Events

Sunday, January 30, 2011

29 January 1963: Death of Robert Frost (and a reminder about his presence in western Massachusetts)

The Mass Moments post for today discusses his career as a whole, in a narrative arc that moves from early literary struggles and disappointment to triumph and canonization.As it puts it, "success was a long time in coming" to the man who eventually became "the most popular and renowned American poet of the twentieth century." He was very much of our region but inspired and nourished rather than limited by it:
The sounds he expressed in his poetry were the cadences and rhythms of New Englanders' everyday speech. Frost found his poetic voice listening to, and then writing about, the working people of New England. But Robert Frost was not a regional poet. As one reviewer put it, Frost was to New England as Dante was to Florence: an artist able to express universal themes in local stories.
and
Frost credited his success to the simplicity of both the subject and style of his poems. He liked to write about the everyday objects and landscapes of New England. Frost's style drew from the artless cadences and sounds of New Englanders' speech. He liked to "speak" his poetry to audiences, to draw attention to the artistry in the sound of the human voice. "The ear does it," he wrote; "the ear is the only true writer and the only true reader."
The geographical tag for this entry somewhat peculiarly says, "This Mass Moment occurred in the Northeast region of Massachusetts."Uh, not quite. Today's Moment refers to his death. Frost, who was born in San Francisco,  died in Boston (for Mass Moments, that would be "the Greater Boston region").Presumably, the entry lists "northeast" region because of the decisive role of Frost's youth in Lawrence. Although he briefly attended Dartmouth College, he never completed his studies there (which didn't prevent him from getting two honorary doctorates there later; evidently, there is hope for everyone). Instead (as the entry puts it), he recalled, "My year and a half of the [Lawrence] district school, and my four years in the Lawrence High School were the heart of my education.They suited me perfectly."

Given that the entry bases its geographical tag on a crucial phase of Frost's life rather than the place of his death, one could make a far better argument for western Massachusetts. In between his adolescence and his death, he spent much time in New Hampshire and Vermont (where he is buried), and of course, also in Amherst.He taught at Amherst College in 1916–20, 1923–24, and again, 1927–1938. Frost is among the figures depicted on the Amherst Community History Mural in the historic 1730 West Cemetery, created in 2005 by David Fichter under the auspices of the Historical Commission.In 2009, in conjunction with its 250th anniversary celebrations, Amherst undertook further steps to celebrate Frost's presence here. In the spring, Town Meeting voted to allocate Community Preservation Act funds for the Historical Commission's "Writer's Walk", a series of markers at the homes of literary figures, among them, the house at 43 Sunset Avenue, where Frost lived from 1931 to 1938. The request for proposals for fabrication of the signs is now in preparation.


It was in 1938 that Frost's beloved wife, Elinor, died of a heart attack in Florida ("Together Wing to Wing and Oar to Oar," reads the inscription on the gravestone). Frost subsequently moved to Boston and acquired his now-famous summer home in Ripton, Vermont, but the connection to Amherst did not end then.

In the fall of 2009, Friends of LIbraries USA (FOLUSA) honored the Jones Library with a plaque for its work in preserving the legacy of Frost.  The collection, which now includes some 12,000 items, was unusual in that it began in Frost's own lifetime, and enjoyed his cooperation. As the finding aid puts it,
This collection represents not just Frost's life as a professional poet, but also his life as a public figure. In particular, the collection documents Frost's nearly lifelong connection with the town of Amherst both as a professor at Amherst College and as a part-time resident.
Even at the end of his life, the connection was strong, in retrospect tinged with tragedy and symbolism.  As Mass Moments puts it:
In 1961 an aging Robert Frost braved the frigid weather to read a poem at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. He died in Boston on January 29, 1963. At the memorial service at Amherst College, over 700 guests listened to readings of Frost's poetry. Later that year, President Kennedy paid tribute to the poet at the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College. Frost had achieved his often-stated ambition of "lodging a few poems where they can't be gotten rid of easily."
The speech was far more than a perfunctory one, for, taking Frost as an example, it called for "full recognition of the place of the artist in society."  That was on October 26.  Less than a month later, Kennedy himself was killed in Dallas. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Endowment for the Arts.

One further connection to literary sites:  In 1940, Frost bought a South Miami farm, which he named, "Pencil Pines," and began to winter there.  As noted in a recent post, he was also among the prominent writers who visited fellow author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in her North Florida home at Cross Creek.

the guest bedroom at Cross Creek
bookshelf, displaying works by authors who stayed in the guest room: among them, Frost's Complete Poems
During these New England winters—and especially, the unusually snowy one we are having this year—a Florida refuge surrounded by an orange grove sounds pretty good.  But then again, who would want to be deprived of "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," which Frost himself called "my best bid for remembrance"?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Current and Coming Openings on Amherst Boards and Committees

The Select Board and Town Manager encourage civic-minded members of the Amherst community to apply for voluntary service on one of the Town of Amherst’s many committees, boards, or commissions. These volunteer public bodies are the lifeblood of our Town and do an impressive amount of work for our community. Many of these public bodies have extensive material about their work posted on the Town website.

As of January 24, 2011 the public bodies listed below have one or more vacancies [appointing authority= (SB: Select Board, TM: Town Manager, M: Town Meeting Moderator)]
Committee on Homelessness (SB)
Finance Committee (M)
Housing Partnership/Fair Housing Committee (SB)
Human Rights Commission: one high school or college student to serve for one (1) academic school year (SB)
Kanegasaki, Japan Sister City Committee (SB)
La Paz Centro, Nicaragua Sister City Committee (SB)
Leisure Services & Supplemental Education Commission (TM)
Nyeri, Kenya Sister City Committee (SB)
Personnel Board (SB)
Planning Board (TM)
Public Art Commission (SB)
Public Transportation & Bicycling Committee (SB)
Recycling & Refuse Management Committee (TM)
Town/Commercial Relations Committee (SB)
In addition to those vacancies, other public bodies that may have vacancies effective July 1, 2011 include:
Amherst Cultural Council (SB)
Audit Committee (SB)
Board of Assessors (TM)
Community Development Committee (SB)
Community Preservation Act Committee (SB)
Council on Aging (TM)
Conservation Commission (TM)
Design Review Board (SB)
Disability Access Advisory Committee (TM)
Hampshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee (SB)
Historical Commission (TM)
Munson Memorial Building Trustees (TM)
Public Shade Tree Committee (SB confirms Conservation Commission nomination)
Registrar of Voters (SB)
Zoning Board of Appeals (SB)
If you have interest in applying to join any of the above, please complete a Citizen Activity Form (CAF) for the committee/board/commission of your choice online at as soon as possible. You may also stop by the Town Manager/Select Board Office on the Mezzanine Floor at Town Hall, 4 Boltwood Avenue, or you may call that office at 413-259-3001 to request the CAF be mailed to you. Town offices are generally open to the public Monday - Friday 8 am - 4:30 pm, except for Thursday mornings (opening at noon). Please remember that we keep your CAF on file for at least a year, in case any openings occur throughout the year.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Surname Update: geographical distribution of names in the United States

Serendipity again.

Not what's in a name? but: where's that name?

As a nice follow-up to my recent post on Jewish surnames, I can point readers to James Cheshire's post (his blog invariably offers intriguing material) on National Geographic's interactive map of US surnames.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

19 January 1749: Birthday of Isaiah Thomas: Patriot, Printer, Founder of American Antiquarian Society

Mass Moments tells us:
On this day...in 1749, the Patriot printer Isaiah Thomas was born. In 1770, Thomas established the Massachusetts Spy, the first newspaper aimed at middle-class readers. While other papers were happy with 400 subscribers, the Spy had a circulation of 3,500. Thomas used the Spy to rally support for the cause of independence. Targeted by the British, he smuggled his press out of Boston to Worcester a few days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. There, he continued publishing his newspaper. After the war, Thomas became the foremost publisher and printer in America. In 1812, he established the American Antiquarian Society, which today is one of the nation's most complete collections of printed work. (read the rest)
As both printer and patriot, Thomas was indeed a major figure in the history of Massachusetts and the early Republic. (for further information on Thomas and a copy of the paper, see this post from last summer) was a factor in the Revolution and carried an early account of the battles of Lexington and Concord.  Thomas's History of Printing in America (1810) remains a valued and still reprinted reference work.

Thomas performed yet another great service for the region and the nation.  As Mass Moments puts it:
In 1812, he used his considerable wealth to establish a society dedicated to preserving the "literature of liberty"— the newspapers, broadsides, books, pamphlets, and letters that had shaped public opinion during the revolutionary period. He donated his private library and a generous endowment. Then he personally visited newspaper offices and purchased as many back issues as he could. He believed that newspapers were the single best records of the thoughts and actions of common people — the people who made the revolution a success.
Located in Worcester, Thomas's American Antiquarian Society is today the most complete private repository of American printed works through 1876 and a lasting tribute to one man's passionate faith in the power of the printed word.
Here, my battered but treasured copy of the List of Officers and other members from 1814, when the Society was but two years old.


Among the names (for membership was by invitation only, and restricted to notables and distinguished men of learning), we find:
Hon. John Adams, L.L.D. Quincy, late President of the United States.
Hon. John Quincy Adams, L.L.D., Boston, Minister to the Court of Russia.
Hon. Dewitt Clinton, L.L.D. Newyork.
Rev. Timothy Dwight, D.D. L.L.D. President of Yale College, Connecticut.
Hon. Christopher Daniel Ebeling, Professor, Hamburgh, Europe.
Rev. Ebenezer Fitch, D.D. President Williams College, Williamstown.
Hon. Thomas Jefferson, L.L.D. late President of the United States, Monticello, Virginia.
Hon. John Marshall, L.L.D. Chief Justice, U.S. Virginia.
Hon. Gouverneur Morris, Morrisiana, Newyork.
Major General Thomas Pinckney, Charleston, S.C,.
Hon. Bushrod Washington, Judge Supreme Court U. States, Mount Vernon, Virginia
Hon. Daniel Webster, Portsmouth, Newhampshire.
Our town is represented in the person of:
Noah Webster, Amherst.
The document includes a record of "Articles Presented to the Society." The list begins by noting Thomas's founding donation of 8,000 volumes from his personal library and then records acquisitions of the past year.


Several items may be of particular interest:  The books are a miscellaneous lot; we find one incunable, a 1487 Venetian Bible.  Among the periodicals is a collection of the Massachusetts Spy, donated by Thomas himself.

Most noteworthy, perhaps, are materials from the personal library of the Mather family of distinguished Massachusetts clergymen (pp. 23-25): a major portion of the books, and among the manuscripts, "Upwards of 900 single sermons," as well as sermon notes, diaries, and other writings. Indeed, the AAS can today boast of the "preeminent" collection of works by the Mathers.


Among the manuscript material (p. 25) we also find "Compilation of Historical Tracts, in British America, written above 100 years ago," by the "Hon. Thomas Jefferson of Monticello."  One longs to know whether Mr. Jefferson (a busy man, by all accounts), read the publication and noted, barely two inches below his own name:
Original Copy of an Almanack, for 1792, in the hand writing of the author, a negro man, in Maryland, by the name of Banniker.
In any case, the Sage of Monticello had become acquainted with that book and its author nearly a generation earlier, for it is of course the work of none other than the many-talented Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806). It is ironic in more ways than one. Among Banneker's numerous achievements was assisting in surveying the land for the creation of the nation's capital in 1791. As PBS explains,
A notice first printed in the Georgetown Weekly Ledger and later copied in other newspapers stated that Ellicott was "attended by Benjamin Banneker, an Ethiopian, whose abilities, as a surveyor, and an astronomer, clearly prove that Mr. Jefferson's concluding that race of men were void of mental endowments, was without foundation."
And the very manuscript preserved in the AAS collections likewise played a role in that early debate over race:
In 1792, Banneker published an almanac, based on his own painstakingly calculated ephemeris (table of the position of celestial bodies), that also included commentaries, literature, and fillers that had a political and humanitarian purpose. The previous summer, he had sent a copy of the ephemeris to Thomas Jefferson, along with a letter in which he challenged Jefferson's ideas about the inferiority of blacks.
Banneker declared it self-evident
that we are a race of beings, who have long labored under the abuse and censure of the world; that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt; and that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.
Counting on Jefferson's reputation for being more liberal-minded in this regard,
I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties ; and that however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or color, we are all of the same family, and stand in the same relation to him.
The lengthy letter deserves to be read in its entirety.  Thanking Banneker for the gift and the sentiments, Jefferson replied:
no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedt. humble servt. Th. Jefferson
It's a virtual parallel to the debates over Jewish emancipation (1, 2) unfolding concurrently in Europe.  Condorcet urged the abolition of slavery during the French Revolution, though his gradualist stance on emancipation remains the subject of debate. In any case, a serendipitous pairing of documents as we embark upon the celebration of Black History Month.

