Going to the People: Jews and the Ethnographic Impulse

Going to the People: Jews and the Ethnographic Impulse

Going to the People: Jews and the Ethnographic Impulse

Going to the People: Jews and the Ethnographic Impulse

Synopsis

Taking S. An-sky's expeditions to the Pale of Jewish Settlement as its point of departure, the volume explores the dynamic and many-sided nature of ethnographic knowledge and the long and complex history of the production and consumption of Jewish folk traditions. These essays by historians, anthropologists, musicologists, and folklorists showcase some of the finest research in the field. They reveal how the collection, analysis, and preservation of ethnography intersect with questions about the construction and delineation of community, the preservation of Jewishness, the meaning of belief, the significance of retrieving cultural heritage, the politics of accessing and memorializing "lost" cultures, and the problem of narration, among other topics.

Excerpt

Jeffrey Veidlinger

In the spring of 1873 a manifesto written by an ad hoc group of populists based in St. Petersburg began circulating among Russian university students: “Go to the people and tell it the whole truth to the very last word. Tell it that man must live according to the law of nature. According to this law all men are equal; all men are born naked, all men are born equally small and weak.” the following summer, the summer of 1874, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students abandoned their universities and went into the countryside “to the people.” These urban students and alienated nobility had come to believe that the future lay in the revolutionary power of the Russian peasantry, the simple folk, the narod or the muzhik.

This compulsion to “go to the people” was infectious: it not only played an important role in the growth of the Russian revolutionary movement, but it also encouraged intellectuals, amateur scholars, and aspiring artists to draw inspiration from their roots, to return to “their people.” the Jews of the Russian Empire took part in this movement of “return” with enthusiasm. the most celebrated spokesperson for the movement to the people among Jewish activists was probably Shloyme Zaynvl Rapoport, known more commonly by his pseudonym, S. An-sky. An-sky’s manifesto, “Jewish Folk Creativity,” published in the short-lived journal Perezhitoe (The past) in 1908, began with an epigraph from the Talmudic tractate Eruvin 14b, “Go out and see what the people do,” that paralleled the populists’ rallying cry and linked the modern cause to the Jewish past. “Our task . . .

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