Charleston Research Fellows
Andrew Sperling, PhD Candidate
Andrew Sperling’s dissertation, “American Jews Against Antisemitic Extremism,” follows the responses of American Jewish communities to forms of right-wing extremist antisemitism between the 1920s and 1960s. This project aims to trace the evolving strategies Jews used against hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, German-American Bund, Silver Shirts, and the American Nazi Party. The discussions and debates Jews held within their own communities and with the larger American public helps us understand effective tactics against contemporary extremist movements. Sperling is eager to conduct research at the College of Charleston, where he will consult the Charleston Jewish Community Relations Committee Papers, the William Vincent Moore Papers, and other collections related to Southern antisemitism and racism.
Andrew Sperling is currently a PhD candidate in History at American University in Washington, D.C. He earned his M.A. in History in 2019, and his B.A. in English literature in 2016, both from North Carolina State University. In support of his dissertation project, he has received fellowships and grants from the American Jewish Archives, the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, and the American Academy for Jewish Research.
Margaret Weinberg Norman, MA
Director of Programming and Engagement
Temple Beth El
As part of Margaret’s current role at Temple Beth El in Birmingham, Alabama she oversees the development of the Beth El Civil Rights Experience, a multimedia project exploring the intersections of Birmingham’s Jewish and civil rights histories. She has been developing this project since August 2020, and during that time also completed her M.A in American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her thesis, “Convergences: Remembering and Recounting the Civil Rights Movement Through the Story of Nineteen Rabbis in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963,” explores collective memory and storytelling regarding the civil rights movement by Birmingham’s Jewish community, as well as by a group of rabbis who arrived at the height of the city’s civil rights demonstrations. Margaret is looking forward to using her time in Charleston to explore congregational and institutional papers (such as the Jewish Community Relations Committee), as well as oral histories and family papers from the classic civil rights era. Her goal is to understand actions and reactions, as well as memories of the civil rights era, within Charleston’s Jewish community, and to do comparative study between Birmingham and Charleston.
Margaret received her B.A in Individualized Study from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Prior to work at Temple Beth El she spent time in the world of food and farming and has a forthcoming piece this year on the rise of Jewish agrarianism in North America. She’s also worked on public history and documentary projects for the Jefferson County Memorial Project, Red Mountain Park, the Southern Foodways Alliance and the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
Ben Bascom, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Ball State University
Ben Bascom is looking forward to researching at the College of Charleston, where he plans to attend to the papers of Charlotte A. Myers (1802–1891) as well as other materials in the collection regarding queer history. His current book project, “Eccentric Queers: Celebrity and Debility in Nineteenth-Century American,” examines the relation between mental health and celebrity. One chapter draws upon Edgar Allan Poe’s literary executor, Rufus W. Griswold (1815–1857), who became infamous for besmirching the memory of Poe. Shortly after that, Griswold attempted to disgrace the reputation of his second wife, Charlotte A. Myers, when her family charged him with bigamy and abandonment. In response, Griswold publicly shamed the body of his second wife, a Jewish intersex woman, with conventional diatribes regarding the lurking threat of nonnormatively sexed bodies in antebellum America. Through my research at the College of Charleston, I aim to bring forward Myers’s own perspective on the unfolding events and newspaper publications that document this saga, specifically to provide a counter to the normalizing and oppressive rhetoric that Griswold circulated.
Ben Bascom is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University where he teaches courses in early and nineteenth-century American literature and queer studies. His forthcoming book, “Feeling Singular: Queer Masculinities and the Early United States,” is under contract at Oxford University Press and tells an alternative account of the founding decades of the United States.
Farah Art Griffin, Ed.M.
Visual Artist, August 2022
Farah is a visual artist and poet. Through the utilization of hand-sewing techniques and textile application, Farah is creating an art piece on the Holocaust. In Charleston, she will be conducting research at the Addlestone Library to examine historical and biographical accounts of the Holocaust from selected rare materials and documents housed within the Jewish Heritage Collection, with a particular focus on survivors of the Holocaust and those who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Farah holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of South Carolina and an Ed.M. in Arts in Education from Harvard University. For her art pieces, she is the recipient of the Arts and Accessibility Grant from the National Arts & Disability Center, the Library Travel Grant Award from the University of Chicago’s Center for East Asian Studies, the Countering Hate with Art Grant, the Wake Forest University Travel Grant for Library Research Award, the Harvardwood Heroes Grant, and named a Zwickler Fellow at Cornell University. She is also the recipient of a fellowship from the Hemera Foundation and a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation.
Heather Nathans, Ph.D.
Chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies
and the Alice and Nathan Gantcher Professor in Judaic Studies
Tufts University, March 2022
My new project, “Playing in the Land of Milk and Honey: Performing Southern, Jewish, and African Diasporic Identities, 1776–1915,” grows out of my two most recent monographs, as well as a 2019 NEH Institute on Southern Jewish Culture at the College of Charleston. The NEH Summer Institute crystallized my thoughts on extending my earlier research in new directions.
