the ongoing discussion. By taking advantage of library and archival resources both at Yale and abroad, I plan to construct a thorough and reasonably objective portrait of French antisemitism, and to place it into conversation with information gathered from a comprehensive set of interviews conducted overseas in order to draw relevant conclusions. My long-term goal is to gain a nuanced understanding of global antisemitism in its many forms, and the Baron Student Research Grant will help make possible a truly significant first step forward in that endeavor this summer.”

Robyn Pront, Graduate Student in French

In my dissertation, I will be examining different literary representations of the Liberation of Occupied France in the immediate aftermath of World War II.  How do writers like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras (and later Elisabeth Gille) juxtapose their experiences of the first days of Liberation with the political event as well as with the myth of liberation?  In what ways does these writers’ formal experimentation foreground—or not—personal expression in Liberation literature?  By focusing on questions of adaptation, unfinished works, and generic ambivalence, I aim to unpack the tensions between personal, literary, and historical narratives of this particular moment in French history. The generous support of the Baron Student Research grant would allow me to participate in the 2015 Institute of French Cultural Studies, hosted this summer at Dartmouth University, on “Culture and the Political.”  This interdisciplinary program will interrogate the boundaries between politics and culture across centuries and countries in order to integrate these reflections into the study and teaching of French.  One of the focal points for this thematic inquiry will be theories of the new anti-Semitism, which will inform my research.  This opportunity to work closely with prominent scholars of Holocaust studies, such as Bruno Chaouat and Susan Suleiman, will enable me to better situate my dissertation project—tentatively titled, ”Liberation Fiction(s): Representing the Aftermath of Occupied France”—within current debates about French national identity. 

Thomas Schmidt, Graduate Student in Religious Studies

The Foil of Empires: Jews and the Balance of Power in Rome, Persia and Palmyra

The third and fourth centuries of the Common Era was fraught with political and cultural realignment the consequences of which weighed heavily upon those Jews inhabiting the border territories of the Roman, Sassanian, and Palmyrene empires. My project examines how these empires used Jews as political and religious pawns to centralize power and shore up opposition during this uncertain time. Drawing on Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian, Manichaean, and Zoroastrian primary sources, I focus on a handful of important rulers: Emperors Shapur I and II of Persia, Empress Zenobia of Palmyra, and Emperors Aurelian and Julian of Rome. In their wars with each other, these sovereigns patronized Jews for political gain, but such patronage, though likely welcome at the time, often concluded in great suffering when hopeful promises failed to materialize. I argue that the cyclical pattern of political elevation and then rejection culminated in great catastrophe with Emperor Julian’s pledge to rescind Jewish taxes and rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. These efforts of goodwill were likely an attempt by Julian to curry favor with the Jews of Persia during his invasion of that empire. The Jewish response appears to have been overwhelmingly positive, but after Julian’s defeat by Shapur II, the Jews met a cruel fate with tens of thousands slaughtered and many more deported and enslaved by the Persian Emperor.

Edmond Zuckier, Graduate Student in Religious Studies

Exploring Sacrifice in Ancient Judaism and Ritual Theory

The shadow of anti-Semitism is cast over the academic study of sacrifice within Ancient Judaism, as early Protestant Bible scholars have assumed an evolutionist perspective in presuming that sacrifice has been superseded by higher forms of divine worship. In a parallel but distinct development, some Jewish scholars have viewed sacrifice as no longer relevant, for other, less pugnacious theological reasons. This bias that many scholars harbor against animal sacrifice has contributed to a situation where scholarship on sacrifice in Ancient Judaism is significantly underrepresented, to the point where there has been no book-length treatment of matters relating to sacrifice, despite the fact that this material comprises approximately a quarter of rabbinic literature.
I am at the early stages of my dissertation project, which will study central themes relating to sacrifice in rabbinic literature. Such work would mostly constitute the first treatment of these passages in an academic context, which one could view as a righting of the historical wrong of the neglect of these passages. Ritual theory, in itself and in its expression within Judaic Studies, has advanced to a place where one can study areas that were previously “off-limits,” expanding the boundaries of accepted fields of study. My work will include both further research on explicating the central rabbinic texts on sacrifice and intensive encounter with ritual theory. The latter will include a trip to Varanasi, India for research on ritual structures, as I consider matters of ritual theory and correlate them to my studies in Ancient Judaism within a theoretical comparative framework. 

