Atlantic History Jewish Diaspora
David Graizbord
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0114


Despite the existence of various academic works on Jews in or of various corners of the Atlantic, the study of Jews in the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic basin, consciously pursued as a subfield of research under the rubric of “Atlantic studies,” is still in its very early stages. Therefore, the boundaries of the subject of the present bibliography, a subject one may provisionally call the “Atlantic Jewish diaspora” and/or the “Jewish Atlantic,” are still vague. Unlike other fields and subfields, for instance, the “black Atlantic” and the “Iberian Atlantic,” this one does not have a name that specialists regularly employ or that would be readily recognizable to scholars outside of the small, relatively multidisciplinary subfield itself. The works listed below are mostly of two kinds: First, traditional studies of Jews and their diaspora, either focusing on or merely including Jews in the Atlantic basin. These works, several of which were published before the 1980s, have served to undergird works of the second kind. Many of these latter works have been published after the 1980s and are conscious responses to the emergence of Atlantic studies as a subfield and approach. Some works of this second type may thus be categorized as consciously “Atlanticist” in some way. The chronological focus of the literature is, in both cases, tilted heavily toward the early modern period. The concept of an “Atlantic Jewish diaspora,” such as it exists, owes its current momentum to at least three main factors: first, the development, especially since the 1990s, of the wider field of Atlantic studies, itself based on the concept of the Atlantic as a context of new and qualitatively (and quantitatively) unique exchanges and cultural formations. The second factor is the emergence of the field of Early Modern Jewish studies. This emergence, as David Ruderman has pointed out, was marked by the work of Jonathan Israel, whose research is of particular significance to Atlanticists. The third phenomenon is the seminal notion of the “Port Jew,” David Sorkin’s original designation of an early modern Jewish social type, usually a Sephardic or Italo-Jewish subject, whose economic, political, and social purviews were transoceanic, and thus, according to the concept’s proponents, typified a proto-modern—or at least nontraditional—and relatively cosmopolitan outlook favorable to acculturation.

General Overviews

There are as yet no comprehensive overviews of the subject of the “Jewish Atlantic” as such, though reliable regional surveys have been published. Comparative works are few. The list below brings together works that approach the Jewish Atlantic consciously as a discrete subject, or which have contributed to the definition of that subject in later work. Jonathan Israel’s work (Israel 1985, Israel 2009) consists of comprehensive and focused studies of the economic and political life of early modern Jews and Jewish-identified conversos. A foremost example of focused studies of this kind is Bernardini and Fiering 2001, which has the advantage of presenting articles by scholars grounded in Jewish history, as well as by those grounded in other fields. Nahon 1993 and Oliel-Grausz 1999 deepen the economic sociohistorical approach, fleshing out a conception of diaspora as a cultural network that transcended nation-states. Karp 2008, Ruderman 2010, and Sutcliffe 2009 complement this picture by introducing nuanced views of the symbolic and imaginary phenomena that this network generated.

  • Bernardini, Paolo, and Norman Fiering, eds. The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 1450 to 1800. New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2001.

    Brings together traditional state-centered historiography and new Atlanticist approaches. The latter include the chapters by James Homer Williams, on the Jewish struggle for rights and opportunities in Brazil, New Netherlands, and New York; Ernst Pijning, on judeoconverso sugar cultivators and traders in the Portuguese Atlantic from 1450–1800; and Pieter Emmer, on “The Jewish Moment” in two systems of European expansion in the Atlantic, 1580–1650.

  • Israel, Jonathan I. European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

    A pioneering work that presents the history of European Jewry during the early modern period as a distinct and coherent whole and thus may be said to inaugurate early modern Jewish studies as a subfield. Israel ties demographic, cultural, and social change to macroeconomic trends affecting (among others) the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins. In particular, Israel charts the intensification and decline of Jewish participation in European societies and in their world system(s).

  • Israel, Jonathan I. “Jews and Crypto-Jews in the Atlantic World Systems, 1500–1800.” In Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypro-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1700. Edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

    Focuses mainly on the ways in which cultural factors, governmental policies, and geopolitical and economic shifts of power, permitted the rise of two intertwined Atlantic networks in the 1600s, the Jewish and the converso, and caused their fall by the early 1800s.

  • Karp, Jonathan. The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe, 1638–1848. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499081

    An intellectual history focusing on the West and the period 1630–1848. Proposes that imagining a specifically “Jewish” commerce served European writers and their audiences to abstract certain economic and related activities from the rest of economic life, thereby rendering these activities vehicles for the politically-safe expression of anxieties concerning commerce, economic modernity, and the prospects and consequences of Jewish emancipation.

  • Nahon, Gérard. Métropoles et Périphéries Sepharades d’Occident: Kairouan, Amsterdam, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Jerusalem. Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1993.

    While it is neither a single, continuous narrative overview, nor a work of “Atlantic studies,” this collection of articles explores the formation of communities and intercommunal relations among Jews from the 16th to the 18th centuries and hence affords (in the aggregate) a panoramic, arguably proto-Atlanticist, view of the early modern Jewish diaspora as it developed along key portions of the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins.

  • Oliel-Grausz, Evelyne. “Relations et reseaux intercommunitaires dans la diaspora sefarade d’occident au XVIIIe siècle.” PhD diss., University of Paris, 1999.

    Like Nahon’s Métropoles et Périphéries, provides a combination of microscopic and panoramic views of intercommunal bonds and has the advantage of forming a single and quite comprehensive study. The author focuses especially on Sephardic (here including judeoconverso) networks in the West and on the institutional mechanisms and channels of cultural and material transmission that articulated these networks. The result is an ambitious but laudably holistic social-institutional history.

  • Ruderman, David. Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    This first comprehensive cultural history of early modern Jews includes chapters and subchapters of interest to the study of Atlantic Jews and conversos. This is not a work of Atlantic studies, yet it does draw from that field for its discussion of Western Sephardim. Places trends that other scholars tend to associate with the Atlantic in the context of Jewish History.

  • Sutcliffe, Adam. “Jewish History in an Age of Mercantilism.” In Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypro-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1700. Edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

    Addresses the political and ideological underpinnings of studying conversos outside the historiographical framework of nation-states. Emphasizes that the elasticity of Jewish-converso trade networks makes “Jewish history” insufficient as a descriptive category. Presents conversos as a premodern trading nation whose identity was complex and whose viability declined as various conditions auguring modernity eroded the ethnic attachments of its members.

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