Dartmore Institue - Spend a semester study abroad in Prague, the heart of Central Europe
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Course Descriptions

Required Courses

Central European Jewish History I - The Medieval Period and Renaissance:
Beginning with the earliest Jewish settlement in Central Europe in the tenth century and ending on the eve of Emancipation, this course will examine the wide range of Jewish experience in Europe. Areas studied will include the earliest accounts of itinerant merchant Jews; the establishment of Jewish communities in urban centers; the rise of Church-sponsored anti-Semitism and its effects on the Jewish community; the complex relationship of Jews to Medieval kings; the economic lives of Jews; the internal religious developments from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance; and the rise of Sabbatianism in the 17th century and Hasidism in the 18th century as populist movements that broke with rabbinic authority. The course will describe Central European Jewish life in general, using Prague as a case study. Prague presents itself as a unique laboratory to explore Jewish history of the Middle Ages, as it has maintained several synagogues and a cemetery in the former Jewish Quarter. Special attention will be given to the legendary Golden Age of Prague Jewish history in the late 16th and early 17th century, during which the legendary Rabbi Judah Loew and the famed financier Mordechai Maisel led the community.  Classroom discussions will be expanded in trips around the Josefov district and indeed in other parts of Prague that contain pieces of the city’s Jewish past.

Central European Jewish History II - The Modern Period:
Starting with th Emancipation period of the 1780s, this course will examine the diverse Jewish responses to modernity, both within European society and within the Jewish world. It will explore the background behind Emancipation from the perspective of Hapsburg efforts at modernization.  The course will examine the European debate over Emancipation hand-in-hand with the internal Jewish debate, as the same laws that broke down segregation and persecution also marked the breakdown of the Jewish community as a cohesive unit of identification. The course will then analyze Jewish life inside a rapidly modernizing European society: the intense gusto for assimilation, marked by Jewish involvement in almost all areas of European political, economic, scientific and cultural life, and the resulting decline of Judaism as a defining identity as Jews entered mainstream society.  The course will explore the various Jewish movements that arose in the 19th-century in response to Emancipation, including the religious Reform movement, Bundism and Zionism. The course will then study the rise of modern anti-Semitism from its earliest forms as a backlash against Emancipation and, later, as a product of nationalist movements gaining ascendancy throughout Europe.  It will end with an analysis of the success and limits of Jewish integration into European society by the end of the 1930s.

Elective Courses

The City as a Work of Art:
At the turn of the twentieth century, Prague city authorities implemented a massive urban renewal project in the Jewish quarter of Josefov to eradicate fire and health risks in what had become a modern slum.  The ghetto clearance razed most of the twisting, angled streets of the neighborhood, and irrevocably altered the appearance and feel of the streets.  Luckily, ancient cemeteries as well as a wealth of synagogues dating from the 13th to 19th centuries were spared.  In this course, we will experience the city itself, examining the unique artistic and social significance of these extant landmarks.  Through a series of walking tours and personal explorations, we will discover how the streets, municipalities and synagogues of the Jewish quarter reveal much about how Jews lived, worked and prayed throughout history.  Although the existence of these segregated enclaves owed much to anti-Semitic persecution, they gave Jews the security to develop a unique religious and social culture in a semi-sovereign zone.  In the design of their buildings and public spaces, Jewish communities adapted popular architectural motifs of the Christian world but catered them to specific Jewish needs and sensibilities.   We will study documentary photographs and models of Prague’s Jewish quarter prior to the slum clearance to gain a better idea of what life was like in an overcrowded, segregated quarter.  In addition, we will compare and contrast Jewish life Bohemia, Moravia and Poland by exploring additional Jewish neighborhoods in field trips to such cities as Mikulov, Krakow and Warsaw.

Franz Kafka - Jewish Writer:
This course will elucidate a paradox of Franz Kafka’s life: Whereas there is only a single overt reference to Jewish life in his novels and stories, his diaries are replete with intense explorations of his Jewish roots and identity.  The course will examine Kafka as the product of an assimilating and modernizing community that saw religious tradition as a detriment to integration into the larger society.  Kafka’s relation to Judaism was intrinsically bound in his difficult relations with his father, whom he viewed as the embodiment of a Jewish generation that had lost touch with its roots.  In his effort to connect to spiritual truth and to community, Kafka looked to Eastern European Jews as the source of what he considered a pure form of spirituality and community.  Particularly at the beginning of the 20th century, Czech Jewry was considered thoroughly Western, and indeed many Czech Jews resented Jewish refugees from further East as a reminder of traditions they had sought to escape.  Kafka was different.  Russian Jewish refugees who were housed in Prague’s Jewish Town Hall on the eve of the First World War fascinated him, and he fully embraced the world of the Yiddish theater when a troupe from Eastern Europe arrived in Prague.  Towards the end of his life, Kafka even sought marriage with the daughter of a Hasid.  The class will examine Kafka’s relation to Judaism in the context of his life as a young intellectual in fin de siecle Prague.  It will explore key passages from his diaries, his Letter to His Father, and several stories (e.g., Report to an Academy, Josephine the Mouse Singer) that reveal both Kafka’s ambivalence and his intense yearning for Jewish roots.  It will also explore the evolving views of Kafka as a Jewish writer since his death in 1924.

