Jewish Studies professor receives Katz Center fellowship

Susan Burlingame
January 06, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tobias Brinkmann, head of the Jewish Studies program in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, and the Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History, has been selected as a spring 2021 fellow by the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He began his work on Jan. 4 with approximately 20 other scholars, each of whom is addressing the center’s 2021 theme — "America’s Jewish Questions" —through their research.

Tobias Brinkmann

Tobias Brinkmann, head of the Jewish Studies program and the Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History

IMAGE: Courtesy of Tobias Brinkmann

In a letter offering the fellowship to Brinkmann, Steven Weitzman, the Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center, said the fellowship has two goals: to support research and to foster intellectual community among fellows from a range of disciplines and areas of focus. The fellowship, which concludes on April 30, will result in an edited volume of scholarship to be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Brinkmann focuses his research on migration history, especially on Jewish migration within and from Eastern and Central Europe to North America after 1800. He is the author of three published monographs, the most recent of which, Sundays at Sinai: A Jewish Congregation in Chicago, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.

During his fellowship at the Katz Center, Brinkmann will be working on his latest monograph, a survey of Jewish migration to North America from 1654 to the present. He argues that Jewish scholars writing about Jewish migration helped to conceptualize the field of migration and refugee studies during the 20th century.

“I look at Jews on the move,” he said, decrying the commonly held belief that the majority of Jewish immigrants came to the U.S. before 1914 as refugees because of pogroms (violent riots aimed at the Jews). “You could fill this room with books about Jews immigrating to America because of pogroms, but it turns out that the reasons Jews were leaving Eastern Europe had very little to do with pogroms. Most Jews in the country today are descendants of immigrants who came to this country between 1880 and 1925, and most of them came for economic opportunities. My research is about their journey.”

“It’s wonderful to see Brinkmann continuing our department’s tradition of prestigious external fellowships,” said Michael Kulikowski, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Classics and head of the Department of History at Penn State. “The Katz Center at UPenn is by common consent the most distinguished locus of advanced research into Jewish studies and Judaic history in the country and has long driven the kind of innovative research agenda that Tobias is pursuing with his work on Jewish migration to America in the long 19th century.”

Brinkmann holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the Technical University of Berlin (Germany). Before joining the Penn State faculty in 2009, he held academic positions at Leipzig University in Germany and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. He said he came to Penn State in large part because of Malvin and the late Lea Bank, the donors who funded his position.

“He grew up secular; she grew up religious,” said Brinkmann of Malvin and Lea Bank. “They wanted to focus their philanthropy on helping to bring someone to Penn State who studies American Jewish history with a focus on migration, which fit my research agenda perfectly.”

Noting he was delighted when he received the appointment letter from the Katz Center, Brinkmann said he is particularly excited to work with other people who are focusing on the fellowship’s “America’s Jewish Questions” theme.

“It’s a very diverse group of scholars; the Katz Center made an effort to involve younger and older scholars — people who have a really broad set of questions besides migration,” he said. “It’s going to be a real conversation that will help each one of these fellows to have a more diversified approach.”

Though the Katz Center is based in Philadelphia, Brinkmann will fulfill his fellowship remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, he said, he is looking forward to sharing his work and expanding students’ knowledge.

“I am interested in doing more in terms of American Jewish history,” he said. “The idea is to get more students involved and not approach Jewish studies from such a narrow field.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 06, 2021