Jews, Colonialism and Postcolonialism

“Jews, Colonialism and Postcolonialism”, University of Cape Town, 8-10 April 2013

“Jews, Colonialism and Postcolonialism” was the second conference to be jointly organised by the Parkes Institute, the Isaac and Jesse Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research (University of Cape Town) and the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies (University of Sydney). Coordinated by Shirli Gilbert, James Jordan, Tony Kushner, Suzanne Rutland (University of Sydney) and Milton Shain (University of Cape Town), the conference built on previous conferences at the University of Cape Town and at the University of Sydney.

The previous collaborative conference,  “The Holocaust and Legacies of Race in the Postcolonial World, 1945 to the present” (April 2012), examined the tensions that emerged when countries with an imperial and often murderous history of racial exploitation under colonialism confronted the enormity of Nazi racial crimes. “Jews, Colonialism and Postcolonialism” sought to expand on the frameworks developed in 2012 by exploring the connections and intersections between Jews, colonialism, and postcolonialism, and to bring together the sometimes contradictory approaches to this topic and to begin to constitute it as a new field of comparative studies.

The conference was attended by delegates from the United States, South Africa, Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Holland and Israel. This diversity was reflected in the academic disciplines represented at the conference, with a broad spectrum of fields from within the Humanities. The proceeding’s panels were consequently lively and engaged, covering thematic topics such as ‘Jews and the Transatlantic World’, ‘Contesting Identities’, ‘South African Landscapes’ and ‘Zionism and Colonialism’. Each panel explored the diverse and contested relationships between Jews and the colonial and postcolonial worlds and the broad range of chronological and geographical contexts in which these relationships were played out.

Cape Town Delegates

The Parkes Institute was well represented, with James Jordan (More than One Pair of Eyes: Transitional Transnational Identities in Georgia Brown’s East End), Shirli Gilbert (A Refugee from Nazi Germany in Apartheid South Africa), Tony Kushner (Racing Against Time: Sports, Colonialism and Antisemitism) and Tom Plant (Race and Empire in Postwar British-Jewish Youth Movements) giving papers.

The first day of the conference ended with a visit to the South African Jewish Museum and the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, followed by dinner in the Museum’s café. Following the meal, Professor Atina Grossmann delivered her keynote address on War, Colonialism and the Holocaust.

Atina Grossmann

On the second day, delegates received a guided tour of the Slave Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, led by Professor Rob Shell.

The conference proved to be extremely engaging and enjoyable, and reflects the important and high quality work being undertaken in this emerging field. Discussions on the future direction and development of the project were already emerging by the close of the conference, and the Parkes Institute and its partners look forward to continuing their work together.

The organisers would like to thank the delegates for their contributions. The organisers and delegates from the Parkes Institute would also like to thank Janine Blumberg for her tireless efforts at the conference, Dr Nick Evans of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (University of Hull) for his continued support, and Professors Milton Shain and Suzanne Rutland, our co-organisers.

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