Throughout the 19th century, Jewish American artists explored southern theatrical circuits ranging from well-established urban centers to tiny towns. Southern theatres offered important sites not only for witnessing performances by Jewish artists onstage, but for the intricate interactions taking place among Jewish and gentile audiences within the playhouse and beyond. And because these encounters occurred along the southern circuit, they encompassed frequent exchanges with African diasporic communities as well.
Despite the frequency and “inevitability” of these chance meetings, the challenge remains: How can historians gauge the extent to which such interactions shaped perceptions of southern, white, gentile, Jewish, and African identities? Where does evidence of these exchanges and their impact linger? In my research I often feel like the miner panning for gold and amassing my “treasure” tiny flake by tiny flake. Each remnant of an encounter allows me to build a narrative one delicate layer at a time.
Jillian M. Hinderliter, Ph.D. Candidate
University of South Carolina, January 2020
Jillian M. Hinderliter’s dissertation, “Jewish Activists of the U.S. Women’s Health Movement, 1968–1988,” reexamines Jewish women’s participation in women’s health reform and feminist health organizing. She argues that for many Jewish women, their Jewish identities were never far removed from their work as health reformers. This dissertation can help us understand Jewish women’s roles and representation within the women’s health movement, while nuancing the history of second wave feminism’s diverse cultural intersections and internal divides.
Working with the Jewish Heritage Collection, Jillian will explore a lesser known aspect of women’s health history – the role of southern Jews and Jewish organizations in advancing community health initiatives. Stories of southern Jewish women’s organizing for health reform and health education complicate our understanding of the sites of feminist health activism in the United States.
Daniel N. Gullotta, Ph.D. Student
Stanford University, October 2019
A historian of American religion, Daniel N. Gullotta is currently working on the various religious factions of the young Jacksonian Democratic Party and examining what role religion played in the rise of Andrew Jackson. Within this religious/ethnic white coalition were Jews, some of whom were Jackson’s most diehard supporters. Daniel is investigating these Jacksonian Jews to learn more about their support for Jackson, their role in shaping the Jacksonian Democratic Party, and how their religious beliefs and cultural identity informed their Democratic identity. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Stanford University, he received his Master of Religion from Yale University Divinity School and his Master of Theological Studies from the Australian Catholic University.
Professor Melissa Klapper
Rowan University, March 2019
Melissa Klapper is the author of two important books in American Jewish women’s history, is now working on a study of American Jewish women who traveled abroad between the Civil War and World War II, which will take serious the idea that travel could both destabilize and reaffirm American Jewish women’s religious, cultural, ethnic, national, and gender identities in ways that bear further exploration. Her trip to Charleston will allow her to include travel writings of women from places beyond the “usual suspects” of northern urban centers.
Florida Atlantic University, February 2019
Lucas Wilson, recipient of a Charleston Research Fellowship in May 2017, and a Southern Jewish Historical Society Research Award, returned to Charleston in February 2019 to conduct oral histories of second-generation Holocaust survivors as part of his dissertation, “The Structures of Postmemory: Portraits of Survivor-Family Homes in Second-Generation Holocaust Literature.”
Professor Philippe Girard
McNeese State University, January 2019
The Haitian Revolution was the only successful slave revolt in world history, so one of the burning question in the 1790s was whether it would remain contained to the shores of Hispaniola or whether it would inspire copycat revolts in the rest of the Caribbean and the southern US. The most elaborate plan to export the slave revolt was hatched in 1799 by a young Sephardi merchant from Haiti named Isaac Sasportas, who raised 4,000 troops and a flotilla to invade Jamaica and free that colony’s slaves. If successful, the plan would have refashioned the history of the region, but Sasportas was eventually betrayed by the famous Haitian rebel Toussaint Louverture, allowing British authorities to arrest and then execute Sasportas. Girard’s goal is to write a full-length biography of Isaac Sasportas – who lived in Charleston between 1793 and 1795 – examining his involvement in the planned invasion of Jamaica as well as a related plot in Curacao, his family network in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, as well as more generally Jewish involvement in the Age of Revolutions and the abolitionist movement.
Professor Kristin Brill
Keele University (UK), August 2018
A historian of gender in the Civil War-era South, Dr. Brill is working on a manuscript entitled Scarlett Plays Politics: Gender and Nationalism on the Confederate Home Front, which examines how southern women fashioned a language of dissent to the Confederate state within their diaries and letters to challenge the failing domestic policies of the Confederacy and contest its ideological claims to republicanism.
At Addlestone Library, she will conduct research for a book chapter on Charlestonian Eugenia Phillips, a Jewish woman who was prosecuted under General Benjamin Butler’s General Order 28. This research will provide the basis for a broader examination of the role of Judaism in the social construction of Confederate nationalism and wartime gender identity. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University in 2013.
