This paper discusses the politics of Jewish Studies by focusing on the digitisation of Jewish cultural heritage and its effects for research into Jewish history(ies). In the past few years we have witnessed the emergence of what could be termed the critical turn in digital humanities with an increasing focus on how digital resources shape various parts of the research process and its outcomes. One aspect of that turn is more attention to digital source criticism and the politics of digitisation of cultural heritage. There are many aspects of digitisation that can be considered “political”, from selection for digitisation to modes of access to broader questions about the political aspects of infrastructure or ‘infrapolitics’. None of these is specific to our digital age nor to Jewish Studies, and historical context is crucially important.
This paper builds upon my recent reseach into the politics of digitisation and considers the case of Jewish Studies, framed within the broader context of the politics of heritage and its preservation. It set outs a number of broad parameters for discussion, with the aim to encourage further debate. Questions to be addressed include: what Jewish heritage is being digitised and which stories about the Jewish past can (and cannot) be told on its basis? Which players are involved in digitisation and how do both top-down national strategies and bottom-up community initiatives guide the process? How do memory politics influence selection processes? And how does transnational heritage fare in an age where many digitisation programs are nationally framed and funded? The paper will use the historical example of the digitisation of Yiddish heritage to illustrate these questions and provide a concrete example.
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