Finally, we encounter the odds and ends:  "Coins, Medals, and Paper Money," and the (for modern librarians and archivists) most dreaded "Various Articles" (pp. 25-27).


To be sure, there are the expected sorts of items:  engravings of Columbus and a depiction (medium not identified) of the Mather arms, various "Indian Utensils," and the like.

Then there are the some unexpected and intriguing items:  "A Silver Trinket for a Lady, supposed to have been made 700 years ago" (this, donated by Thomas himself), "part of the tobacco box used by Sir Walter Raleigh," "Two small pieces of Palm Leaf, on which are written with a stylus, several lines on the Malayan language," and "A Highland Dagger, used in the rebellion in Scotland, in 1745."

The mention of a twelfth-century piece of metalwork or a dagger associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie naturally quickens my pulse. The palm leaf manuscripts also pique my interest:  were they collected as mere curios (and how?), or was there some specific interest in the content or their significance for the field of linguistics or paleography? We have no idea. All we know is that the AAS was stuck with them, along with other and sundry objects, including some 800 coins from various regions and epochs, acquired since October 1813. And that was when the AAS was only two years old.  

One wonders how the previous owners acquired the artefacts and why they thought a new institution dedicated to "the literature of liberty" in the United States would want or need them. The real question, then, is: do they belong there?  In fact, it sounds all too familiar: as anyone involved with libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies knows, one of the biggest challenges is determining what is kept, finding the space for it, and arranging for its appropriate display and/or preservation. All too often, these institutions—especially the small, local-oriented ones—became dumping grounds, the equivalent of the town's attic or junk drawer. Many institutions have had to contend with numerous worthless gifts, but even intrinsically signficant ones (who wouldn't want a piece of medieval silver?) can be a problem if they are not in harmony with an institution's core mission or if the institution cannot properly care for them. As a result, there is new emphasis on developing appropriate collections policies (e.g. 1, 2, 3 ). And, understandably but more controversially, deaccessioning policy is also one of the hottest topics in the museum and library field.

And so, from a small and humble document, a glimpse into the intellectual world of the early republic that reminds us how much has changed and how much has not. Mr. Jefferson's doubts notwithstanding, we have an African-American president (which is not to say that our racial problems have disappeared). And, as Jefferson, the inveterate accumulator of books and much else, would have understood, collections management, too, remains a challenge.

Then as now, the American Antiquarian Society was an elite organization whose membership was small and included only the prominent.Fortunately, the collections and programs of the AAS are open to the general public and have become a chief resource for scholars of print culture as well as New England and American history. It is home to the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture and hosts numerous other programs, seminars, and public lectures. Among the many online resources are the Catalogue of American Engravings and the 19th Century American Children's Book Trade Directory. Just this past year, Cheryl Harned, one of the students in our UMass/Five College History Graduate Program, created a web site on the history of reading in order to make additional resources from the collections more widely available.

It's well worth a visit, whether on the web or in person.I think Isaiah Thomas would be proud.

Update on Architecture and Preservation

The post on "Historic Preservation and the Modern" will be back up soon:  there were some adjustments at the host site for the full piece, so I am waiting until the page is up again and I can provide a stable URL.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Coming (Back) Soon

As I finish up a forthcoming blog post on historic preservation for the Public Humanist, I realize that several recent contributions for this site have been languishing as drafts during my absence from town since I updated texts or images. They will return shortly, and fresh pieces will appear, as well.

Friday, January 14, 2011

History: Twice as Useful as Philosophy

As the great Michel de Montaigne famously said, "philosopher, c'est apprendre à mourir."  According to Felipe Fernández-Armesto:
There are, in my submission, only two reasons for studying anything: to enhance life and to prepare for death. The study of history embraces life because it conjures in the mind a vivid context for the appreciation and understanding of encounters with people and with artefacts, with streets and texts, with landscapes and ruins.  And it prepares you for death by cultivating what [E. H.] Carr called 'imaginative understanding', which some contributors to this volume would have called 'empathy' or other names of which Carr would disapprove.  By broadening the mind, by exercising the ability to understand the other, history has a moral effect on the person that studies it.  It can make you a better person.  Our best peculiar justification for history is to say that it needs no justification.  Because it is everything, it is inescapable.  You can say of it what Mallory said of Everest.

— Felipe Fernández-Armesto, "Epilogue:  What is History Now?" in David Cannadine, ed., What is History Now? (Houndsmills and NY:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 154

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skip the Editorializing, Please (bo-ring!)

from the Evergreen Cemetery in sunny Gainesville, Florida



I've always preferred gravestones without that sort of editorial comment (don't speak ill of the dead, and all that).

Seriously, these were of course just two people with a last name that, in English-speaking lands, unfortunately lends itself to levity.  Still, as other examples show, gravestones—seemingly a most dignified and sober topic—can be a source of humor, intended or otherwise.

Historianizer (aka Sean Fagin) regularly provides us with interesting epitaphs, such as the following:
Stranger! Approach this spot with gravity!
John Brown is filling his last cavity.
—Epitaph Of A Dentist

Played five aces. Now playing the harp.
—Anonymous headstone in Dodge City, Kansas

Here lies Lester Moore.
Four slugs from a 44.
No Les. No more.
—Epitaph in Tombstone, Arizona

He has gone to the only place where his own works are excelled.
—Gravestone of a fireworks manufacturer

Returned — Unopened.
—Grave stone inscription of a spinster postmistress from North Carolina
Of course, cemetery and gravestone preservation is no laughing matter.  The sites and stones are an important cultural resource for historical, scientific, and genealogical information.

