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Students research Jewish history through photographs

Students enrolled in the Penn State Berks course “Jewish Representation in History and Photography” are learning about Jewish history by working closely with the Jewish Cultural Center of Reading to publish a book for the “Images of America” series with Arcadia Publishing, titled Jewish Reading and Berks County.

Dr. Laurie Grobman, Professor of English and Women’s Studies, is leading the class project. Grobman also serves as Coordinator of the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks, and she has been actively involved in community-based undergraduate research.

“This book not only documents the history of the Jewish community in Reading, but serves as a way for the older generation to reconnect and pass on their stories to the future generations of Jews,” explains Grobman. “The pictures, graphics, and flyers that that have been gathered and saved throughout the years are greatly valued by the Jewish community. The photographs depict eras past with differing clothing, clubs, businesses, and a community deserving to be remembered.”

The course focuses on photography as history, art, and “truth.” The twelve student participants have spent much of their time in the course working on the book–including gathering more than 200 photographs, obtaining permission to print the photos, selecting and arranging photos for each chapter, and finding information and writing captions for the photos.

Tammy K. Mitgang, President of the Jewish Federation of Reading, comments, “Pictures are moments frozen in time but filled with texture and voice. Thanks to the work of Dr. Grobman and her students, the history of our Berks County Jewish community will be bound into a well-captioned book, a photo album for readers. The selection process was laborious and intense. ‘Mazel tov’ to the students for their hard work.”

Jewish migration to the Reading area began during the colonization of America, but really flourished during the late 1800s with the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe who came to the area to escape overpopulation and persecution. Reading drew Jews from the neighboring areas, such as New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia due to their large manufacturing companies and corporations. Many Jewish-owned businesses greatly contributed to the growth and prosperity of Reading.

The Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks was launched by Grobman in the fall of 2010. Berks is the first campus outside of University Park to launch the initiative.  

For more information about this project or the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks, contact Grobman, Coordinator, at LEG8@psu.edu.
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