Aleksandr Ivanov (European University at Saint Petersburg)
Valery Dymshits (European University at Saint Petersburg)


From 13:30
to 15:00
From 13:30
to 15:00

Course Description
The 20th century marked an intensive, even revolutionary development of Jewish visual culture, affecting all its spheres including photography, theatre, feature and documentary films. The photographic craft and filmmaking that combined technological advances with commercial prospects were considered quite respectable even fashionable among the Jews in the Russian Empire and later in the USSR as well as in the other countries of Eastern Europe and overseas. It is no exaggeration to say that involvement of the Jews in photographic and cinema business was in fully consistent with the modernization process that had been taking place in the Jewish society of Eastern Europe and photographs and films by a virtue of media nature and wide circulating had played an important role as a sort of intermediary between the Jews and their non-Jewish environment. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the Jews had occupied key positions in photography and cinema between World War I and II mainly in three countries: Russia/Soviet Union, Poland and the United States. These spheres of Jewish visual culture are little known to modern audiences.

Meanwhile, the study and interpretation of visual images that were later included in the golden fund of world photography and cinema and that had been created by Jewish photographers and filmmakers allows us to rise a number of important issues and problems standing far beyond the boundaries of Jewish topics.
Among these issues one can mention the following: mutual relations and influences between cinema, photography, fine art and literature, “what is ethnographic photography and film?”; photography and cinema as the tools of nation-building; manifestation of the national idea in photography and films; creation and employment of photographic and cinematic images for propagation of political ideas and ideologies, etc. Since many of the discussed films and photo-works are inspired by literary products (novels, poetry, art manifestes, political pamphlets, newspaper articles) significant part of the lecture course will be dedicated to

discussions of the ratio of visual images to their verbal primary sources.
World War II and the Catastrophe of the European Jewry have forced to rethink the importance of visual culture for the Jewish communities of Europe, Israel, and America. In this connection photography and cinema reflecting Jewish topics were comprehended as an autonomous field of production of visual images that have documentary, artistic, and commemorative value and that form an integral part of Jewish cultural heritage. A search for old photographs and newsreels, depicting images of the pre-war Jewish world, undertaken by various organizations and private collectors, as well as attempts to include the results of this search

within the context of the Jewish collective memory had been directed towards overcoming the sense of a break between past and present associated with tragic events of the Holocaust. Preservation, to a great extant, is a process of fixing, presentation, and interpretation of traces of the Jewish past according to modern methodological approaches and technological possibilities.

After-World War II activization and actualization of scholarly researches dedicated to Jewish visual culture and longstanding debates on the key concepts related to photographic and cinematic representations of the Jewish past will be also in focus of the current lecture course.
The course will allow students to get acquainted with contemporary understanding of what is Jewish visual culture with a strong accent on photography and cinema. The students will be able to improve their skills in analyzing visual documentary sources and reading visual images with the help of methodological approaches developed by visual anthropology and art history.


Syllabus and Readings

Part I

Class 1. The overview of the history of the Jews in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Poland and the United States. The multilingualism of Jewish literature and cinema. An overview of the development of Jewish cinematography.
Rosman Moshe. Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History // Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal, vol. 1 (2002), pp. 109–127. Bartosz Staszczyszyn The Lost World of Yiddish Films in Poland.
Recommended further reading:
Katz, Dovid. Yiddish // The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. G. D. Hundert (ed.) University, Vol. 1. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2008

Class 2-3. S. A. An-sky. The Dybbuk (1915).
S.A. An-sky. The Dybbuk. The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky. David G. Roskies (Editor), Golda Werman (Translator). Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 1- 50.
Recommended further reading:
Gabriella Safran. Wandering Soul. The Dybbuk's Creator, S. An-sky. Harvard University Press, 2010

Class 4. “The Dybbuk” on stage. Fate of the play and new Hebrew theatre “Habima”.
V. Ivanov. Habima and the “Biblical Theatre”. Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre. Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 27- 49
Recommended further reading:
B. Harshav. Art and Theatre. Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre. Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 69 - 87

Class 5-6. "The Dibbuk" Dir. Michal Vazhinsky (1936).
The Last Dibbuk // Beatrice Weinreich. Yiddish Folktales. New York: Schocken Books, 1997, pp. 360 – 370.
Recommended further reading:
The Tales of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: Selections with Commentary. Maggid Books, 2010.

Class 7. Seminar. Jewish cinematography as ethnographic source and media of the ethnic self-representation.