A Grave Matter offers a notable selection of images, inscriptions, and analysis. Meanwhile, at Symbolic Past, Marian Pierre-Louis, who writes regularly about genealogy, history, and cemeteries (among other things), reminds us this week of the toll that our New England winters take on historic gravestones (1, 2).  As chance would have it, over at ArchivesInfo, Melissa Mannon takes up a similar theme today.  Her post on Boston's historic Copp's Hill Burying Ground recounts the evolution of her interest in cemeteries and gravestones and details the threats to this particular site, last resting place of Cotton and Increase Mather, Prince Hall ("the 'father' of black freemasonry"), and Robert Newman, who hung the lamps in the North Church on the occasion of Paul Revere's famous ride.

Visitors to this blog will be familiar with our ongoing efforts to preserve Amherst's 1730 West Cemetery, which, just over a decade ago, was on the Commonwealth's list of most endangered historic resources. (And that reminds me that I owe you an update on our recent and continuing efforts.  All in good time.)

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Friday, January 7, 2011

A Visit to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Home

Today's outing took us to the Florida home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such works as "The Yearling" and "Cross Creek."
Trips to authors' homes have always been of particular interest to me, combining, as they do, issues of historic preservation and literary history.
The Rawlings site is distinctive in several ways: the home of a woman author, chosen by her as an isolated rural retreat to be financed by income from the citrus groves on the working agricultural property. After a period of decline and neglect in the 1970s, preservation efforts began in earnest. The site today is a Florida State Park. Since 2007, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, on the centenary of her birth, the site was listed as a literary landmark by Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA).

As chance would have it, there's a nice New England connection:  among the prominent writers who visited and stayed with Rawlings was Robert Frost. In 2009, FOLUSA honored the Jones Library with a plaque notings its role in preserving the papers and legacy of the poet.

First in Flight

As just a brief follow-up to the recent post on the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' famed first flight, a model of the aircraft in the Charlotte Airport.


Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, January 6, 2011

» Discovery Will Aid in the Interpretation of Amache Internment Camp

A perfect illustration of the situation I just mentioned regarding preservation of America's internment camps. Reporting on the new grant-funded efforts, Preservation Nation reports on the near-miraculous discovery of the lost elements of a water tower and guard tower.


http://blog.preservationnation.org/2011/01/06/discovery-will-aid-in-the-interpretation-of-amache-internment-camp/

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

National Park Service Commits Circa Four Million Dollars to Japanese-American Internment Sites

It is a tragic topic that I learned about from family and close family friends when I was a child, long before it had entered the school curriculum and public consciousness: the shameful World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.

It is also a historic preservation dilemma: first, because governments have traditionally been reluctant to commemorate the "dark" or "blank" spots in their history, and second, because the sites themselves pose technical-practical as well as historical-political challenges. Like the German concentration and extermination camps (and note: I am not extending the analogy further than this), the sites were constructed on an improvised basis with inferior materials. They were not intended to last. But in part because the injustices committed here did not occupy a comparable site on the moral plane or in the national and world historical conscience, these American sites of World War II shame have suffered far more from the depredations of time and amnesia. Some structures were destroyed, some were allowed to decay, some were carted off and reused for other purposes.

I taught about the challenges of maintaining and commemorating both kinds of sites in my historic preservation class this past semester.  It was therefore gratifying to learn of new funding to support their preservation and interpretation:
We usually think of the National Park Service as being in charge of campsites, not camp sites. As part of its mandate to preserve and protect sites of historical and cultural significance, the Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program has awarded $3,895,000 in federal funds to private nonprofit organizations; educational institutions, and; state, local, and tribal governments to preserve and provide interpretation resources to the 10 relocation camps scattered in the West. (Read the rest)
Better late than never.

Monday, January 3, 2011

North Amherst Church Closes its Doors on 184 Years of History

The words on the signboard at Amherst’s historic North Church gave no hint that anything was out of the ordinary: “Christmas Eve Service,” “5 30 PM.” Most of us in the neighborhood and even throughout the town by now knew better. The building was about to close, for the congregation had neither the numbers nor the dollars to sustain it. The last regular service had taken place in November, so the Christmas Eve worship would be the final one, special in several senses.


Midday

I drive by the building every day on my way to or from work or errands, but this time, I made a point of stopping to take a closer look while the sun was still shining brightly. It was one of those days of classic sharp but not cold winter light, showing off the white building with its octagonal steeple and distinctive weathervane against the blue sky to best advantage.



To be sure, the light also mercilessly picked out the flaws of age: the uneven surfaces of the narrow clapboards (victims of too many winters, summers, and scrapings), the rust stains descending from the lanterns on the pilasters that defined the recessed bays in which the triple arched entrance doors were set.



The greenish-black doors themselves looked as severely dignified as ever, but just a bit more tired and the worse for wear, the result perhaps not just of their the flaking paint, but also of the more joyous contrasting colors of wreaths and ribbons.



5:30 p.m.

One stepped from the nocturnal cold into the gently illumined sanctuary, not knowing quite what to expect. How should the last worship service of a venerable congregation look and feel, the end of a tradition that had begun in 1826?

A few simple decorations—purple advent banners, and evergreen garlands and wreaths on the balconies, and flowers and candles at the front table— subtly adorned the classic early nineteenth-century sanctuary. A large sculptural paper Star of Bethlehem hung over the piano, which featured, along with recorders and other instruments, in the “Gathering Music” that served as a prologue to the service, proper.

“It is a pleasure to welcome so many of you whom we haven’t seen for a long time,” as well as the usual attendees, Rev. Nada Sellers began. Although she has now been working three-quarter time as an educator at the Edwards Church in Northampton, she insisted, “I still feel this is home.” “North Church is a place of radical and wonderful inclusion,” she declared, adding that she never lost an opportunity to affirm that. Just how radical the change was can be seen from the fact that Oliver Dickinson, who funded the church's construction, stipulated that a purchaser of a pew would forfeit it if he "shall let the said pew or any part thereof to any negro or mullatto or in any way admit any negro or mullatto to the possession or occupancy of the same."  He dropped that requirement in 1830.  By 1970, at the height of the controversies over the Vietnam War, the pastor resigned, saying the church had become "a captive of our culture ... supportive of the status quo and unable to speak the prophetic word of God's judgement and grace."

