Social History of the Jews: Key Issues, Methods, and Research Possibilities

Dr. Vladyslava Moskalets

The field of social history has achieved the edge of its popularity in 1950-1980s. It was strongly connected with other disciplines, such as economics, demography, sociology, and allowed
historians to reach a much wider range of research themes. Since the 1960s, the social history of the Jewish people became important and influential part of the studies. Historians were exploring the possibilities to study Jewish community with new tools and integrating different representatives of Jewish community – workers, women, immigrants, criminals – in a research. Since 1990s historians of Jewish past shifted their interest to cultural studies. However, in the last years, we can see an economic turn, which signifies the search for a new way to conduct a research of Jewish life, combining social and cultural history and offering a more broad view on what is social. This course aims to show the development of the Jewish social history as the field, giving an overview of the research issues and methods which may be useful for a historian. Five seminar lectures will include discussions on the latest major texts in social history as well as the work with primary sources.

This course forms a part of Connecting (to) Histories: Engaging with the Urban Pasts and Displaying Jewish Heritage summer school.


Social history of the Jews: history of development

The lecture will trace the emergence of Jewish social history field and its main stages as well as general principles and methods. We will overview the most important research issues in the field trying to understand the process in general historiographical context. We will follow the dialog between cultural and social history of the Jews and understand the future options for development of the field.


  • Todd M. Endelman ”In Defense of Jewish Social History,” in Jewish Social Studies, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring – Summer, 2001), pp. 52-67
  • C. Conrad, “Social History” in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, ed. Neil H. Smelser, Paul B Baltes (Amsterdam, 2001), vol. 21, 1429914306.

Methodological issues: economic history

Methodological issues: demography and family history

Methodological issues: ego-documents as social history source

Methodological issues: gender studies

Related modules (1)

The end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century is known as the period of mass migration from Europe to other continents, when more than 55 million people changed their place of residence. In particular, this process captured the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, where a difficult economic situation, job shortages, and persecutions stirred various groups of the population to leave. Such groups included both Ukrainian and Polish peasants, and Jews from urban centers who were small-scale craftsmen or workers. Most often, they moved to the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, where labor was needed at factories or farms.
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