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Modernism and Pogroms: Culture and the Arts in the East Central European Borderlands, 19th-21st centuries

Publication date 28.04.2023
Dr. Mayhill Fowler

In our mini-course we will explore cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews (Ukrainians, Poles, Russians) in the borderlands of the Habsburg and Romanov empires. This is interaction that may have been conscious or unconscious, and may have involved encounter, appropriation, negotiation, exchange and destruction.

This course has three goals. First, you will understand the complexity of writing about cultural production and reception to look at the political, social, and economic structures surrounding the arts. Second, you will gain a body of knowledge about the cultural production of the Jewish and Ukrainian (and Polish and Russian) communities in the multi-ethnic region of East Central Europe. You will both gain familiarity with the major scholars working on these questions, as well as a basic level of knowledge of the arts in this region. Third, from this you will understand how national categories do not work for cultural analysis. Great art came from this region, such as art that is mentioned in books on “Ukrainian” art or “Jewish” art or “Russian art.” This was a region that was also home to the modern understanding of the pogrom, and to mass and local violence against Jews (and Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians). We will try to look at the modernism and pogroms together and try to articulate how the multiplicity of ethnicity shapes cultural production in this region.

This course forms a part of Jewish History and the Multiethnic Past of East Central Europe: Societies, Cultures, and Heritage summer school.

Tools for Studying and Discussing Culture


  • Philipp Ther, “The Transnational Paradigm of Historiography and its Potential for Ukrainian History,” in Grigory Kasianov and Philip Ther, Ukraine: A Landscape of Transnational History (2009), 81-114.
  • Robert Darnton, “Do Books Cause Revolutions?,” The Forbidden Best-sellers of PreRevolutionary France (1996), 169-197.

Lecture: The Cultural World of the Imperial Shtetl

Alexander Granach, There Goes a Man (film clips)
Hassidism and Ukrainian Culture
Шолом-Алейхем, “On Account of a Hat”: “high” and “low” goyish


  • William H. Sewell, Jr., “The Concept(s) of Culture,” in Victoria Bonnell and Lynn Hunt, eds., Beyond the Cultural Turn (1999), 35-61.

Professionalization and Nationalization in Empires

War and Modernism

New Nations

New Empire: Soviet Nationality Policy and Cultural Exchange

Urban Culture in the Interwar Period: Tango in Yiddish?

War and Cold War

Big Historiographies / Narratives

Encounter, Exchange, Appropriation after Communism