Class 8-9. Sholem-Aleichem. “Tevye the Dairyman”. The archetypes of Jewish self-representation in the Twentieth century.
Sholem-Aleichem. Tevye the Dairyman. Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish Classics). New York: Schocken Books, 1996, pp. 3 – 134.
Recommended further reading:
Dan Miron. Traveler Disguised: The Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Schocken Books, 1996.

Class 9-10. "Tevye" Dir. N. Adler. (USA, 1935); "Fiddler on the Roof" (USA, 1970) Dir. Jewison.
Ken Frieden. A Century in the Life of Sholem Aleichem's Tevye. Syracuse University Press, 1997.
Recommended further reading:
Goldman E. A. Visions, Images, and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present. Studies in Cinema, no. 24. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983.

Class 11. Sholem-Aleichem. “Menachem-Mendel”.
Valery Dymshits. The return of Menachem Mendel. Sholem Aleichem as a political commentator. // East European Jewish affairs, 2013. V. 43, No 1, pp. 389–400.
Recommended further reading:
Hoberman J. Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film between Two Worlds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Class 12. "Jewish happiness" Dir. Granovsky (USSR, 1925).
Jeffrey Veidlinger. Moscow State Yiddish Theater. Recommended further reading:
Goldberg J.N. Laughter through Tears: The Yiddish Cinema. London: Associated University Presses, 1983.

Part II

Class 13. Vicissitudes of the Method: Concepts of “Jewish Photography”, “Kinojudaica”, and “Jewish Eye” in contemporary writings on Jewish visual culture (William Klein, A. D. Coleman, Sara Blair, Max Kozloff, Carol Zemel, Rashid Jangirov).
A. D. Coleman, Exodus from Austria: Emigration of Austrian Photographers 1920-1940. Wien: Kunsthalle, 1998.
Max Kozloff, New York: Capital of Photography. New York: Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, 2002.
Sara Blair, Jewish America Through the Lens, in Jewish in America, S. Blair & J. Freedman, eds. (2004), pp. 113–133.
Recommended further reading:
Carol Zemel, Looking Jewish: Visual Culture and Modern Diaspora. Indiana University Press, 2015. Lucjan Dobroszycki, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Image Before My Eyes. A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864-1939. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.

Class 14. Between Ethnography and Art: Photographer Solomon Iudovin (Yudovin) and his contribution in creating visual images of the Jews in the course of Semen An-sky’s expeditions, 1912–1914.
Alexander Ivanov, “Experiences of a Young Man for Photographic Works”: Solomon Yudovin and Russian Pictorialism. St. Petersburg: European University Publishing, 2005.
Alexander Ivanov, Creating the Portrait of the Jewish People: Photo Archive of Semen An-sky’s expeditions, in Etnografia Nova / The New Ethnography, A. Czyżewski, ed. (Warsaw, 07|2015 / 08|2016), pp. 322–361.
Recommended further reading:
Photographing the Jewish Nation. Pictures from S. An-sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions. U. Avrutin, V. Dymshits, A. Ivanov, A. Lvov, H. Murav, A. Sokolova, eds. Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press & Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2009.
Olga Osadtschy, Solomon Yudovin: An Archive of People and Places, in Chagall: The Breakthrough Yeas, 1917–1919. J. Helfenstein & O. Osadtschy, eds. Köln: Kunstmuseum Basel, Verlag den Buchhandlung Walter König, 2017, pp. 62–93.

Class 15. The Unknown Holocaust: Anti-Jewish pogroms in post-imperial Russia during the Civil War and their representation in photography and newsreels. Discussion of the documentary film “The Jewish Pogroms in Ukraina, 1919–1920.”
Vladimir Danilenko, Jewish Pogroms in Ukraine, 1918–1920. State Archive of the Kiev Oblst special issue, 2012.
Recommended further reading:
Oleg Budnitskii, Russian Jews between the Reds and the Whites, 1917–1920. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Class 16. Jews in the Socio-political Environment of Post-revolutionary Russia and the Project of Jewish Agricultural Colonization, 1917–1930s: historical overview.
Zvi Gitelman, A Century of Ambivalence. The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present. Indiana University Press, 2001.
Recommended further reading:
Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen, Farming the Red Land: Jewish Agricultural Colonization and Local Soviet Power, 1924-1941. Yale University Press, 2005.

