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Vol. 10, No. 4 Summer 1992 YIDDISH STUDIES IN AMERICA: THE THIRD WAVE by David Neal MiIler David Neal Miller is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Yiddish Studies in the Department of Near Eastern, Judaic and Hellenic Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on Yiddish literature and the theory of literature. 1 The coming of age of academic Yiddish studies has been eventful, if 'discontinuous both geographically and chronologically. In the present century, the primary impetus has been autonomist: Yiddish studies as independent area of inquiry, informed by contemporary theoretical discourse in the' relevant disciplines (linguistics, critical theory, folklore, among others) but answerable to its own organization (acquisition, classification , dissemination) of research data, its own interpretive traditions, and its own institutional priorities. l Despite differences in organization, goals, and especially, ideology-the latter imposed from without to a lesser degree than historians of Yiddish scholarship have generally found congenial to acknowledge-the grand ventures in Yiddish scholarship-the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilne (Vilnius), the Chair for Yiddish Culture in Kiv (Kiev), the Jewish Sector of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences in Minsk-were primarily autonomist, rather than comparativist 'For an engaged overview of Yiddish studies from the origins of the discipline in the early sLxteenth century, see Dovid Katz, "On Yiddish, in Yiddish and for Yiddish: 500 Years of Yiddish Scholarship'," in M. H. Gelber, ed., Identity and Ethos: A Festschrift for Sol Liptzin on the Occasion of His 85th Birthday (New York: Peter Lang, 1986), pp. 23-36. 2 SHOFAR or pan-Judaic in impulse.2 Of these, only the YIVO (relocated to New York City) has had the good fortune to continue its work to the present day. The trajectory of Yiddish studies in America bears little resemblance to that of the enterprise in continental Ashkenaz, where Jewish nationalism was apposite to the nationalisms of coterritorial (Polish, Ukrainian, Belorussian , Russian, Lithuanian, et al.) or paradigmatic (German) peoples. Here, Yiddish pursued two very different strategies. The first was to establish institutions answerable to nonacademic (ethnic, political) constituencies.3 And, in fact, a national intellectual life of remarkable vitality flourished in the Ashkenazic diaspora. Yiddophone organizations supported an active scholarly enterprise invisible to, hence unhampered by, the organs of anglophone cultural authority. This autonomy was purchased at the expense of exclusion from the primary loci of American cultural authority-degree-granting institutions of higher education, graduate training, and anglophone scholarly publication. The anglophone strategy was both more complex and more covert: scholars of Yiddish sought any plausible toehold in Gentile academe. In the absence of the heady nationalisms which informed the early decades of the present century and enabled the sudden, post-Versailles establishment of Yiddish academic institutions in the Ashkenazic homeland, the avant-garde of academic Yiddishism in America came disguised in the garb of other national traditions; scholars of Yiddish received appointments as Slavists, Germanists, specialists in Conrad or the Bloomsbury Group. To be sure, these appointments often reflected a breadth of research competence among the first wave of academic Yiddishists, but this catholicism was institutionally preconditioned: scholars were, as a rule, trained formally in the area of their academic appointment (unexceptional, from an institutional standpoint) and autodidactic in Yiddish; their own graduate students rarely shared their unsanctioned enthusiasm; and outlets for scholarly publication in the field of Yiddish (as well as career rewards for such publication) were relatively few. That the first fruits of Yiddish- 'See Nokhem Shtif, Di organizatsye fun der yidisher visnshaft (Vilna, 1925); Alfred Abraham Greenbaum, jewish Scholarship and Scholarly Institutions in Soviet Russia, 1918-1953 (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Centre for Research Documentation of East European Jewry, 1978): as well as Zachary Baker's article in the present volume. Yrhese include the Arbeter-ring (Workmen's Circle), A1veltlekher yidisher kuhur-kongres (Congress ofJewish Culture), Tsiko (CYCO/Central Yiddish Culture Organization), and YKUF (Yidisher kultur-farband). Vol. 10, No.4 Summer 1992 3 American scholarship were typically of an introductory nature4 bespeaks at once a measure of on-the-job training (as their authors sharpened their own expertise in Yiddish studies) and a program of constituency creation. For all the impediments they faced...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 1-5
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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