Jan 23 2013
After a November (mainly) in Pittsburgh, Seth and I took off in December for the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, we stopped in Switzerland on the way. It was Seth’s first time back, and he enjoyed the familiarity and seeing old friends. I had a whole day to spend with my co-advisers, which went well, and also a day to spend in the League of Nations Archives, which has relocated to a really classy, large reading room, ousting the periodicals department of the UNOG library. We even spent a day in Mary&co’s recently renovated chalet in Morgins, and did some snowshoeing up there. Shortly after we left, Adar gave birth to a wonderful little baby #2. Also, we fled Switzerland just in time to miss Christmas altogether, which is definitely a bonus.
Now I’m supposed to be at the end of my stay in Jerusalem. But I have the flu. So I’m trying to figure out exactly what to do with myself, and also I’m thinking, what better time to update the blog?
It’s pretty amazing how in Israel, I have more close friends than in Pittsburgh. I guess this isn’t shocking, since I don’t spend enough time in Pittsburgh to form relationships, but it is interesting how so many of my friends are always passing through Jerusalem. Hands down, this is the best feature of my trip here. Friends, why do you never happen to be passing through Pittsburgh (I speak to everyone but Alex E. and Hannah Sarah, here, and Tal gets a special shout-out since she came intentionally)? If you take a road trip westward from the Northeast, you’ve gotta go by… so take a road trip to Chicago and we’ll feed you really amazing perogies and show you nice flowers.
Archival research is not easy to conduct here. The archives are like a labyrinth, in one case, all in Hebrew (including their finding aids and unique software package which is not exactly user-friendly), in the other case, in a hodgepodge of cultural and linguistic styles (Yiddish and French were useful here!). Despite having 5 weeks here, I basically only started actually getting to the point of viewing files I needed in week 4. This was WITH an excellent research assistant who I’ve been paying out of my own living stipend. If I had actually known what would be here, that it would easily compete with the collections of the Center for Jewish History in NY, I would have swapped to spend a few weeks in NYC now and the upcoming summer in J-lem. But truly, there is amazing stuff held here, and it is not secret it is just…rather inaccessible. While here, I went to talk given by an American professor I really admire on the history of Jewish archives–and she explained how both competing ideologies about what the Jews are and where there cultural resources should be, combined with the trauma of the Holocaust, means that pretty much anyone working in Jewish history is bound to travel the world like a luftmentsh, in search of pieces of collections that have been scattered across the globe. Oh well.
Yesterday was election day, which for me, meant a day to sleep. People keep asking me about it, but I’m reading the same sources as you–Haaretz in English, NYTimes, and +972 Magazine. Fascinating results. I have no special insights from being on-site, other than having heard some racist rants and being assaulted by mini-rallies/pamphleteers all over the place for the last few weeks which I did not understand in the least.
Seth is back in Pittsburgh and tells me it is about 8 degrees Fahrenheit there. I hear from Boston that it is even colder. Given this information, I am trying to decide if my wish for central heating and insulated walls (which are entirely lacking in Israel) would top the coldness of the exterior. I am nearly always freezing in Jerusalem because 50 degrees inside is chilly, even if it is fine outside. The week of the famed winter storm (which involved several days of heavy rain and wind before finally dumping a few inches of very wet, slushy snow) was particularly bad, with the archives closed, transportation pretty much non-functional, and being stuck crowded around a couple space heaters in a freezing apartment with drafty windows rattling.
Oh, and how can I forget? While Seth’s parents were also in this slice of the Middle East, we took a short family trip to Petra and Wadi Ram by crossing into Jordan at Eilat. That was amazing. At some point I’ll put photos on flickr. Visiting Petra was a little like visiting a Roman city, except pink, and except largely carved rather than built. It really is a whole city, and not just the one facade that is always shown in photos. There was an equally stunning facade all the way near the top of a mountain which took about an hour of stair-climbing. Wadi Ram was also pretty amazing, looking somewhat like Sedona, Arizona, except less developed and without any desert shrubbery. Basically, like Mars.
Last but not least, I just got myself a Macbook Air, which I am still struggling to use properly. I needed a new computer, and I wanted to be able to get Devonthink, which is a program historians seem to rave about when it comes to research management. Workflow wise, I am planning to also manage references in either Sente or Bookends and write the dissertation in Scrivener. If any fellow historians reading this would like to discuss digital workflow, please let me know.
So that’s the report from the icebox under the sun and the inside of the archives. Next time…in Pittsburgh? DC? Ann Arbor? New York? You’ll just have to wait to find out.