Shaun Jacob Halper is the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Postdoctoral Associate in Judaic Studies and Lecturer in History at Yale University. He completed his Ph.D. in History at the University of California, Berkeley, in May 2013. His forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Mordechai Langer (1894-1943): Jewish Homosexuality and the Zionist Revolution” inaugurates the historical study of male homosexuality within Israel and Jewish Studies, including modern Hebrew literature, as well the history of antisemitism in the first homosexual rights movement in Germany. It recovers the life and thought of Mordechai Langer—a Hebrew poet, Hasidic folklorist, and Zionist intellectual, who was affiliated with the Prague Circle around Franz Kafka and Max Brod, as well as the Hebrew circle of literary critic Dov Sadan in Jewish Palestine. A rare modern Jewish thinker deeply attuned to the ideas of the first German homosexual rights movement, which flourished in Central Europe in the 1920s, Langer thought through the meaning and place of homosexuality for Judaism, Zionism, and Hebrew culture for the first time. Already in the decade prior to World War One, the masculinist and proto-fascist wing of the German homosexual rights movement was defining itself politically and culturally against Jews and Judaism, and in opposition to Zionism. This influential wing of German homosexuals believed homosexuality to be an expression of masculinity and the social building block of the nation-state. They distinguished themselves from Jewish men who suffered from an excess of feminine traits and who were prone to gender inversion—a pathology. Jews, they asserted, were incapable of exhibiting true homosexuality, which was antithetical to Judaism. Jewish history was thus devoid of manifestations of Männerliebe, male-male erotic love, while Jewish men lacked the superior homosexual aesthetic sensibility that enabled homosexuals to serve as cultural and political leaders of the nation. Zionism, they also concluded, was destined to fail as a nationalist movement. Langer, excluded by the masculinist wing of German homosexuals, turned inward to the centuries-long Jewish experience to build a homosexual identity out of a wide range of classical and modern Jewish cultural materials. He reconciled homosexuality with Jewish nationalism and Jewish theology; he adumbrated a history of male-male Eros in Jewish history; he created a sociology of Jewish homosexuality in which the male-oriented social life of Hasidism facilitates male-male love and erotic desire; and he reconciled the male homosexual experience with the aesthetic modes of modern Hebrew literature, leaving behind the most important body of homosexual poetry that exists in Hebrew.

Carolyn J. Dean, Professor of History

Carolyn is a cultural and intellectual historian of modern Europe with a focus on the twentieth century.  She is the author of five books, most recently Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust (Cornell, 2010) and The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust (Cornell, 2004).  She is also the author of work on gender and sexuality, focusing on France in particular.  She is currently working on a research project concerning the evolution of the concept of “bearing witness” to suffering since the Second World War and its impact on the creation of global humanity.

She held the John Hay Professor of International Studies at Brown University, where she taught before coming to Yale in 2013.  She has been the recipient of several fellowships, including a Guggenheim and an ACLS, and was awarded Professor of the Year in 1996 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Council for the Advancement of Support of Education.

Alice Kaplan, John M. Musser Professor of French

Alice Kaplan is a literary historian of 20th century France, specializing in the period from the 1930s through WWII and the Liberation. Her courses at Yale include: Camus and Algeria, World War II in French Cinema, One Hundred Years of Swann’s Way, The Archives Fact and Fiction, and The Modern French Novel (with Maurice Samuels).  Kaplan was one of the first scholars in her field to study French literary fascism (Reproductions of Banality 1986) and to track down the anti-Semitic sources of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Bagatelles pour un massacre (1987).  Kaplan’s books include French Lessons: A Memoir (1993), The Collaborator (2000, National Book Award Finalist and Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History), The Interpreter (2005, Henry Adams Prize) and Dreaming in French:  The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis (2012).  A  former Guggenheim and NEH fellow, she is a member of the American Library in Paris Writers Council and the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, and a regular contributor of essays on culture to the French online journal Contreligne .  Recent work on Camus has taken her to Algeria.  She is the editor of Albert Camus’ Algerian Chronicles (2013), and author of a forthcoming book, Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic (fall 2016).  Kaplan is the recipient of a Baron grant in summer 2015 to study “Memory Traces of Algerian Jewry.”