Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Talk: "Tracing Archival Turns: Scholarship of an Information Age" by Jason Lustig, University of Texas at Austin

Thu, November 21, 2019 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

PLEASE NOTE: The time of this talk has changed to 3:30-4:30pm (former start time: 2pm).

"If archives stand at the forefront of historical research, in recent decades scholars have increasingly viewed archives as a subject of historical inquiry, not just as a source of historical materials. This presentation traces the intellectual and social trajectories of this archival turn and situates it in philosophical, cultural, and technological/scientific context. It looks to changes in the realm of archival practice and historical scholarship, as well as the explosion of the meaning of archives in a range of fields which are frequently viewed separately but should be synthesized into a broader shift in intellectual culture. Instead of seeing a singular archival turn, I argue that there have been parallel turns in fields from archival practice and historical scholarship to literature, philosophy, and elsewhere that all reflect late twentieth-century intellectual and cultural reorientations towards increased skepticism toward institutions and practices that once claimed to safeguard "objectivity.” Altogether, they mirror a growing recognition in popular and scholarly circles of the importance of information and archives in society. But if scholars are increasingly skeptical toward such information institutions, the public seems more susceptible than ever to the ideal of the neutrality of information, algorithms, and data warehouses. At a time when knowledge stands at the center of both profit and political power, it is productive to tie together the trends in scholarship and society to understand what it means to produce scholarship of an information age. The presentation thus synthesizes the trends, explicates their intellectual and cultural origins, and situates scholarly archival turns alongside developments in archival practices and information studies which have been too often left out of discussions but which, I argue, are just as much a part of the reorientation of our views toward archives. The presentation will share preliminary findings in this project as they relate to the broader set of questions in my research about the history of archives in Jewish cultures."

Jason Lustig is a scholar of modern Jewish history and culture, and he is currently the Israel Institute Teaching Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies. Previously, he has held the Harry Starr Fellowship in Judaica at Harvard University’s Center for Jewish Studies and the Gerald Westheimer Early Career Fellowship at the Leo Baeck Institute. His research and teaching focuses on intellectual history, historiography, and the history of archives, and he holds a Ph.D. from the UCLA Department of History. He has previously taught Jewish history at UCLA and the University of Southern California, and his research has been published in the Journal of Contemporary History, American Jewish History, Archival ScienceHistory of the Human Sciences, and elsewhere.

His book manuscript, titled A Time to Gather: Archives and the Control of Jewish Culture, is the first systematic investigation of the history of Jewish archives in modern times. It examines the emergence of centralized archives for Jewish history within a transnational context—in Germany, the United States, and Israel/Palestine—and the active role of archives and archivists in the development of Jewish history as a discipline alongside their place in the negotiation of a rapidly changing world. Ultimately, he delves into the question of how and why Jews created archives the world over, and how such activities led directly to struggles over who could “own” the past. In A Time to Gather, he argues that archives and archiving represented a means for Jews to physically manifest a past that they felt was slipping over the threshold of history—a feeling only sharpened by the Holocaust. With the destruction of European Jewry, archival aspirations led to intense battles over who could lay claim to the past.

This project represents part of a broader research program that investigates how Jews have approached their past and thereby constructed visions of the future. He also focuses on the early history of Zionism, the transformation of Jewish life following the Holocaust, and the legal and social issues surrounding the restitution of cultural and communal property looted by the Nazi regime, which was the focus of his peer-reviewed article “Who Are to be the Successors of European Jewry? The Restitution of German Jewish Communal and Cultural Property,” published in the Journal of Contemporary History.

Jason received his Ph.D. from the UCLA Department of History in 2017, and he holds a Masters of Arts in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, where he wrote his M.A. thesis on the history of the American Council for Judaism. In 2008, he graduated from Brandeis University cum laude with a B.A. in Near Eastern & Judaic Studies and Computer Science. See his complete Curriculum Vitae.

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to to reserve your seat. 

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