Asking God to become present in the midst of those assembled, Rev. Sellers began the service. It was simple in the extreme: traditional American and European hymns (including a Gospel song and a rendition of a Polish carol), brief scriptural readings from the plainspoken (some would say: prosaic) “Contemporary English Version” of the Bible. No communion.



In her “Closing Thoughts,” the Rev. Sellers said, “Our season of waiting is over,” referring to the Advent season but also the fate of the congregation and its building. In case anyone missed the allusion, she explained, “For those of us for whom North Church has been home, this has been a difficult period of waiting.” As the 184-year history came to and end, she called upon those present to share their reminiscences and feelings. Two older congregants spoke of having grown up in the church. Declaring, “this church means so much to me and my family,” a woman who had been attending for 60 years explained that both her wedding and her mother’s funeral had taken place there. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful, church.” Another said, “I am just so happy to be here. . . . but I feel sad because this worship is too short.” Among the most recent members to join was a Haitian couple, who had found their way to North Church when they came to the University. They were moved not only by the welcome they had received, but also by the generosity that the congregation had shown toward their disaster-stricken homeland. Another younger member said, “I just love this church,” and several times broke down in tears.

Rev. Sellers, again drawing an implicit parallel between the congregation and the liturgical season, closed by noting that, despite the appearance of dormancy, things are active beyond our sight. It is the shortest day of the year, and yet the light will increase again. “The Christmas light is now dawning: can you see it?” The service ended, as is the custom now in many churches, with a candle-light singing of “Silent Night.” Congregants passed the flame from back to front of the rows of wooden pews, and at the close of the service, extinguished their candles as they exited.


The contrast between this service and the midnight mass at Grace Episcopal Church on the Common, with its elegant vestments, its trumpet and organ, its formal choir, and its obeisance to ritual objects, could not have been greater. The latter was more impressive. The former was more affecting. Even when something was awkward or incongruous—the projection screen with the stock Christmas images, for example—it was honest and unpretentious—like the “dirty hands district” of North Amherst itself. It was hard not to be moved.


* * *


Postscript

The Amherst Bulletin had written extensively about the church when the closing was announced, but only the broadcast media were represented on Christmas eve, in this case, by WWLP-22 and WGGB-40. Apparently there was some lapse in communication, for church officials and parishioners alike seemed surprised at the presence of reporters and crews with equipment and lights on the street below.


Indeed, the journalists made a beeline toward me when I arrived early. I explained that I was, alas, merely an interested neighbor and a representative of the Town, on behalf of the Historical Commission and Select Board. Although many congregants and other visitors were initially hesitant to exit through the main doors because of the waiting press, several did speak to the reporters, who found the church closing to be an engaging “human interest” story and simply wanted to be able to tell the wider public what was happening and what people were thinking.

Here, the story from WWLP-22:

Final worship for Amherst church
North Congregational Church to close its doors

Updated: Friday, 24 Dec 2010, 11:41 PM EST
Published : Friday, 24 Dec 2010, 9:56 PM EST

* Elysia Rodriguez

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) - This Christmas Eve, members of an Amherst church gathered for the last time.

It has been a congregational church since 1828 [1826; JW], but following services on Christmas Eve the North Congregational Church's future is uncertain.

Peter Ives a retired minister told 22News, “This is a wonderful congregation that has been part of the united church of Christ for many years and a beautiful building so it's very sad but over the years the membership has gotten smaller."

With a shrinking congregation, the church on North Pleasant Street couldn't keep up. It is a heartbreaking loss for its members.

Margaret Evans said, “We came here for years with a really awesome minister and it was a great place to be and it's sad."

It could also be a loss for the entire community, unless someone steps up to buy the building and maintain it the way it is.

Jim Wald, the president [Chair; of the Amherst Historical Commission said, “This is a very important building. It's got a wonderful in tact 19th century interior wooden pews balcony and everything and we'd hate to see that lost." [sic]

While North Church is closing, there are two other United Church of Christ Congregations in Amherst.



Here, WGGP-40:

Amherst church celebrates final service

Posted: Dec 27, 2010 06:39 PM

Updated: Dec 28, 2010 01:12 PM
Video Gallery
<1>
Church's final Christmas
2:14

By: Jenna Hagist

AMHERST, Mass. (WGGB) -- It was the end of an era for one local church after being a place of worship for nearly 200 years.

Dozens came together Christmas Eve night to say goodbye to the North Congregational Church in Amherst as they attended its very last service. "It was a time of saying goodbye but also drawing close together ...it was a very beautiful service," said retired minister Peter Ives.

Members of the church have been trying to keep the church alive for the past few years but financially could not keep up with the building."So they are trying to find another owner who would treat it in a suitable way. Could be another faith community, could be shared, could go to a private purchaser," said Jim Wald.

The decision came as attendance was dwindling. The church can accommodate 400 people but lately only a few people would attend. "I think it was a feeling of inevitability. Whenever I came most of the pews were filled with elderly people and there were few of us young families, said Ann Awad.

Members of the community are hopeful that the church history and spirit will continue. "Even though they are sharing their last service tonight, this is an important area and historic building, something is going to happen that will be different and in a new form," added Ives.

