Story for J.
In late 2013, I was a visiting researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. By pure chance, a local professor put me in touch with the granddaughter of a Dutch member of the Jewish Territorialist movement, which looked for places of settlement for Jews outside of Pallestine until well into the 1950s. What was more, the woman’s mother – the territorialist’s daughter – was still alive, aged 96! What followed was a remarkable visit to the two women’s Los Angeles home. Afterwards, I put some thoughts and reflections to paper, without academic intentions, but as part of a letter to a close friend.
The story recently resurfaced in my thoughts while I was working on an article about Jewish Territorialism’s Dutch connection, and this regenerated some unresolved questions. I posed these questions to my colleagues at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute during a recurring internal sources and methodology workshop. I was thrilled to find myself as part of a fruitful and thought-provoking exchange.
The main issue discussed was the question of how a scholar could or should deal with unexpected encounters with people related to his or her subject matter. More often than not, such meetings do not lead to archival findings of importance and their contribution is thus not directly measurable in the ‘end product’. Still, thinking back to my LA experience and other such events during my research endeavours so far (yes, there were others!), I realise that these had a greater impact on the way I thought about the subject of my research than I initially expected. Should one, therefore, enter into such conversations with an open mind and few expectations, or should one try to get as much ‘relevant’ material out of it as possible? And lastly, what place does a more ‘literary’ account, such as the one given below, have within the larger scope of our academic work? How far can we go in blurring the lines between scholarly and literary approaches and writing styles? How do different national academic (cultural) contexts define the extent of such liberties?
Laura Almagor, Story for J., in: Vol 3 No 1 (2016): S:I.M.O.N. SHOAH: INTERVENTION. METHODS. DOCUMENTATION., 129-131. DOI: