“L’Italie, Laboratoire de la modernite juive,” — Workshop of Jewish Modernity – a group of scholars recently characterized Venice and the Ghetto and thereby focused discussion on how this laboratory shaped Jewish modernity. Carrying forward a recently emerging scholarly view about early modern Jewish communities, these essays emphasize the interaction of the Jews in the Ghetto with the larger Venetian populace and polity, reminding us that the Ghetto came to be named “La Citta degli ebrei.” An island set apart from and yet part of the city on the lagoon, the Ghetto became a political, social, and cultural locus of historical and symbolic status.
Yet the roles women played in this forging of modern Jewish identity are often absent from the conversation. Notable women such as Dona Gracia Nasi and Sarra Copia Sulam appear here and there. However, there is little sustained attentiveness to the ways in which Jewish and Venetian women across the social spectrum responded to emerging modern habits and processes. Their contribution to the “workshop of Jewish modernity” has not been charted – and thus we know little as to how and to what extent women were able to express and take agency in many spheres, from cultural practices and financial activities to intellectual pursuits.
Our gathering is directed to bringing women into the Venetian historical account. We will focus on the ways in which Jewish women, in part through their connections to other Venetian and Italian women, helped to articulate what it was to be modern, and thus participated in the forging of modern Venetian, Italian, and Jewish identities. We anticipate that there also will be discussion of the contributions of non-Jewish women in shaping the image and understanding of contemporary Venice and Venetian Jewish life. We envision that this objective might be approached through multiple disciplines, literature, history, and art history among them.
This conference seeks to help open new lines of scholarly inquiry, which we might continue to build at subsequent gatherings, with the eventual aim of organizing a larger conference in Venice in the near future. In keeping with the exploratory purpose of this gathering, featured lectures are followed by panels, — whose participants will take the conversation forward.