Joshua Furman, Ph.D.
Houston Jewish History Archive at Rice University, June 2018
Joshua Furman is an American Jewish historian who co-founded the Houston Jewish History archives at Rice University in the Fall of 2017. In Charleston he will spend time in the Jewish Heritage Collection at Addlestone Library with Dale Rosengarten, exploring archival methods and strategies appropriate to a local southern Jewish history archive located within a university library, including issues of archival acquisition and digitization.
On Furman’s visit to Charleston, see his blogpost for the College’s Southern Studies blog.
2017 – 2018 Fellows
University of Virginia, March 2018
Brian Neumann is working on a dissertation, entitled “Loyalty and Liberty: Nullification and the Struggle for Union in South Carolina, 1828-1835,” which examines the social, political, and ideological dynamics of Unionism during the crisis.
The crisis coincided with the Second Great Awakening, and it became a struggle over faith and freedom, testing South Carolinians’ belief in the Union’s providential purpose. In Charleston, Neumann will work on the spiritual dimensions of the Nullification Crisis, including the reactions of South Carolina’s Jewish community.
Journalist, January 2018
A journalist and author of Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal, Sue will be working on a book of narrative non-fiction with the working title of Postcards From Dixie: A Yankee’s Journey.
It is a traveling-through-history personal journey of discovery and understanding that explores reasons for the Civil War, comparisons between the civil rights movement and civil rights issues today (e.g., voting rights), Southern culture and history that many Yankees don’t know, and, as the backbone of the whole book, the history of the “lost” Jewish communities of the South and the contributions and distinctiveness of Southern Jews.
In Charleston, Sue will visit important Jewish historical sites and learn about the community’s history from the Jewish Heritage Collection and from encounters with locals.
2016 – 2017 Fellows
Florida Atlantic University, May 2017
Lucas Wilson, recipient of a Charleston Research Fellow in May 2017 and a Southern Jewish Historical Society Research Award, will return to Charleston to conduct oral histories of second-generation Holocaust survivors as part of his dissertation, “The Structures of Postmemory: Portraits of Survivor-Family Homes in Second-Generation Holocaust Literature.”
Carnegie Mellon University, November 2016
Avigail Oren’s dissertation examines how American Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in the postwar decades debated whether they should solely enroll Jewish members or whether they should serve all of the ethnic and religious groups in their increasingly diverse neighborhoods. She argues that local JCCs’ priorities and programming were reshaped in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s as Center workers attempted to balance their professional authority with their sectarian commitment, and to reconcile their liberalism with Jewish particularism and preservation.
Using materials at the Jewish Heritage Collection, Avigail will develop an additional case study for her dissertation that demonstrates how southern Jews perceived changes like the racial integration of the JCC. Many JCCs were located in the South, and as such, her project will immensely benefit from close consideration of the Charleston JCC.
2015 – 2016 Fellows
New York University, March 2016
Sandra Fox’s dissertation examines how postwar American Jewish educators and leaders combined forms of Jewish nationalism, mainly Zionism and Yiddishism, with opportunities for youth to “perform” authentic Jewishness at Jewish summer camps and youth movements throughout the United States. Utilizing dramatics, language learning, song, and memorialization, camp and youth movement leaders sought to strengthen American Jewish youths’ identifications with Jewishness through simulating Jews from other times or places.
Her work will consider this trend within the postwar historical context, a period marked by growing Jewish acceptance into the mainstream, increasing affluence, and suburbanization on the one hand, and the post-Holocaust moment on the other. Since Jewish camps and youth movements were truly national phenomena, acquiring a diverse geographical perspective is crucial, and as the southern camps and youth movements are particularly left out of the Center for Jewish History’s collections (unlike camps of the midwest, for example), a trip to Charleston was a great help in achieving this broader geographical point of view.
Professor Michael Meyer
Hebrew Union College, August 2015
In the early years of the American Reform movement neither Zionism nor Hebraism was favored, except by very few. Among these few were two brothers, Jacob and Max Raisin. Born in Russian Poland and growing up in New York, they were fluent not only in Yiddish and English, but also in Haskalah Hebrew.
Remarkably, even as teenagers, they were able to publish in Hebrew periodicals like Ha-Ivri, and Max even managed to write for Ahad Ha-Am’s Ha-Shiloah. Their reference group in New York was a small circle of Hebraically and Zionistically oriented young men. And yet both Jacob and Max decided to study for the Reform rabbinate at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, had high praise for its founder, Isaac Mayer Wise, and became successful Reform Rabbis, Jacob in Charleston and Max in Paterson, New Jersey.
Each published extensively in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. Each was a defender of Reform Judaism within the milieu of the modern Hebrew reading public. The fact that the College of Charleston holds the papers of Jacob Raisin, including some correspondence between the two brothers, made a visit to the collection essential for this project.