Parkes Questionnaire 2 with Nick Underwood, author of “Seeing the Spanish Civil War in the Yiddish press in popular front France” published in Parkes Journal, Jewish Culture and History

This questionnaire is the second in a series with contributors to the Parkes Institute Journals, hoping to build connections and engage with current academic debate on Jewish/non-Jewish relations. Nick Underwood‘s article, “Seeing the Spanish Civil War in the Yiddish press in popular front France” is published in Jewish History and Culture, Volume 21, Issue 4.

  1. How would you summarise your article?

This article is an attempt to “read” photographs used by the Yiddish communist press in Paris as they related to the Spanish Civil War to try to understand the narrative of the war that visual culture was helping shape for newspapers. These images helped define for the newspapers what “republicans” and “fascists” looked like, how they seemingly acted, and what they represented. When doing research on immigrant Yiddish-speaking Jews in interwar France, I found it striking that the Yiddish press did not use the widely circulated and now famous photographs of the Civil War that were printed in other leftist outlets and that were taken by other immigrant Jews in France (namely, Robert Capa, Gerta Taro, and Chim).

2. How can we draw out themes from your research that are relevant today?

This article shows how images and the repeated use of images can shape a reader’s understanding of news events and their current lived realities. The research in this article reminds us that placement of images in newspapers, or for a more contemporary comparison in social media, is deliberate and images used should be evaluated as closely as a headline or the story itself. The images are part of the story. This is not to say that image placement is malevolent or nefarious, it is just to say that we ought to take as much time to understand images within the context of media as we do when we read and understand an article or shared bit of information.

3. Has your research changed your view of Jewish/non-Jewish relations?

My research continues to show me that Jewish and non-Jewish worlds are in constant cultural, political, and social conversation with each other. These are not, for the most part, compartmentalised communities. They are interacting with each other and helping each other define a variety of lived realities and identities. This article demonstrates one way that this has occurred.

4. Is there anything that was left on the cutting room floor from your article that you’d like to share?

It is interesting, this article itself came from the cutting room floor. I had long ago thought I would dedicate a chapter of my then dissertation and now book manuscript to photographs and photography. But the idea never materialised into something that would fit in the book. This article is my attempt to polish some of the work I did on photographs that were circulated and emanated from the world of photo journalism outside that of Taro, Capa, and Chim.

5. Please recommend one film/book/piece of music or any other form of media that feels relevant to your research or your understanding of  Jewish/non-Jewish relations

I am currently working on a new book project on the postwar years in France and the redevelopment of Yiddish culture in Europe. If anyone is looking for a collection of songs that show the interactions between Jewish and non-Jewish worlds, I would recommend the box set: Musiques juives dans le Paris d’après guerre, Elesdisc 1948-1953. It is really great and the liner notes give a wonderful introduction to this post-Holocaust European Yiddish cultural world.

Jewish History and Culture is edited by Professor Joachim Schlör and published with Routledge, Taylor and Francis. It is an inter-disciplinary journal which brings together the best of current research in Jewish social history with innovative work in Jewish cultural studies. The journal includes cutting-edge research by younger scholars as well as established specialists, and reviews of recent publications. The journal explores previously neglected areas of the Jewish experience from a range of different perspectives including Jewish popular culture, social and political history, literary and cultural representation of Jews, and the global contexts of Jewish culture and history. Several issues have been published as a book, and include topics such as Jewish Migration and the Archive, Jewish Diplomacy and Welfare, Jewish Cultural Heritage, Jews on the Celtic Fringes, The Interface between Contemporary British Black and Jewish Cultures, and Jews: Movement, Migration, Location.

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