Calm Before the Story: Reading Mostly

nested-identities The past two days, I have not been doing a lot of obviously active research. Rather, I have been sending emails and making phone calls to contacts old and new across the country in an attempt to jump-start the interview portion of my research. So far, I have a few meetings scheduled for the coming week and a number of tentative engagements.

Aside from this, which actually has taken a considerable chunk of time, I have been catching up a bit on my reading and background research. Today, sitting in a coffee shop around the corner from my apartment in Rehavia, I finished up the collected volume Nested Identities, edited by Guntram Herb and David Kaplan and published in 1999. In some ways, the volume is a bit dated in terms of its case studies, but overall it provides a number of interesting examples of how national identity can become intertwined with territorial claims.

Emphasizing the multi-layered and nature of identity claims (from the local to the imperial), the book starts with what it terms the macro-scale examining European, Caribbean, and post-Soviet Russian identity to the meso-scale with Finnish, Estonian, Nigerian, and Sri Lankan domestic efforts to define national identity in space, to the micro-scale with Basque, Israel-Arab Palestinian, Transylvanian, and Welsh identities in focus. Unlike other volumes of this kind, it does not attempt to provide any overarching frameworks in which to understand national identity in territory, but the cases are valuable in themselves for what they illustrate about territorial claims.

The genre of the book is Political Geography, somewhere between Comparative Political Science and Geography. This helps explain the lack of an overarching theoretical framework, a concept which many social scientists, historians in particular, reject as artificial and unhelpful to understanding the world. With regard to this debate, I am decidedly agnostic.

In other activities today, I visited a friend’s bookstore off of Yaffo between Ben Yehudah and Mahane Yehuda to get some guidance on a volume of Talmud Bavli I had previously purchased which I was told would be helpful to my research (Mas. Kethuboth 111a). One of his friends, a Rabbi who frequents the store, was more than happy to help. We sat for over an hour discussing the relevance of the section in which I was interested to politics in Israel today, particularly with regard to the Haredi community, and the ins and outs of my dissertation. Not a planned meeting but a very productive one! I also left with a few new books to read: A Nation that Dwells Alone by Yaaqov Herzog and Aron Barth’s The Modern Jew Faces Eternal Problems. My challenge in reading these will be that both are in their original Hebrew editions. Wish me luck.

I am unsure what precisely tomorrow will hold, but in the evening I am going to the Jerusalem Wine Festival on the campus of the Israel Museum. For the price of a mere 60 sheqalim, I will get to enjoy a wide variety of Israeli wines and what I presume will be free range of the Israel Museum. It should be fun. With any luck, the morning will yield an interview or at least a response to one of my many requests for an interview. When it rains, it pours, and I am sure that once the interviews get going, it will be difficult to slow down. In the meantime, I am going at a relaxed pace.

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