Ellen Smith will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, March 15, at 12:15 pm. Her talk is entitled “The Limits and Possibilities of Jewish Material Culture Studies.”

Objects don’t “talk,” but we often rely on them to tell us stories about history and culture. What can we actually learn from non-textual material? How can we “read” objects absent supporting textual material? How does supporting documentary or oral history evidence shape our interpretations? What can material culture tell us about the past and the present that other forms of evidence cannot? And what can we learn specifically from Jewish material culture about Jewish communities and the people among whom they live? Join Professor Smith for a conversation and hands-on experience to explore the limits and possibilities of Jewish material culture studies, testing the new knowledge it may provide, and reconsidering some standard interpretations it may challenge.

Ellen Smith is Associate Professor and Director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, and an affiliated faculty member of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. She is also principal of Museumsmith, where she consults on museum and historic preservation projects around the country. Trained as a professional historian and a museum curator, Professor Smith has produced over three dozen books, articles, and museum exhibitions on American Jewish history and American Jewish women’s history; on Yiddish theater and Jewish new year postcards; on portraits of colonial American Jews; on historic immigrant synagogues; and three major exhibitions on Boston Jewish history. She is the co-author and editor, with Jonathan D. Sarna, of The Jews of Boston, and was the chief consultant to the Emmy award-winning WGBH (PBS) television show of the same name. At Brandeis, she has developed and teaches a series of courses in visual and material culture; art, artifacts and history; and museum studies. She also co-directs advanced training programs at Brandeis for Jewish professionals and organizations.

This event is part of the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.