Coming soon:  North Church:  the past and the future.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2 January 1782: Emperor Joseph II of Austria Issues Edict of Tolerance (with some reflections on assimilation and ethnic identity)

The "Edict of Tolerance"[1] toward the Jews, which Joseph II issued at the start of 1782, was one in a series of his comprehensive reforms of the Austrian Empire.  In the preface to the document, Joseph declared:
From the ascension to Our reign We have directed Our most preeminent attention to the end that all Our subjects without distinction of nationality and religion, once they have been admitted and tolerated [aufgenommen und geduldet] in Our States, shall participate in common in public welfare, the increase of which is Our care, shall enjoy legal freedom and not find any obstacles in any honest ways of gaining their livelihood and increasing general industriousness.
Because, however, "the laws and so-called Jewish Regulations [Judenordnungen] pertaining to the Jewish nation [Nazion]" were "not always compatible with these Our gracious intentions," the present Edict would serve to amend them.  It followed the "Patent of Toleration" of 1781, which granted additional but not full rights to non-Catholic Christians in the Habsburg Empire. Initially applicable only to Lower Austria, the Edict was eventually extended to the rest of the realm. It still fell short of full citizenship in the Empire (that lay some three generations ahead; 1, 2), but it was a milestone:  Joseph's religious reforms were the most advanced in Europe, and mark the tentative beginning of Jewish emancipation there.

Medal commemorating toleration and coexistence of the various faiths, 1782. Tin with copper plug, 42 mm.
It has been assumed that the medal was struck at the Imperial Mint in Nuremberg.
(a separate medal explicitly celebrated toleration of Protestants and Jews, but with the erroneous date of 1781)


Obverse: Bust of Joseph II, with the name of the engraver ([Johann Christian] Reich) in the cutoff of the arm.
At the bottom, in scroll:  "Tolerantia Imperantis," denoting the new policy of toleration on the part of the ruler.


Reverse:
A Catholic bishop (center), Protestant pastor (left), and Jewish rabbi (right), raise their hands in blessing. The bishop holds a chalice of communion wine. The cross surrounded by rays above it resembles, whether deliberately or not, resembles a monstrance holding the second divine essence in the form of the communion wafer. 
The pastor and rabbi each hold their sacred books in the left hand.
The toppling architectural remnant to the right is seen as a reference to Joseph's restrictions on the monasteries.
Above, the Imperial eagle beneath the triangle of divinity with all-seeing eye of God clutches a banner reading, "In Deo."
The motto around the upper edge reads, "Sub Alis Suis Protegit Omnes," Beneath His Wings, He Protects All.
In the exergue:  "Ecce Amici,"  Behold These Friends, with the date 1782.


The Edict did many things, chiefly creating new but limited economic and educational opportunities. Jews could now learn or practice "all kinds of crafts or trades," though Christian masters were allowed rather than compelled to accept Jewish apprentices, and the Jews were to remain "without however the right of mastership or citizenship." Jews could live in rural regions only if they wished to pursue trades or establish factories, and secured the appropriate permission (§ 7, 10-15). The goal was to wean them away from finance, petty trade, and other supposedly characteristic unproductive, exploitative, and undesirable economic activity. For that matter, the Edict made it clear that its purpose was not to increase the number or collective status of Jews in the capital; they were  to be granted residence privileges in the traditional manner, family by family, rather than recognized as a community. To that end, they had no right to public worship or printing presses (§ 1-6).  Jews could now attend secular primary and secondary schools, and the earlier right to higher education was confirmed. They could also open their own schools, but under government supervision (§ 8-9). And, "Considering the numerous openings in trades and manifold contacts with Christians resulting therefrom, the care for maintaining common confidence requires that the Hebrew and the so-called Jewish language [i.e. Yiddish; JW] and writing of Hebrew intermixed with German be abolished . . . the vernacular of the land is to be used in stead." (§ 15)

The document stated (§ 25), "by these favors We almost place the Jewish nation on an equal level with adherents of other religious associations in respect to trade and employment of civil and domestic facilities." Although that language may grate on modern ears, the word, “almost,” was in fact intended to signal just how unprecedented and generous the measures were. There should be nothing surprising in any of this, for the rationale was motivated as much by pragmatism as principle:
As it is our goal is our goal to make the Jewish nation useful and serviceable to the State, mainly through better education and enlightenment of its youth as well as by directing them to the sciences, the arts, and the crafts, We hereby grant and order. . . .
The Edict was followed by other regulations that both curbed the traditional autonomy or communal rights of the Jews and allowed them entry into national life, e.g. service in the military (1787) and the adoption of stable German names (1788). 

What I said with regard to the latter could apply to all, for such was the nature of the bargain:  "On the one hand, it implied equality of citizens and broke down the old barriers of both parochialism and exclusion. On the other hand, it made clear that the price was adherence to a unitary norm and a forced assimilation to the dominant culture." This was not entirely a bad thing, but neither was it an unproblematic thing, and that complexity, those contradictions need to be acknowledged.

As Derek Beales has shown in his masterful and definitive study, Joseph managed to be at once enlightened, despotic, and revolutionary. The enlightened absolutist state (like the early modern state, tout court, but with more vigor) was concerned above all with creating productive and loyal subjects and therefore sought to assert a unitary authority over all aspects of public life. The Jews now had to be brought into that process. Justice demanded that most discriminatory measures be removed, but there was no positive valuation of a Jewish collective identity or persistence of a Jewish culture. And the new rights—always granted rather than something to which the Jews were entitled, for we are still quite some philosophical distance from the American or French Revolutions—moreover always came with the requirement that the recipients reform their supposedly atavistic or even immoral ways and prove themselves worthy.

For good reason, it calls to mind many of the debates about African-Americans and citizenship in the United States. It was what Leo Spitzer[2] (25) called the “’conversionist’ approach” typical of the era:
its ideology was unequivocally saturated with cultural chauvinism: an unquestioned faith in the superiority of the dominant culture. According to the emancipators, the emancipated, to be truly liberated from subordination, had to ‘become like us.’
The Jews were to be brought into the modern world, whether they liked it or not.  Some did, many did not—at least at first. As Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz observe in their annotations to the 1782 decree (40), "Although generally hailed by the upper-class and secularly educated Jews, these edicts were viewed by the vast majority of Jews as sinister attempts to undermine traditional Jewish life."

The integration of the Jews into the cultural mainstream—which included the secular and scientific knowledge, of which they had been largely deprived since the Renaissance, was certainly to their benefit. Even the forced assimilation into German culture (which, after all, did not exclude the use of their traditional languages for internal affairs) was part and parcel of that endeavor. And it had far-reaching consequences.

