Scholars working on Jewish communities in the Middle East are in the midst of an important historiographical moment, in which the major categories, historical narratives, and key assumptions within the field are undergoing radical changes. A cluster of books and articles written by scholars trained in history, anthropology, and area studies departments, and published in Middle East studies rather than Jewish studies book series and journals, suggests that the study of Middle Eastern Jewish communities in the American academy is undergoing a change which might be termed “the Middle Eastern turn.” For such scholars, the history of Jews in Muslim lands, as modern subjects and citizens, is typified by a multiplicity of categories related to their identities—Ottoman, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Arab-Jewish, and local-patriotic—which they explore by looking at the political organizations and social and cultural institutions that enabled the integration of modern Jews into new imperial and national frameworks. This new scholarly wave is transnational, as it illustrates the importance of Jewish networks and Jewish languages in the Middle East, and likewise seeks to draw comparisons between Jews and other transregional and religious minorities, such as Armenians and Greek Orthodox Christians. It is interdisciplinary, as it attempts to incorporate the insights of sociologists, anthropologists, and literary scholars. Finally, it is postcolonial, in its critiques of national elites, national narratives, and nationalist histories. These new accounts uncover how processes which affected the entire Middle East, like Ottoman and Egyptian reform politics and the rise of nation-states, shaped modern Jewish lives.
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