Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism – upcoming events

Lunchtime Seminar

The Politics of Memory and the Return of the Xenophobic Right

Speaker: Valentina Pisanty, University of Bergamo

Date: 20 October 2022

Time: 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Venue: Online

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There are two facts for us all to see, Valentina Pisanty proposes. First, in the last twenty years the Shoah has been the object of widespread commemorative activities throughout the western world. Second, in the last twenty years racism and intolerance have increased dramatically in those very countries where the politics of memory have been implemented with the greatest vigour. In this seminar she will ask: are these unrelated facts and two independent historical threads, or is there a connection? And is it up to a society, wishing to oppose the current wave of xenophobia, to examine this contradiction?

Valentina Pisanty teaches Semiotics at the University of Bergamo. She has published articles and essays on Holocaust denial, racism, political discourse analysis, narratology, humour, interpretive semiotics, the rhetoric of memory-making and the semiotics of testimony. Her books include: Guardiani della memoria e il ritorno delle destre xenofobe (Bompiani, 2020; English translation The Guardians of Memory and the Return of the Xenophobic Right, Primo Levi Editions, 2021); Abusi di memoria: negare, banalizzare, sacralizzare la Shoah (Bruno Mondadori, 2012); La Difesa della Razza: antologia 1938-1942 (Bompiani, 2006); L’irritante questione delle camere a gas: logica del negazionismo (Bompiani 1998, new edition 2014).

No Englishman did it: Jews, the News, and the Whitechapel Murders of 1888

Public Lecture

Speaker: Dr Mia Spiro, University of Glasgow

Date: 24 October 2022

Time: 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Venue: Birkbeck, University of London, Clore Lecture Theatre, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7JL

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Few London-based figures have stimulated as much morbid fascination as Jack the Ripper. Media events surrounding the Whitechapel murders from 1888 to 1891, and the profusion of sensational literature that grew out of these events, point to the potency of the notion of an unknown fiend lurking the streets among immigrants, misfits, and the dispossessed. This lecture looks at popular suspicions that Jack the Ripper was a Jewish migrant and the reactions to these accusations among Jews.  By looking at contemporary reportage in newspapers such as The Star, as well as the Jewish press, we will see how readers and writers used print media to draw attention to the boundaries between ‘Englishman’ and foreigner, fact and fiction, and the limits of religious certitude in the face of inexplicable evil.

Mia Spiro is Senior Lecturer in Modern Jewish Culture and Holocaust Studies and Head of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow. She is the author of Anti-Nazi Modernism: The Challenges of Resistance in 1930s Fiction (Northwestern UP, 2013) and has published on Jewish representation in literature and film and the impact of the Holocaust on post-WWII Jewish culture. She is currently writing a book entitled: ‘Monsters and Jewish Migration: Golems, Dybbuks, and the Ghosts of War’ (to be published in 2024).

“A foul and violent orgy”: James Baldwin on Holocaust Exceptionalism and Black Revolt


Speaker: Ben Ratskoff, Hebrew Union College and the University of Southern California

Date: 31 October 2022

Time: 5:00pm – 6:00pm

Venue: Online

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Recent debates about contemporary racism and national memorial cultures, instigated in part by global revolts against anti-Black policing, have put pressure on both the historiographic assertion of the Holocaust’s fundamental difference from other forms of racial violence and the ritualization of Holocaust remembrance. In James Baldwin’s protracted and ambivalent engagement with Holocaust history and memory in the 1960s, Baldwin coded moral orientations toward the Holocaust to political orientations toward Black oppression and revolt. In doing so, he clarifies how Holocaust history and memory both provide a vital resource for interpreting the real-time trajectory of Black militancy while at the same time functioning to recuperate repressive national mythologies.

Ben Ratskoff is visiting assistant professor in the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies at Hebrew Union College and the University of Southern California. He completed his dissertation, Waltzing with Hitler: Black Writers, the Third Reich, and Demonic Grounds of Comparison, 1936-1940, in June 2021. His writing has appeared in Jewish Studies Quarterly and Studies in American Jewish Literature, as well as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jewish Currents, The Funambulist, and Truthout.

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