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Title: Cecil Roth and the imagination of the Jewish past, present and future in Britain, 1925-1964
Author: Lawson, Elisa
ISNI:       0000 0001 3606 1102
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2005
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This thesis addresses the neglect in recent historiography of the foremost historian of the Jewish experience in Britain over the period 1925 to 1964, Cecil Roth. It is an intellectual history of Roth as a British-Jewish historian and emphasises the difficulties in pigeonholing this complex scholar. His complexity, this thesis argues, reflected the multiplicity of modern Jewish identity and experience as well as the divisions within British Jewry and Britain throughout the middle of the twentieth century. The first chapter argues that Roth can be included alongside scholars such as Salo W. Baron and Simon Dubnow in his reaction to traditional German-Jewish historiography. It also explores Roth's unique position as an Oxford-trained historian and his connected so-called 'normalisation' of Jewish history. Roth attempted to replace transcendental explanations with earthly cause and effect, but simultaneously used religious paradigms to popularise the pursuit of the Jewish past and boost Jewish esteem. It looks specifically at Roth's ambivalent approach to the 'lachrymose conception of Jewish history', which saw the Jewish past as a story of singular suffering and persecution. The Jewish experience in Britain, he believed, could be seen as typical both of a European persecutory past and an American liberal, 'non-lachrymose' experience. The chapter concludes with an examination of Roth's assertion of a British-Jewish historical and historiographical significance in the face of perceived German-Jewish dominance. The second chapter looks at the rise of fascism in Britain and abroad and Roth's involvement in the defence of the community. It agues that, in contrast to recent assessments, Roth cannot be so easily dismissed as an apologist. Jewish survival was, he believed, challenged by assimilation as much as by anti-Semitism.  He feared that at times communal defence focused on external anti-Semitism came at the expense of Jewish self-respect and internal strength. This chapter examines Roth's relationship with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and his construction of an 'Anglo-Jewish race' as an answer to racial anti-Semitism and a form of ethnic-cheerleading. The final chapter begins with a discussion of Roth's role in a European-Jewish cultural reconstruction. It examines Roth's efforts to contrive a link with the American-Jewish experience in order to maintain British-Jewish significance in a changed global scene, through especially, his concept of the 'English-speaking era'. The duality of post-war globalisation and localism is then explored in relation to Roth's focus on regional British-Jewish pasts and his international travel-writing. The thesis concludes with a discussion of Roth's ambivalent Zionism and his ultimate immigration to Israel in 1964.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available