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Reviewed by:
  • Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500-1800
  • Ana Schaposchnik
Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500-1800. Edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 328 pp. $60.00 (cloth); $30.00 (paper).

The presence of New Christian, Converso, and Crypto-Jewish networks in the 1500-1800s has been widely studied. Themes such as genealogy, family histories, religious identities and experiences, and so forth have received the attention of many scholars who looked at their presence in Europe, Africa, and the New World colonies. This book is innovative because it explores the topic by combining two lines of inquiry: Atlantic history and port Jews. Atlantic Jews, therefore, are now the focus of an analysis that poses broad questions, crosses imperial [End Page 855] boundaries, enlarges comparative frameworks, and provides context for specific microhistories. The book is divided into three parts: part 1 is about contexts, part 2 is about mercantilism, and part 3 is about identity and religion. These three parts are not separate compartments, since crucial themes such as the identity of these early modern Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews, and their social location within these Atlantic contexts are present throughout the volume. Primary sources used in this volume are as varied as topics and articles and reflect to some extent the multiple paths of this diaspora (archives located in Amsterdam, London, Lima, Seville, Lisbon).

In part 1, Jonathan Israel and Adam Sutcliffe provide the broad imperial contexts within which this diaspora lived until the eighteenth century and also remark on "its intricate diversity encompassing observant Jews, New Christians, and intermediary crypto-Jews of varied hues, and communities substantially integrated into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, and other cultures" (p. 27). In addition to their Jewish ancestry and potential religious affiliation (which was indeed more flexible than previous scholarship had assumed) what did these Sephardim have in common? According to this author, the Sephardim could maintain their trading and familial networks because of their pragmatism and their lack of concern regarding theological and political rivalries (in their host communities). Several questions that emerge after reading these two essays are directly or indirectly addressed in the remaining parts of the book. For example, was the Sephardic diaspora similar to other diasporas? How did the members of this diaspora interact with local populations?

In parts 2 and 3 of the book the reader can fully appreciate how innovative this volume's approach is. Here we see the connection between Atlantic port Jews in Dutch Brazil and in Suriname and Curaçao (Klooster) and how these communities incorporated new generations in a society that depended on slavery (Ben-Ur). We also see comparisons between diasporas. For example, Snyder explores how naturalization (endenization) opened the door for the presence of Jewish merchants in British American ports and to what extent they were different from trading diasporic networks. Studnicki-Gizbert compares the Portuguese Sephardic merchants with other trading diasporas across the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Assuming that these networks "were simultaneously the products and creators of the Atlantic world" (Studnicki-Gizbert, p. 78), this author studies how cultural and economic activities interact within a diasporic framework. At the domestic level, the pattern that emerges is that of a diaspora composed mainly of single men who migrated following commercial routes. [End Page 856]

As a whole, this volume is a very important contribution to our understanding of a very complex diaspora that defies simplistic generalizations. As Natalie Zemon Davis says in the epilogue, this book demonstrates that Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews simultaneously reproduced European patterns, and developed new ones across continents and oceans.

Ana Schaposchnik
DePaul University