Holocaust - Reflections Over a Half-Century:
Almost sixty years after the greatest catastrophe in modern Jewish history, the questions of how the world’s most civilized continent could engage in genocide continue to perplex philosophers.  Home to a dwindling population of Holocaust survivors, Prague presents a unique environment to examine these questions.  In many ways, Central and Eastern European reflections on the Holocaust are unique from those of Western Europe, Israel and America.  Central and Eastern Europe fell under the yoke of new totalitarian regimes soon after Nazism was vanquished.  As such, individuals and nations did not have the full opportunity to reckon with their pasts.  Indeed, Communist regimes downplayed or eliminated the specifically Jewish nature of the Holocaust, portraying it instead as a struggle of Fascism against the proletariat.  Only after 1989 were these countries able to openly explore the horrors they had engaged in.  The decades-long suppression of memory has affected the way many Central and Eastern Europeans encounter the Holocaust.  The process of discovery, acceptance of responsibility and of recognizing the lessons of the Holocaust continues to this day.  This course will examine the actual apparatus of the Holocaust by visiting specific ghettoes, concentration camps and death camps.  It will include a wide range of learning materials, including short stories, essays, and video testimonies from survivors in the region.  Through visits to several Holocaust memorials throughout the region, the course will explore the evolving manner in which Central Europeans are coming to grips with the horrors of the last century.  In addition, the course will explore the extent to which the lessons of the Holocaust have been applied to more recent events in the region, including the war in the former Yugoslavia and the struggle for equal rights among Romanies.  The course will also examine the Holocaust from an internal Jewish perspective, exploring the ramifications of the Holocaust on contemporary Jewish theology, culture and thought.

Golem - Interpretations and Reinterpretations:
The automaton known as the Golem is the most indelible figure of Prague Jewish imagination.  The image of the 16th-century Rabbi Judah Loew creating a man out of soil has been a source of inspiration to writers, filmmakers and artists throughout the world.  Often thought of as a uniquely Bohemian invention, the legend of the Golem actually stretches back to Talmudic times.  Jewish mystics once used the creation of Golems to display their mystical powers.  In some cases, the mystic wished to borrow the power of God; in other cases, he used the Golem to demonstrate the power of God.  Only in the Prague story does the Golem take on the life of a superhuman creature created to protect the Jews.  This course will explore the spiritual, cultural and social significance of the Golem throughout Jewish history.  It will pay special attention to the story of the Prague Golem, as well as the evolution of that story in Jewish and popular culture.  The course will explore the fertile creative period of 16th century Prague under the reign of Rudolf II, which inspired countless tales of “Magical Prague and indeed gave the city a lasting mythological appeal.  Sifting through legend and fact, we will determine the extent of Rudolf II’s influence on Jewish community life during the period known as the Golden Age of Prague Jewish history.  The course will chart the rise of the Prague Golem story centuries later, and will explore the circumstances in the early 19th century that might have inspired Jewish storytellers to imagine a superhero that protected Jews.  We will read and watch modern permutations of the Golem in a variety of media, from Paul Wegener’s classic German expressionist film The Golem, through Holocaust stories of the Golem, through modern permutations from authors including Cynthia Ozick and Michael Chabon.

Post World War II Jewish Literature From Central Europe:
The Iron Curtain that separated Central and East Europeans from their counterparts in West Europe inspired unique literary concerns among writers living under Communism.  Jewish intellectuals who came of age in the post-war period often dealt not only with the horrors of the Holocaust, but also with life in the modern police state.  In the years following the war, many if not most Jewish intellectuals embraced Communism, as the Soviets had liberated many concentration camps.  In addition, Communism promised a utopian world order in which Jews would not be persecuted on the basis of their religion.  By the early 1960s, when it became clear that Communist regimes engaged in virulent anti-Semitism, many Jewish writers began to write from a dissident perspective.  Questions of individual freedom and the imperatives of dissent appear frequently in Jewish writing in this period.  With some exceptions, however, Jewish writers did not pursue overtly Jewish themes.  This can be contrasted, for instance, with American Jewish writers of the 1960s and 70s, who examined Jewish life from a wide range of perspectives.  Although some would argue that this was due to pressure from an often anti-Semitic Communist state, the relative disinterest in Jewish themes was partly due to the wide-scale assimilation among those who chose to remain in Central and Eastern Europe following the war.  Indeed, Jewish society had become so shattered and fragmented in many parts of the region that many Jewish writers simply lacked a base of Jewish knowledge and experience from which to draw.  Specifically Jewish-themed literature was often based not on present experience but on the past: on the horrors of the Holocaust or on nostalgia for the past.  Nonetheless, Jews contributed enormously to post-war literature throughout the region.  Instead of concentrating on uniquely Jewish concerns, Jewish writers generally lent their voices to matters of universal conscience and the individual struggle for freedom.  By studying a wide range of Jewish writing in the post-war period, we will explore the involvement of Jewish intellectuals in European society, as well as the contours and limitations of Jewish experience in Central Europe today.

A Central European Journal - Experiences, Thoughts, and Feelings:
The goal of this course is to engage the students’ Central European experience through a wide range of cultural and social activities, readings and lectures on a variety of topics and issues.  At the beginning of the course, students will be given a schedule of events, readings and lectures to guide them in their discovery process. Various instructors, guest lecturers and artists will lead field trips inside and outside of Prague. Students, in concert with their fellow students and the course instructor, will create a subject journal to describe, analyze, and critique their experiences as preparation for a final paper. By keeping responses to lectures, various cultural and social events, background readings, students are engaged actively in searching for the main ideas contained in them. The 10 - 12 page final paper will express the student’s ideas about three related topics as informed by class lectures, readings, field trips, and personal experience.  Students will be expected to demonstrate both a clear understanding of the concepts and information presented in the readings, lectures and discussions on each topic. Students may choose to explore a particular period of Jewish history, to explore the contemporary Jewish community, or to explore issues relating to their own identity as a Jew or Gentile experiencing Jewish life in Central Europe.