Beth S. Wenger F'06

Beth S. Wenger
Director of the Jewish Studies Program
History
University of Pennsylvania

ACLS Fellowship Program 2006
Associate Professor
History
University of Pennsylvania
History Lessons: The Invention of American Jewish Heritage

This project explores the collective heritage created by Jews in the United States from the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. The invention of a distinct American Jewish past—complete with historical legends, heroic figures, and narratives of Jewish patriotism and cultural contributions—was a crucial element in the acculturation and identity formation of Jews in the United States. This project considers the ways that American Jews created and rehearsed their own history in popular forms, examining holiday celebrations, public commemorations, monument projects, children's literature and textbooks. These popular renditions of American Jewish history, purposefully constructed as distinct from the European Jewish past, insisted that a new epoch in Jewish history was unfolding in America.