What is a “feuilleton”? If you have never heard this word, or if you have heard it, but are not sure what it is, you are not alone. This will change soon, thanks to a recent National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Collaborative Research grant that was awarded to Professor Shachar Pinsker of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Department of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, and co-directors Professor Naomi Brenner (Ohio State University) and Professor Matthew Handelman (Michigan State University). This grant will fund conferences at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (November 2019) and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (May 2020), bringing together a diverse international group of scholars working on the feuilleton, the public sphere, and Jewish cultures.

The feuilleton was an important and immensely popular feature in newspapers and journals during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. A novel form of urban literature and journalism, the feuilleton was a critical public space for political debate, social commentary and literary innovation that supplemented the news in a time of rising literacy and growing newspaper circulation. It was also multilingual and transnational, with feuilletons published in a remarkable number of languages across the globe.

Over time, the feuilleton became associated with Jews and Jewishness in Europe because so many feuilleton writers were Jewish. The feuilleton was understood by some to be a “Jewish” genre or form, identified, for good or bad, with specific kinds of writing and modes of communication. Furthermore, the feuilleton was an important feature in the creation of a transnational modern Jewish press. With a specific focus on the “Jewishness” of the feuilleton, this project investigates the unique place of the feuilleton in the creation of modern Jewish cultures in French, German, Russian, and Polish, as well as in Jewish languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic.

While the feuilleton is a historical phenomenon, it raises questions about changing modes of communication, the distinction between news and commentary in mass media, and the formation of cultural and political discourse, issues that continue to resonate in digital media.

The Feuilleton Project (www.feuilletonproject.org) aims to investigate and illuminate the feuilleton, its generic features, and its development within the context of the public sphere of modernity. It will bring the historical and contemporary importance of the feuilleton to the awareness of scholars, students, and the public, and make key feuilletons available, accessible, and better understood. Nineteenth and twentieth century feuilletons, which have never been collected and anthologized in their geographical and linguistic diversity, are key source texts for students and researchers in fields such as history, literary studies, cultural studies, critical theory, and communications. No single scholar has the necessary expertise to assess the feuilleton and its impact in shaping modern politics, culture, and journalism. The NEH sponsored conferences will bring together international scholars from different academic disciplines to examine feuilleton and the possibilities it offered for articulating and disseminating versions of modernity. At its core, the project proposes the feuilleton as a new area for intensive, interdisciplinary and multilingual inquiry, seeing the feuilleton as a critical juncture in the production of modern cultures and sensibilities.

This project was initiated in 2017 as a collaboration between the three co-directors and a growing group of scholars from North America, Europe and Israel. Early stages were supported by a Small Initiatives Grant from the American Academy for Jewish Research, the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan and the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at The Ohio State University. Building on this initial success, and in collaboration with Professor Ofer Dynes from the Hebrew University and Professor Liliane Weisberg from the University of Pennsylvania, the NEH grant will invite scholars in a variety of disciplines, languages, geographical areas, historical contexts and national traditions to map the feuilleton, identify important sources and texts, and discuss and plan subsequent publication in print and digital forms.

For more information about the project and our activities, please see: http://www.feuilletonproject.org/

For more information about the NEH Collaborative Research Grant, see: https://www.neh.gov/grants/research/collaborative-research-grants.

 Read more in the NEH Press Release.

For a Call for Proposals, see: https://www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-40976