Middle Eastern and North African Jews as Tastemakers in Belle-Époque and Interwar Paris

April 28, 2021 - 4:00pm

Registration for this free Zoom workshop is required:

https://z.umn.edu/JuliaCohenDeviMaysColloquium

Histories of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in modern Paris tend to begin in the twentieth century. Largely forgotten are the Levantine and Maghrebi Jewish immigrants who began to settle in the French capital already by the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike later arrivals from these regions, they established themselves in parts of the city coded as “French” and “European,” working primarily as art and antiquities dealers, jewelers, perfumiers, and clothiers. Given their early arrival in Paris, their distinct settlement patterns, and their relative affluence, these individuals fit uneasily into existing temporal, spatial or socioeconomic profiles of “immigrant Paris.” Yet exploring their story offers unique insights into patterns yet uncharted. Whereas previous histories have told the history of Algerians and Ottomans in Paris separately, for example, the lives of the individuals we explore in this essay were exceptionally intertwined: Ottoman Jews married, worked alongside and socialized with Jews of Algerian and Tunisian descent, across the city and over the course of many decades. Their histories also offer evidence of the extensive and multigenerational presence of women who worked in their family businesses, drawing our attention to understudied arenas of women’s work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, their professional pursuits force us to contend with the central role these Maghrebi and Ottoman Jewish men and women played in shaping the art and fashion worlds of Paris during the fin-de-siècle and beyond.

Julia Phillips Cohen is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History at Vanderbilt University. She has authored two award-winning books, Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford, 2014), and Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (Stanford, 2014). She is currently working on a project exploring Sephardi Jews’ evolving relations with Spain in the centuries following their expulsion.

Devi Mays is Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and History at the University of Michigan. Her book, Forging Ties, Forging Passports: Migration and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora (Stanford University Press, 2020) won the 2020 National Jewish Book Award in Sephardic Culture. She is currently working on an introduction to and translation of Izmir-based Ottoman Jewish journalist Alexandre Ben Ghiat’s Ladino diary of World War I, entitled Two Steps from the Abyss: An Ottoman Jewish Witness to War.

Cosponsored by: Center for Early Modern History, Department of History and Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies.

Registration for this free Zoom workshop is required:

https://z.umn.edu/JuliaCohenDeviMaysColloquium

Registered participants please contact jwst@umn.edu for the pre-circulated paper to be discussed at the colloquium.