Small Objects, Big Lessons: The Art of the Jewish Family with Laura Arnold Leibman

Laura Arnold Leibman joins us to talk about early American Jewish history and material culture, and the big lessons that we learn from looking at a handful of small objects which she studies in her recent book The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects. Listen in for our conversation about how material objects and material culture illuminate our understanding of American Jewish history, and why it matters.

The Art of the Jewish Family is an exciting book which uses micro history and material culture—looking at individual lives and histories, through material objects—to tell a big story about the lives of Jewish women in New York and the wider Atlantic world from 1750 to 1850. These objects include a letter written in 1761 to request financial aid from New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel; silver cups; ivory miniatures; commonplace books; and family portraits. Altogether they tell us an important set of stories about people who we don’t always pay attention to in history.

Laura Arnold Leibman is Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College. Her general field of interest is religion and American culture prior to the American Civil War. Her 2012 book Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life was awarded a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award and a National Jewish Book Award, and she recently published The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects, which we speak about in the podcast.

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