Beyond the ivory tower: American Jewish history for a public audience.

Author:Antler, Joyce

This forum explores the multiple ways in which public historians, novelists, filmmakers, artists, and others have taken American Jewish history to a popular audience beyond the academy. In their novels, films, museum and online exhibits, magazine columns and web blogs, they have translated scholarly findings and created new narratives and meanings regarding Jewish history. In crossing the boundaries between academic scholarship and popular culture, they have encountered both challenges and opportunities--developments that this roundtable explores.

As a vehicle for presenting American Jewish history to audiences beyond the ivory tower, we have asked several of these historians, writers, and filmmakers to describe their own work and the particular venue in which it appears. We have asked them to consider the nature of various audiences--public or academic--as factors that drive their work, probing the differences--and, perhaps, the conflicts--between storytelling modes and commentary for such audiences. We also wonder about the ownership and control of material and meaning when scholars work in public arenas. Does collaboration require different perspectives with regard to scholarly authority?

We have also asked our contributors to examine the nature of the historical questions that arise, and the means and ideas they use in order to respond to these questions for public audiences. In probing these ideas, some contributors turn their attention to exploring the nature of the public historian's craft as opposed to that of the scholarly historian. How does each use evidence? What is the relationship of fact to imagination in the products they create for a public audience? In crossing institutional boundaries and disciplines, what kind of interdisciplinary materials do they employ?

We are also interested in the historical dimension of public vs. academic presentations. Do different versions of Jewish history emerge when told to different audiences? Is it necessary to simplify, summarize, or otherwise alter or reshape...

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