Reorienting Imperial Jews: Constantinople at the Crossroads of Modern Jewish Identities


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  • Speaker: Devi Mays, Frankel Fellow
  • Host Department: Judaic Studies, Frankel Center for
  • Date: 12/04/2014
  • Time: 12:15 PM

  • Location: 202 S. Thayer St., Room 2022, Ann Arbor

  • Description:

    This colloquium seeks to reorient modern Jewish history by looking at the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, as the central stage upon which Jewish and imperial affiliations collided and coalesced. The nineteenth century decline of the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian empires and the spread of Western European imperialist intentions propelled the migrations of Jews of different imperial and national subjecthoods to and through Constantinople. This colloquium will explore how these flows of Jewish movement tested Jewish cohesion while forcing the renegotiation of carefully established relationships between Jews and the empires of which they were subjects. In focusing particularly on questions of commerce, human trafficking, and Zionism, this talk will explore what happens when Jewish programs clash with imperial concerns, when inter-subethnic Jewish tensions threaten to destablize the fragile balance between Jews and empire, and the ways in which subethnic Jewish identities are reinforced through imperial allegiance.


    Devi Mays is an assistant professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Fellow at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. After receiving her Ph.D. in Jewish History in 2013, she was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Modern Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her research interests include the modern Sephardic diaspora, the Jewish Mediterranean, transnational networks and migration, and how minority groups navigate transitions from empire to nationalizing states. She is currently revising a book manuscript, tentatively entitled Forging Ties, Forging Passports: Migration and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora, which traces the itineraries and connections of Sephardic migrants from the Ottoman Empire and its successor states to and through Mexico and beyond as a lens into the transnational Sephardic familial, commercial, and patronage networks that created a transoceanic modern Sephardic diaspora. Her publications include, among others, “‘I Killed Her Because I Loved Her Too Much’: Gender and Violence in the 20th-Century Sephardi Diaspora” (Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East Migration Studies, 2014), and numerous translations from Ladino, Spanish, and French in Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (Stanford University Press, 2014). She is also working on her second project, which explores the Ottoman capital of Constantinople as a central stage upon which Jewish subethnic and imperial affiliations collided and coalesced. For more information, visit her website:



    Sponsored by: The Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies



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