The aforementioned observations by Leo Spitzer come from his provocative comparative study of assimilation and marginality among West African Creoles, Austrian Jews, and Afro-Brazilians.[2] Simply put, Spitzer argues that the West, circa 1770, offered marginal groups a bargain: inclusion at the price of assimilation. With the rise of scientific racism, beginning a century later, and through the Second World War, those who had accepted the bargain found themselves both cut off from their roots and irrevocably rejected by the dominant culture. In each case, the marginal group had adopted a different assimilationist strategy: in the case of African former slaves, conversion to Christianity and adopting the manners of the proper Englishmen; in the case of Jews who rejected conversion, adopting the cultural values of the bourgeoisie; and in the case of Afro-Brazilians, “whitening,” or intermarriage with lighter-skinned partners. The forward-looking Austrian Jews moved, over the generations, from commerce into industry, and then, into the liberal professions and even the arts, in part because of opportunity and in part in order to flee the ghetto stereotype and establish their credentials.

Here, yet another parallel suggests itself. In his famous proposal for colonial Indian education (1835), Thomas Babington Macaulay was notoriously dismissive of indigenous Indian culture, and yet, in both imposing and making available English as the language of instruction for a British and western curriculum, he expressed full confidence in the intrinsic equality and potential of the colonial subjects. The aim, he said, was to create a new indigenous intermediary group, “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” He thereby set in motion a process that is to no small degree responsible for the technological and academic prowess of the elite of the world’s largest democracy.

In the case of the German-speaking Jews, the forced cultural marriage eventually engendered a genuine passion and prodigious progeny. As the brilliant Gershom Scholem observed in a classic but all-too-little-known essay, it was a unique constellation of factors:
The Jewish passion for things German is connected with the specific historical hour in which it was born. At the moment in time when Jews turned from their medieval state toward the new era of enlightenment and revolution, the overwhelming majority of them—80 per cent—lived in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Eastern Europe. Due to prevailing geographic, political, and linguistic conditions, therefore, it was German culture that most Jews encountered on their road to the West. Moreover—and this is decisive—the encounter occurred precisely at the moment when that culture had reached one of its most fruitful turning-points. It was the zenith of Germany's bourgeois era, an era which produced an image of things German that, up to 1940, and among very broad classes of people, was to remain unshaken, even by many most bitter experiences. Thus a newly-awakened Jewish creativity, which was to assume such impressive forms after 1780, impinged upon a great period of German creativity. One can say that it was a happy hour, and indeed, it has no parallel in the history of Jewish encounter with other European peoples. The net result was the high luster that fell on all things German. Even today, after so much blood and so many tears, we cannot say that it was only a deceptive luster.  It was also more, both in fact, and in potentia. (33-34)
Indeed, one has but to recall the names of the great German-Jewish authors, from Heine to Kafka, or the scholars of literature and the humanities.  Citing Kafka’s literary executor Max Brod, who suggested the ideal of love at a critical distance, Scholem observes that the Jews loved without distance, and the Germans kept their distance without love. The tragic end of the unrequited love affair is all too well known.

* * *

[1]Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz,eds., The Jew in the Modern World:  A Documentary History, 2nd ed. (NY and Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995), 36-40↩>

[2] Leo Spitzer, Lives In Between:  Assimilation and Marginality in Austria, Brazil, West Africa 1780-1945 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1989)↩>

• Gershom Scholem, "Jews and Germans," Commentary, November 1966, 31-38

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1 January 1788: Jews in the Austrian Empire Required to Assume German Surnames

On this date in 1788, Jews of the Austrian Empire were required (by a decree of the preceding August) to assume permanent given names and surnames and maintain communal vital records in the German language. It was a portentous step in more ways than one. It embodied all the contradictions of enlightened absolutist policy (and by extension, Enlightenment doctrine itself). On the one hand, it implied equality of citizens and broke down the old barriers of both parochialism and exclusion. On the other hand, it made clear that the price was adherence to a unitary norm and a forced assimilation to the dominant culture.

Most Central and Eastern European Jews had no stable surnames, referring to themselves in the traditional religious manner as son of so-and-so, identifying themselves by place of birth/residence, or both. (Thus, for example, the great German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelsssohn was originally known as Moses Dessau—after his hometown—and even his secular surname or pen name, literally, "son of Mendel," was a Germanization of the Hebrew patronymic: his father was known as Menachem Mendel Dessau). One can readily understand why this situation would prove vexing for a centralizing state intent upon exercising an ever greater and more homogenizing authority over the lives of its subjects. The name law was part of the series of comprehensive reforms enacted by Emperor Joseph II.

Emperor Joseph II (detail of copper engraving; Frankfurt, 1781)
A friend once told me he had heard a German remark that the Jews got all the loveliest German names. It is true, for example, that many such names relate to gemstones and the beauties of nature: sapphire (Saphir), diamond (Diamant), gold (Gold, Goldfarb, Goldstein, etc.), ruby (Rubin, Rubinstein, etc.), amber (Bernstein), field or valley of flowers (Blumenfeld, Blumenthal), valley of lilies (Lilienthal), roses (Rose, Rosenblum, Rosenfeld, Rosenthal), and so forth.

In fact, of course, the Jews also got some of the most comical or unattractive names: Galgenholz (gallows wood), Pulverbestandteil (component of powder), Maschinendraht (machine wire), Saumagen (sow's stomach), Wanzenknicker (bug cracker), Hungerleider (starvling), Wohlgeruch (good smell), Fresser (glutton), Einhorn (unicorn), Mist (manure), Küssemich (kiss me), Groberklotz (rough block of wood), etc. etc.

There have been many assertions about the nature and consequences of the Josephine name decrees. As tradition has it, unsympathetic and mercenary officials assigned Jews names depending on whim or the applicant’s ability to pay.

