Charlotte Bloomberg Associate Professor in the Humanities
Medieval social, institutional and cultural history, with a specialization in Egypt and Syria 900-1200, the broader Islamic and Mediterranean worlds, Jewish history, and documentary sources
The Johns Hopkins University
Department of History
3400 North Charles Street
330A Gilman Hall
Baltimore MD 21218
Telephone: (410) 516-0178
Office Hours: Wednesday 11:00 - 12:00, and by appointment.
My research focuses on the Jewish communities of the medieval Mediterranean and, more broadly, medieval Middle Eastern history. I work mainly on documentary texts written in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic (a range of Arabic dialects written in Hebrew script), Hebrew, and Aramaic, most of which come from the Cairo Geniza, a storeroom for discarded papers found in the attic of a medieval synagogue. Lately, I have been interested in administrative records from the Fatimid caliphate (969–1171) and the Ayyubid sultanate (1171–1250) found in the Geniza. The book I’m currently writing asks what those documents can tell us both about the Jewish community that preserved them and the governments that produced them. An article related to this project recently appeared as “A Petition to a Woman at the Fatimid Court (413–414 A.H./1022–23 C.E.),” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 73 (2010): 1–27.
My first book, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Cornell University Press, 2008), was the result of research on the interplay of religious sectarianism and communal politics among Mediterranean Jews, from the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969 until the Frankish conquests in Syria-Palestine in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. That book argued that the structure and functioning of the Jewish communities of the Islamic world—the vast majority of Jewish communities globally for most of the Middle Ages—cannot be understood adequately if one focuses only on rabbinic Jews. In reality, even the most intimately rabbinic issues, such as who was elected to lead the main rabbinic academy in Jerusalem, depended entirely on the politics of its leaders’ connections to groups outside the community, especially courtiers and bureaucrats who served the Fatimid state; members of other Jewish groups, including the Qaraites (who rejected rabbinic tradition in favor of independent interpretation of the Hebrew Bible); and long-distance traders around the Mediterranean and as far east as Iraq. Another way of putting all this is that the book attempted to understand the workings and politics of power in a period usually understood from a strictly internalist Jewish perspective that presumed certain things about power rather than analyzing it and its consequences for Jews. I made a similar argument from a slightly different perspective in “Karaites Real and Imagined: Three Cases of Jewish Heresy,” Past and Present 197 (2007): 35–74.
I also have a side-project on the Jews of Sicily, who are interesting because they continued to speak, read, and write Arabic (usually in Hebrew characters) long after the defeat of Muslim rule on the island ca. 1060 and the expulsion of the Muslims in 1246. The persistence of Arabic among Sicilian Jews has usually been explained as either a cause or a consequence of their putative isolation as a minority. But both the documentary and literary sources in Judeo-Arabic from Sicily suggest the opposite: that Arabic offered Jews coveted roles as cultural and linguistic mediators and, therefore, social privileges that they jealously guarded and deployed to various ends depending on who was ruling.
Before starting at Johns Hopkins, I taught for seven years at Emory University, where I held a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, and a secondary appointment in the Department of Middle East and South Asian Studies. I received my doctorate from the History Department at Columbia University in 2004, and also received an MA in Religion there in 1998. As an undergraduate, I studied literary, cultural, and social theory at Yale.
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