This year, for me, the summer conference season kicks off right on my doorstep with the British Association for Jewish Studies 2017 gathering on the theme of Jews on the Move: Exploring the movement of Jews, objects, texts, and ideas in space and time. I have had the immense privilege and pleasure to serve this year as the BAJS president, and arrange the conference.
From the earliest accounts, travel and migration, movement across space and time have been a definitive feature of Jewish history. This is more than a historical fact, it is also a characteristic feature of the representation of Jewishness: Jews are associated with travel and migration, historically and in cultural production. In this history, no less crucial than the movement of people we see the movement of texts, objects, and ideas, which travel both physically and intellectually as generations in distant locations engage with them at different times and places. As you can see from the programme, this conference brings together a rich offering of papers, interpreting the conference theme in innovative ways, through various academic disciplines and time periods.
Much work has gone into the creation of this exciting line-up of panels and papers. First and foremost, this work has been that of each and every one who contributed a paper or panel proposal, and who is travelling from far and wide to present here, particularly our amazing keynote speakers. Those who have followed the organisation’s work over the past decades will have noticed a shift in the composition of the annual conferences. BAJS started out to showcase, promote, and bring together scholars at British institutions. When the BAJS conference was last held in Edinburgh in 1990, the then President, Peter Hayman, welcomed very much this kind of home crowd, promoting British scholarship in that sense. And, as you can see, the conference continues to do so, but now also attracts scholars from the European continent, and reaches academics further afield as well, from Israel and from Turkey, from right across Asia, from New Zealand and from the United States. This international outlook is not only a tribute to the strength of this comparatively small subject association, but also an encouraging acknowledgement and commitment to the place of British scholarship in the international community of scholars advancing the range of aspects of Jewish Studies, in terms of both research and teaching. As we will discuss in a number of forums during this conference, there are difficult times ahead for British scholars and we are delighted to see so much support for our work from outwith the British Isles.
The theme of this year’s conference draws not only on Jewish experiences across the ages, it also speaks to the location of this BAJS conference in Scotland, a country which has seen more Jewish emigration than immigration, and a country for whom immigrants are presently an important part of the nation-building project, of the public (re-)articulation of national self-understanding of pressing concern to many in Scotland today. The term ‘Scots by choice’, which is used by some Scottish political groupings, points to the desire to be inclusive, to welcome the stranger, and to invite immigrants to call Scotland their home. Jews became a noticeable group of immigrants most evidently from 1880-1914. However, its first Jewish community was founded two centuries ago, in 1817, here in Edinburgh. A couple of panels in this conference focus exclusively on Scotland, bringing together recent and ongoing research on Scottish Jewish history; another panel casts light on Jews in the British Isles, exploring the place of Jewish immigrants in wider British society. These panels are designed to contribute to a better understanding of an important part of Jewish and British history, and to draw attention to the place of this study in the development of Jewish Studies in the UK. At the same time, the year’s thematic focus on migration draws on the very evident place of the topic in current political affairs. During the AGM, we will also consider both the effects of Brexit on our own fields of study and likely future developments for collaboration between scholars based in Britain and elsewhere in the world, particularly on the European continent.
I very much look forward to the conference next week. Watch out for conference-related tweets at #BAJS2017 and follow the work of BAJS @JewishStudiesUK.