Class 17. Constructing Visual Images of “New Soviet Jews” in USSR literature, journalism, and photography, 1920s – 1930s.
Alexander Ivanov, Soviet Project of the Jewish Agricultural Colonization in the Mirror of Photographic Archives, 1920s – 30s, in Object and archival body: between theory and practice. Collected articles. I. Macrea-Toma & O. Sarkisova, eds. Budapest: CEU Press, 2018 (In print). Recommended further reading:
Valery Dymshits, Alexander Ivanov, The Hope and the Illusion. The search for a Russian Jewish homeland. A remarkable period in the History of ORT. St. Petersburg–London: World ORT Publishing, 2006.

Class 18. Seminar. “Bread, Labor, and Human Dignity: visual images of the Jewish farmers in Soviet documentary films” with showing and discussion of the film “Jews on the Land” (USSR, 1926; Film director – Alexander Room).
J. Hoberman, Cinema, in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. G. D. Hundert (ed.) University, Vol. 1. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 331–336.
Recommended further reading:
Claire Le Foll, The Image of the Jews in Belorussian Soviet Cinema, 1924–1936, in Visualizing Jews Through the Ages: Literary and Material Representations of Jewishness and Judaism. H. Ewence & H. Spurling, eds. London: Routledge, 2015. (Series: Routledge Studies in Cultural History, 1 edition).

Class 19. Visualizing Utopia: The Birobidzhan project and its representation in Soviet photography and documentary films, 1930s.
Alexander Ivanov, “To the Jewish Country!“: Representations of Birobidzhan in Soviet Mass-Media, 1920s – 1930s, in Promised Lands, Transformed Neigbourhoods and Other Spaces. Migration and the Art of Display, 1920-1950 / Länder der Verheißung, Verpflanzte Nachbarschaften und Andere Räume: Migration und die Kunst ihrer Darstellung, 1920-1950 Malgorzata Maksymiak, Susanne Marten-Finnis, Michael Nagel, eds. Bremen: Edition lumière 2016, pр. 49–84.
Recommended further reading:
Alexander Ivanov, La participation de l'OZET dans la production du film documentaire Birobidjan (1937), in Kinojudaica. Représentations des Juifs dans le cinéma de Russie et d’Union soviétique des années 1910 aux années 1980. Valerie Pozner & Natasha Laurent (eds.). Paris: Nouveau Monde éditions, 2012, pp. 197–219.
Robert Weinberg, Stalin’s Forgotten Zion. Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland. University of California Press, 1998.

Class 20. Creating the Portrait of East European Jewry on the Eve of World War II: Photographic activities of Alter Sholem Kacyzne and Roman Vishniac, 1920s – 1930s.
Alter Kacyzne, Poyln: Jewish Life in the Old Country. New York: Metropolitan books, 1999.
Roman Vishniac, A Vanished World. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983.
Roman Vishniac Rediscovered. Maya Benton, ed. New York, London & Munich, Prestel Publishing, 2015.
Recommended further reading:
Martin Gilbert, The Jews in the Twentieth Century. New York: Schocken Books, 2001.

Class 21. Irrefutable Images that Attempt to Speak the Unspeakable: methodological approaches to the Holocaust photography and documentaries.
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
David Shneer, Is Seeing Believing? Photographs, Eyewitness Testimony, and Evidence of the Holocaust, in East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 45, No. 1 (2015), pp. 65–78.
Recommended further reading:
Ulrich Baer, To Give Memory a Place: Holocaust Photography and the Landscape Tradition, in Representations, No. 69, Special Issue: Grounds for Remembering (Winter, 2000), pp. 38–62. Visualizing the Holocaust: Documents, Aesthetics, Memory. D. Bathrick, B. Prager, & M. D. Richardson. Rochester – New York: Camden House, 2008.

Class 22. Encounter of the Soviet and American Photographers and Cameramen with the Holocaust: visualisation of destruction of East European Jewry (with showing documentary film clips of 1941–1946).
Jeremy Hicks, First Films of the Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and the Genocide of the Jews, 1938–1946. University of Pittsburg Press, 2012.
Recommended further reading:
David Shneer, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes. Photography, War and the Holocaust. Rutgers University Press, 2011.
Filmer la guerre: Les Soviétiques face à la Shoah, 1941–1946. Valérie Pozner, Alexandre Sumpf, Vanessa Voisin, eds. Paris: Memorial de la Shoah, 2015.

Classes 23–24. Final seminar: “Searching the Traces of the Soviet Jewish Homeland” with showing and discussion of documentary films “L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin” (USA, 2002; Film director – Yale Strom) and “Red Zion” (Russia, 2006; Film director – Evgenii Tsymbal).

Exam-week. Papers due.


30% -- contribution to the first part of the course
30% -- contribution to the second part of the course
40% -- final paper


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