What immediately interested you in taking on this series?
Sarah Abrevaya Stein: Helping to steward Stanford University Press’ distinguished Series in Jewish History and Culture allows me to focus on those aspects of academic life all of us wish we had more time to enjoy: books, ideas, and the freshest directions in scholarship. I feel a personal connection to the series, as its first book was published in 1992, the year I applied to Stanford’s graduate program in Jewish History, where I would train with the series’ founding (and, until now only) editors, Steven Zipperstein and Aron Rodrigue.
David Biale: The excellent work that Steve Zipperstein and Aron Rodrigue did in establishing this series serves as a great foundation to continue and expand their work. I have watched the development of Jewish Studies as a discipline for nearly forty years, refereeing for at least half a dozen presses and serving as a mentor to junior faculty on their books. So, it is of great interest to me to apply those experiences to the development of a Jewish Studies series.
What drew you to Jewish Studies in the first place?
DB: When I was an undergraduate in the late 60s to early 70s, I was very active in Jewish student life at Berkeley and was studying European intellectual history. It occurred to me in my senior year that I should really combine my personal extracurricular passions with my academic work. So, I have always pursued projects in my scholarship that have great existential, political and cultural importance to me.
SS: Scholarship, in both its aggravations and its joys, is unavoidably personal, whatever topic you study. I always introduce my classes by saying that you don’t need a personal connection to a topic to study it: the goal is to develop one with time, and therefore to read and write with passion and empathy.
Within Jewish Studies, are there any areas of research you think don’t receive the attention they deserve?
SS: More than I can mention, and hopefully more than I can imagine (surprises, after all, keep the enterprise interesting)! I am eager to see the field of Jewish Studies continue to expand—thinking about places we have not, as scholars, inhabited before, or moments of history that have been overlooked. In my own work, I gravitate to topics that others might dismiss as a footnote, but whose stories can be used to illustrate histories of difference and reframe the larger landscape of Jewish culture.
DB: More and more attention is now being paid to less studied Jewish communities, such as in the Arab world, but there is still much work to be done to bring that subject in line with the attention paid to European Jewish history. But the future lies in comparative work.
Under your stewardship, where do you hope to see the series go?
DB: I should state first how excited I am to be working together with Sarah Stein, one of the very best of a younger generation of Jewish historians whose work comparing the Sephardic and Ashkenzic paths to modernization is a model for what I would like to see in the series. Sarah and I understand the steep challenges of academic publishing in an era of shrinking sales. We hope to acquire scholarly books that speak to a wide audience and that address issues of current urgency and to support the work of young scholars of exceptional promise.
SS: I am committed to the idea of writerly craft. Academic publishing faces a novel future, and, partly as a result, we are increasingly obligated to think about readers beyond a given, narrow field, and to think of ourselves as writers as well as scholars. This trend toward a more accessible voice, in my view, is a positive development, even if it may have associated growing pains.
Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor of History and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, as well as Vice Chair for Undergraduate Affairs of the History Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
David Biale is the Emmanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis and the Director of the Davis Humanities Institute.