When I was in college, the great German-Jewish historian (and inveterate ironist) George Mosse once said, in a lecture:
And there was some poor little Jew from the ghetto who stank to high heaven, and they named him "Tülpenfeld" [field of tulips] or "Veilchenduft" [fragrance of violets] and thought it was hilarious.
It's like an old German-Jewish joke from Central Europe:
The decree is issued that Jews must take on German names.
The husband comes back from the naming office.
The wife, with curiosity: "So, what are we called now?"
The husband: "Shirthead."
The wife: "Vey iz mir! Couldn't you have chosen a more respectable name?!"
The husband: "What do you mean, 'chosen,' with this band of thieves? I paid 50 Gulden extra for the 'r' alone!"
It is puzzling at first sight. The law and its subsequent additions did not speak of assigning names, although they did prohibit the use of place names or common or distinguished German surnames. (A list specified only acceptable given names.) Surprisingly, there was long no authoritative explanation of how the policy actually worked, and most of what passes for accepted fact is merely received wisdom that has to be viewed with a certain skepticism.

The Austrian Empire, from Conrad Malte Brun, Atlas Complet (Paris, 1812). Galicia is the yellow-bordered region to the northeast





To the extent that we now better understand the actual origins and patterns of Jewish names in Galicia (home to the largest Jewish population in the Empire), it is thanks to the outstanding work of Alexander Beider (2004), which follows on his pioneering studies of Ashkenazic given names and Russian and Polish Jewish surnames. Beider, who eventually inventoried some 25,000 Galician names, notes that he was originally reluctant to take up the topic: The names of Polish and Russian Jews reflected their own choices and life-ways as well as intriguing multilingual etymologies that begged for decoding. The creation of Galician Jewish names,” by contrast, “was due principally to the whim of Austrian Christian officials,” and developing an inventory presumably “would be equivalent to copying a German dictionary.” To his surprise, he found that there was more than met the eye, and not just because Galicia produced “a large body of notables in Jewish culture” whose legacy deserved to be commemorated (the more so, as many names had disappeared, whether through extermination, assimilation, or adoption of new identities in Israel). The names, contrived as they may be, constitute “an important link between generations” and, by permitting “geographic localization,” serve as a crucial resource for genealogists and historians exploring the deeper past. And, it turns out, the patterns that originated here “heavily influenced those used later during the mass surnaming procedures in other European countries.” (vii-viii)

Beider reproduces as well as analyzes the only detailed description of the naming process, written a century after the event by Austrian man of letters Karl Emil Franzos (1848-1904). Although the lengthy piece is more literary than scholarly and contains a few obvious errors, Beider concludes that it is too detailed and precise to be “purely the fruit of the author’s imagination.” (11) Because the policies prohibited Jews from taking common German surnames yet insisted that each family in a locale have a distinct surname so as avoid duplication, the naming commissions strove for diverse and unusual names. Some Jews resisted the new regulation, either out of fear of additional civic burdens or simple reluctance to give up their “sacred” names. Some also may not have been able to understand the law or communicate their intentions adequately in the new language. In such cases, the commissions were empowered to assign names. Franzos offers numerous examples, and observes, “One can really, therefore, not be astounded that the specific auditor let his fantasy roam free, and when it was starting to flag, he stimulated it with curious leapfrogs, so that eventually, anti-Semitism, barrack humor, as well as greed often found their expression.” (78)

As Beider shows, the records allow us to determine the “When” and “Where” of surname origins, but the “What, How, Why, and Who” remain a matter of judicious inference or speculation. The Jewish names derive mainly from common words, given names, and less commonly, place names (the prohibition on the latter notwithstanding). The Jews were largely free to propose their own surnames, although what happened after that could vary considerably, as it might involve the approval or intervention of a Jewish or an Austrian Christian official. (17-20)

Most modern Jewish names are “artificial,” i.e. not based on the personal attributes of the first bearer, and Galicia displays the highest proportion of such names in Jewish Europe (ranging from 62 to 82 percent, depending on the district). (27) Many of these artificial names were presumably the choice of an official rather than the applicant. Still, one must be cautious in drawing conclusions. As an example, Beider explains that the name “Gold” could be an artificial name, or it could be derived from the occupation of the head of household (goldsmith) or even the name of the mother (Golde). We simply cannot generalize with any certainty.

Beider’s rigorous method allows him to debunk some of the received wisdom regarding artificial names: For example, it is commonly asserted that the more attractive names could be obtained only through a steep payment—and thus reflected the higher socio-economic status of their bearers. Bribes played a role, but one that seems to have been exaggerated. Statistics show that derogatory surnames are “rare exceptions” and the supposedly elite “surnames derived from the names of flowers or precious stones” are in fact “the most common” throughout the region. (12) Myth busted.

Among perhaps the most striking points in the 624-page book is a matter of established background rather than new conclusions. As Beider explains, one reason the subject initially did not attract him was that “these names were of little interest to their bearers; viewed by them simply as official labels.” “a majority of Jews, until the beginning of the 20th century (and most orthodox Polish Jews until World War II), paid no particular attention to the surnames imposed on them by Christian officials.” (vii, 12-13)

The whole naming process, then, raises intriguing questions. As Avital Feuer puts it, “The Jews’ linguistic history is characterized by di- or heteroglossia and multilingualism.” That is, Jews used Hebrew only as a sacred language or language of internal official affairs, while, in their day-to-day lives, they spoke one or more languages of the surrounding society as well as a vernacular of their own such as Yiddish. They moved readily between several languages and cultures. The fact that they clung to their Hebrew or Yiddish names therefore speaks volumes about their sense of identity as they negotiated multiple cultural worlds.

One is thus also tempted to wonder about similar cases in other contexts. First and foremost, one thinks of African-Americans. They were deprived of their history and liberty in ways that even the Jews were not, yet members of both groups operated in multiple cultures, acquired new names, and then experienced emancipation in the course of the “long nineteenth century.” Has anyone explored this? Are there any deeper parallels?

A final irony: although the Jews may at first have been indifferent to the new German names that the external world imposed upon them, many came to feel a deep attraction to and identification with the German world, which for them represented the pinnacle of civilization.  More on that in a forthcoming post.

What's in a name?  A great deal of history, and a bit of mystery.


Resources

• A genealogical website posts the German and Polish texts of the first Josephine decree here, with English translation of the latter and explanation of the extension of these regulations to West Galicia.

• Alexander Beider,  A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia (Avotaynu, 2004)


Update

And what, by the way, are the most common Austrian and German names today?

Austria

Gruber
Huber
Bauer
Wagner
Müller

Germany

Müller
Schmidt
Schneider
Fischer
Meyer