Classical Knowledge, Power, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Dutch Rabbinic Education

Tell me, o Muse, of the man . . .
— Homer
 

Francis Bacon’s belief that “knowledge is power” is one of the great epistemic mottos of all time. In early nineteenth-century Jewish Amsterdam, where civic emancipation had overturned the old corporate hierarchies, the rabbinic elite soon came to experience its merciless truth. In the newly established Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814), both their position and their expertise were pushed to the margins. To make things worse, the centralized organization of the newly constituted Israelite Denomination left no room for German-style Reform–Orthodox dualism. As a result, innovation and consolidation all took shape within a single, outwardly stable, yet inwardly polarized community, in which conservative rabbis and progressive lay executives vied for initiative and control. This perpetual state of discord posed high demands on a rabbi’s personal skills. It was no longer enough to be a competent teacher and judge; in order to survive, the rabbi had to become a kind of statesman. But what in his rabbinic experience would provide him with the wherewithal to become a politician? Continue reading “Classical Knowledge, Power, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Dutch Rabbinic Education”

The Duty to Know: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Making of Jewish Religious Knowledge

In 1878 Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800–1882), probably the most famous nineteenth-century German-Jewish painter, created a work entitled The Heder, or Jewish Elementary School, which re-imagined his first school in Hanau near Frankfurt am Main in the early 1800s. Continue reading “The Duty to Know: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Making of Jewish Religious Knowledge”

The Book Will Kill the Edifice? Mechanics Manuals and Learning to Draw in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century

In Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo (1802–1885) wrote, “the book will kill the edifice.” Spoken by Archdeacon Claude Frollo, this phrase signified the view that the Renaissance was “that setting sun we mistake for a dawn.”[1] Understood as a revolution in tectonics away from the organic and toward the classical, the Renaissance had separated sculpture, painting, and architecture—carved and parceled them out from what was formerly a single edifice of Gothic construction. The mechanism? Printing. Whereas Gothic architecture had reflected and affirmed the entire intellectual investment of society, the various arts and sciences were now contained in books. Continue reading “The Book Will Kill the Edifice? Mechanics Manuals and Learning to Draw in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century”

Some Online Reading Suggestions

If you are new to the history of knowledge, but not new to history, the following freely available online readings can help you find your bearings.

What would you add? Please let us know.

Knowledge and Citizenship

Caryn McTighe Musil at the Association of American Colleges and Universities has written a short programatic article on what the humanities can offer in current disputes over immigration in the United States. Her recommendation that curricula “include a focus on citizenship” suggests one way in which education and knowledge can figure into social, cultural, and political developments in societies with significant levels of immigration.[1] Many of us take citizenship for granted, having, for example, the good fortune to know precious little about statelessness.[2] Musil’s present-oriented intervention is interesting for the history of knowledge because her recommendations for curricular and other forms of public engagement with these issues suggest a possible historical research agenda too, one that extends well beyond the United States.[3]

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Poster from 1919 encouraging immigrants to naturalize.
Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507947/

  1. Caryn McTighe Musil, “Clashes Over Citizenship: Lady Liberty, Under Construction or On the Run?,” Diversity and Democracy 20, no. 1 (Winter 2017),
  2. On statelessness in twentieth century, see Miriam Rürup, “Lives in Limbo: Statelessness after Two World Wars,” Bulletin of the GHI 49 (Fall 2011): 113–34,
  3. An example from Germany: Simone Lässig, “History, Memory, and Symbolic Boundaries in the Federal Republic of Germany: Migrants and Migration in School History Textbooks,” in Migration, Memory, and Diversity: Germany from 1945 to the Present, edited by Cornelia Wilhelm (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016), chap. 5.
Suggested Citation: Mark R. Stoneman, “Knowledge and Citizenship,” History of Knowledge, March 10, 2017, https://historyofknowledge.net/2017/03/10/knowledge-and-citizenship/.

History of Knowledge Forum in GHI Bulletin

The Fall 2016 issue of the free access GHI Bulletin includes a thematic forum on the history of knowledge with the following three articles:

For more on this image, see p. 30 of Simone Lässig’s article.