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Ghetto: The History of a Word (Hardback)
  • Ghetto: The History of a Word (Hardback)
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Ghetto: The History of a Word (Hardback)

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£31.95
Hardback 288 Pages
Published: 01/09/2019
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Just as European Jews were being emancipated and ghettos in their original form—compulsory, enclosed spaces designed to segregate—were being dismantled, use of the word ghetto surged in Europe and spread around the globe. Tracing the curious path of this loaded word from its first use in sixteenth-century Venice to the present turns out to be more than an adventure in linguistics.

Few words are as ideologically charged as ghetto. Its early uses centered on two cities: Venice, where it referred to the segregation of the Jews in 1516, and Rome, where the ghetto survived until the fall of the Papal States in 1870, long after it had ceased to exist elsewhere.

Ghetto: The History of a Word offers a fascinating account of the changing nuances of this slippery term, from its coinage to the present day. It details how the ghetto emerged as an ambivalent metaphor for “premodern” Judaism in the nineteenth century and how it was later revived to refer to everything from densely populated Jewish immigrant enclaves in modern cities to the hypersegregated holding pens of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. We see how this ever-evolving word traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, settled into New York’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Near West Side, then came to be more closely associated with African Americans than with Jews.

Chronicling this sinuous transatlantic odyssey, Daniel B. Schwartz reveals how the history of ghettos is tied up with the struggle and argument over the meaning of a word. Paradoxically, the term ghetto came to loom larger in discourse about Jews when Jews were no longer required to live in legal ghettos. At a time when the Jewish associations have been largely eclipsed, Ghetto retrieves the history of a disturbingly resilient word.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674737532
Number of pages: 288
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

From its first use in 15th century Venice to its echoes in cities such as New York and Chicago, Schwartz traces the word’s path to modernity while highlighting its Jewish past—etymology that is often overlooked. - Boston Globe

A thorough etymological, historical, literary, and cultural analysis of an ever-evolving word. Through his all-encompassing approach, Schwartz explores how the term gained substantial emotional weight by showcasing works of literature, news papers’ opinion pieces, poems and journal entries. - Cassandra Gomes-Hochberg, Jerusalem Post

[An] authoritative survey of how this most malleable of words was understood in different ways over the centuries…[A] rich and nuanced work. - Howard Cooper, Jewish Chronicle

[An] eminently readable, accessible and eye-opening history. - Seth Rogovoy, Forward

Impressive…The merit of Ghetto, with its nuanced and sophisticated treatment, is making order out of the slippery history of the word…Accessible, elegant in style, and engaging throughout, Ghetto demonstrates definitively how central the concept has been to Jewish self-perception. It is the kind of rewarding study that both academic and lay readers will reach for. - Francesca Bregoli, Journal of Modern History

The merit of Ghetto, with its nuanced and sophisticated treatment, is making order out of the slippery history of the word, highlighting existing ties between the term’s disparate resonances while also forging new ones through that very excavation…Accessible, elegant in style, and engaging throughout, Ghetto demonstrates definitively how central the concept has been to Jewish self-perception. It is the kind of rewarding study that both academic and lay readers will reach for. - Francesca Bregoli, Journal of Modern History

A welcome addition to historians and urbanists alike by providing new insights into conceptions of the term and in so doing, emphasizing the power of language when describing complex phenomena such as segregation. - Laura Vaughan, LSE Review of Books

Schwartz’s elaborate, multilingual exploration of the Jewish relationship to the ghetto is a triumphant success—emphatically demonstrating that the story of the ghetto is also a story of Jewish agency, and of Jewish philosophical and historical conversation. - William Pimlott, In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies

An interesting and informative study of a word’s travels through centuries of historical, political, and sociological developments that kept affecting and changing its meaning. - Mosaic

Charts the development of the term ghetto from its medieval Italian roots through its modern variations…An informative, readable book that illuminates both historical contexts and the evolving use of language. - Choice

Schwartz has written a definitive history of the word ghetto, a vital and important term. A fascinating and comprehensive account that will be read and consulted widely. - Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan

Challenging and provocative, Ghetto is to my knowledge the first serious, painstakingly researched, book-length lexical history of this central concept in Jewish history. - David Engel, New York University

If you thought you knew the meaning, origins, and historical implications and migrations of the word ghetto, from the time of the founding of the first ghetto in Venice, in 1516, through the black ghettos of today, this book will open your eyes. It is a must-read. - Kenneth Stow, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History, University of Haifa

Ghetto is a superb history that takes us through the word’s various and contested meanings. From location to location and across the centuries, Schwartz is an expert guide, leading us through a history as complex and entangled as the very streets of which he writes. - John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley

With emphasis on the last 250 years, Schwartz traces how the word ghetto developed from a clear reference to compulsory, segregated, and enclosed Jewish quarters on the Italian peninsula to a general term that denoted any substantial concentration first of Jews and then also of other groups, especially African Americans. As a result, the word lost its specificity and was used to refer both negatively and positively to many different situations, raising the question ‘What is a ghetto?’ An excellent, nuanced, perceptive, and readable account of the history of Jewish quarters from classical Alexandria to the present. - Benjamin Ravid, Professor Emeritus, Brandeis University

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