The “Mapping Modern Jewish Cultures” project maps, analyzes, and reconstructs the network of Jewish café culture in cities across several continents: Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York City and Tel Aviv. The project demonstrates how urban cafés acted as a modern “silk road” in the creation of modern Jewish culture. It traces the movement of Jews across cities and cafés in Europe, the U.S. and Palestine/Israel from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

Examining the confluence between cafés, the urban environment, and the creativity of multilingual Jewish diasporic communities, the project demonstrates how transnational Jewish modernity was born in the café, nourished there, and sent out into the world of print, politics, literature, visual arts and theater. It makes a vital contribution to scholarly fields such as History, Literature, Cultural Geography, Jewish Studies, Urban studies, Media Studies and Gender Studies. It also seeks to engage a general audience eager to have open access to a reliable, well-researched digital reconstruction of the world of Jewish cafés that does not exist anymore.



Over the past six years Professor Pinsker has worked with a wide-ranging team of librarians, technicians, visualization and GIS experts, as well as many graduate and undergraduate students, to produce a large digital collection of visual, textual, and cartographic sources related to cafés and modern Jewish culture which can be accessed through the project’s digital platform. The project began with support from Justin Joque, a Visualization Librarian, and Alix Keener, the Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University of Michigan, as well as Peter Knoop and Caitlin Dickinson, who oversee the Geographic information Systems at the University of Michigan. The project benefited from a number of grants from the University of Michigan, which enabled Professor Pinsker to work with other professors who are engaged in Digital Humanities projects, as well as graduate and undergraduate students from the School of Information and from the College of LSA.



While part of the research and analysis is presented in Professor Shachar Pinsker’s book, A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture (NYU Press, 2018), crucial aspects of this project cannot be communicated in a traditional, linear humanities monograph. In order to overcome this challenge, the monograph is complemented by a digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publication.

The website offers multiple interlacing “pathways” for scholars, students, and curious individuals to engage with these materials: Cities, People, Stories, and Time. Each pathway emphasizes a different dimension of modern Jewish café history and culture. “Cities” invites researchers and students to explore the data geographically, allowing them to interact with a map of cafés significant to Jewish culture in each city, simultaneously juxtaposed with overlays of historical maps. The “People” visualization illustrates direct and indirect relationships among Jewish authors, artists, actors, and intellectuals across time and space by displaying mutual associations with cities and cafés in a complex web graph. A more curated, narrative-based presentation of the data is found in “Stories,” a
collection of StoryMaps focusing on cities, people, or themes important to the project. These StoryMaps, created through ArcGIS Online (by ESRI), enable highly exploratory arrangements of “Geographic Information Systems” (GIS) with images, texts, hyperlinks, audio and video. Finally, “Time” presents a linear, chronological view of the cafés explored in the project, tracing the evolution
of cafés and Jewish café culture from the early nineteenth century to the present.



The broad multifaceted nature of this project makes it a useful resource for professional scholars, classrooms, and the general public alike. It presents an extensively researched historical narrative while inviting others to uncover alternative perspectives, therefore blurring the boundaries between teaching and research. The project complements a traditional scholarly text with a diverse selection of images, videos, interactive and static maps, network visualizations, timelines, and textual primary source material, expanding the conventional notion of ‘literacy’ in a multimedia and multilingual context.


Awards and Citations

“Mapping Modern Jewish Cultures” has been awarded the Mcubed award twice for interdisciplinary research, as well as the New-Model Humanities Publication Grant Program through the Institute for
Humanities at University of Michigan. The project was featured in ESRI as one of the success stories of
implementing GSI in Higher Education and was highlighted by UM LSA Technology Services