Tag Archives: antisemitism

Public Engagement Awards: Dr Brendan McGeever, Professor David Feldman and Dr Ben Gidley – Facing Antisemitism: Politics, Culture, History

This is the sixth in a series of blogs showcasing the Birkbeck 2020 Public Engagement Awards winners and highly commended participants. This project was announced the winner of the category ‘Transforming Culture and Public Life’.

Stop smearing Labour sign

Facing Antisemitism is a new short course taught at Birkbeck that explores the sources, development and contemporary forms of antisemitism. It is open to students, the public and organisations. In 2019 the Labour Party enrolled its key staff on the course.

This project has been shaped directly by current research: Professor David Feldman’s Boycotts Past and Present (2019, Palgrave); his forthcoming The History of the Concept of Antisemitism (Princeton University Press, 2021); his essay ‘Toward A history of the Term of Anti-Semitism’ in The American Historical Review (2019); Dr Brendan McGeever’s new work on antisemitism and the left (Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution, CUP 2019) and Dr Ben Gidley’s Turbulent Times: the British Jewish Community Today, Continuum, 2010. Additionally, the three investigators are writing articles and a new monograph based on the module.

Facing Antisemitism draws on history and the social sciences to answer questions such as: how can we recognise and define antisemitism? How does it relate to other forms of racism? How widespread is antisemitism? Where does it come from? Why does it persist?  What is the impact of antisemitism on Jews? What is the relationship between anti-racism and antisemitism?

The research underpinning this course is directly relevant to Labour because over the last four years, the Party has found itself at the centre of public controversy about the nature and significance of antisemitism. This has been unprecedented: antisemitism now sits at the centre of British political debate like never before. The subject is explosive and controversial, but one that is poorly understood. By engaging with Labour in this way, Dr McGeever, Prof. Feldman, and Dr Gidley hoped to provide key figures in the Party with the concepts and knowledge to make better judgments about antisemitism. In turn, this project provided the former with a valuable opportunity to take their research in a classroom setting to stimulate change and engender new ways of thinking about an urgent problem of our time.

Birkbeck congratulates Dr McGeever, Prof. Feldman, and Dr Gidley on their exciting project, as well as on being selected as the winners in this year’s Public Engagement Awards in the category ‘Transforming Culture and Public Life’.

Further information:



Race in Vichy France

This post was contributed by Dr Ludivine Broch, an Early Career Research Fellow at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

Life as a Research Fellow

‘Research Fellowships’ have a wonderful allure from afar: a distant, fertile land where one can hole up in the British Library and read for hours on end before visiting various archives where, once more, one is completely unburdened by daily work-related commitments.

Of course, this is not how things work out. Research Fellowships can just as quickly become swamped with admin, organising workshops, starting up academic blogs, participating in conferences, meeting publication deadlines, doing odd bits of teaching here and there… and that’s even before your own life-management issues (plumbing crisis, medical appointments, moving house, etc.) which interfere with the rêverie that is ‘endless hours at the British Library/archives’.

Often, in these times when you are trying to wrap up your doctoral projects but feel drowned in ‘commitments’, there is only one thing that keeps you going: the dream of the next big research project! And this is exactly where I am. I have three years of Research Fellowship (two at the Pears Institute at Birkbeck, and one at the European University Institute in Florence) lined up, and I’m in my fifth month. Already, the conference papers, article deadlines and general admin of organising conferences and workshops have piled up so high… but, I am not losing faith.  Because I have a fascinating project to keep pushing for.

My doctoral studies focussed on the history of railway workers in Vichy France. My thesis challenged the myths of cheminot (orgnanised by the railway workers) resistance and collaboration. The book (coming out with CUP in 2014) looks beyond this: at theft, at Franco-German cohabitation, at professional strikes, at the language of class struggle.

Although this topic continues to interest me, and I am deeply involved in finishing my book, it feels like a much-loved outfit that is starting to age slightly. I am ready for something new. I began thinking about my new research topic in 2011, when I spotted a gap in Vichy historiography. And slowly it has developed into something tangible and manageable.

A history of black people in Vichy France

Whilst the history of Jews in Vichy France had been told and re-told, the history of black people – an otherwise hot topic in modern history – had been largely untouched. Of course there have been plenty of studies of race in France – but they almost always skip over the 1939-45 period – a period reserved for the study of antisemitism. And while some studies of blacks in the French military and French colonies have been taken on, nothing has been done in depth on black people in metropolitan France during the period of 1939-45.

The question of race sits uncomfortably on the sidelines of Vichy history: although blacks were not targeted as visibly and vehemently as the Jews, they were still victims of racial prejudice and sometimes discrimination. Laws targeting Jews to ride in the last carriage of the metro, to stay within the limits of the demarcation line, and to give up their professions in the arts, were also applied to ‘negroes’. The black minister Henry Lémery was dismissed from the Laval government in September 1940 on the basis of his skin colour. Colonial propaganda dispatched throughout France embraced traditional images of the black savage: an exotic, harmless beast whose simple attire was matched by an even simpler mind. Colonial troops who had helped both the French army in May-June 1940, and the Free French in 1940-44, were sidelined from the Liberation ceremonies in 1944-45, and from the general army as a whole. What do these stories say about race in Vichy France?

This is an extremely large topic. However, by dividing my project into manageable chunks, I will examine the many facets – cultural, socio-political, intellectual – of this question of race under Vichy. And after sneaking away to Paris a few days last term, I am increasingly convinced that a micro-history of blacks in Parisian arrondissements will begin to tell us something about race in daily life.

Ultimately, by challenging traditional assumptions of racial persecution under Vichy, I am hoping to shift the historiographical discussion from one where the history of Jews under Vichy is examined seperately from the history of racial minorities, to one where they intersect. Indeed, Marrus and Paxton were clearly correct when, in their remarkable work Vichy France and the Jews (1981), they placed Vichy’s attitudes towards Jews within a longer history of antisemitism. Yet recent works suggest is that this history also intersects with another history: a history of blacks, of the colonies, of difference. How does a history of race interact with the history of Jews? How do they illuminate one another? These are the questions which inspire me through my Research Fellowhsip.