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Twentieth-Century Jewish Émigrés and Medieval European Economic History
Department of History, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8108, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA
Received: 31 May 2012; in revised form: 13 June 2012 / Accepted: 14 June 2012 / Published: 27 June 2012
Abstract: This essay discusses the intellectual contributions of five Jewish émigrés to the study of European economic history. In the midst of the war years, these intellectuals reconceptualized premodern European economic history and established the predominant postwar paradigms. The émigrés form three distinct groups defined by Jewish identity and by professional identity. The first two (Guido Kisch and Toni Oelsner) identified as Jews and worked as Jewish historians. The second two (Michal Postan and Robert Lopez) identified as Jews, but worked as European historians. The last (Karl Polanyi) was Jewish only by origin, identified as a Christian socialist, and worked first as an economic journalist, then in worker's education and late in life as a professor of economics. All five dealt with the origin of European capitalism, but in different veins: Kisch celebrated and Oelsner contested a hegemonic academic discourse that linked the birth of capitalism to Jews. Postan and Lopez contested the flip-side of this discourse, the presumption that medieval Europe was pre-capitalist par excellence. In doing so, they helped construct the current paradigm of a high medieval commercial revolution. Polanyi contested historical narratives that described the Free Market as the natural growth of economic life. This essay explores the grounding of these paradigms in the shared crucible of war and exile as Jewish émigrés. This shared context helps illuminate the significance of their intellectual contributions by uncovering the webs of meaning in which their work was suspended.
Keywords: European economic history; Jewish émigrés; Guido Kisch; Robert Lopez; Toni Oelsner; Michael Postan; Karl Polanyi; medieval economic history
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Mell, J. Twentieth-Century Jewish Émigrés and Medieval European Economic History. Religions 2012, 3, 556-587.
Mell J. Twentieth-Century Jewish Émigrés and Medieval European Economic History. Religions. 2012; 3(3):556-587.
Mell, Julie. 2012. "Twentieth-Century Jewish Émigrés and Medieval European Economic History." Religions 3, no. 3: 556-587.