Francois Guesnet Lecture

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Rockefeller 001
5:00 pm

Francois Guesnet, Visiting Brownstone Professor in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, University College, London

Title: Hair: Transcultural Entanglements of Place, Race, and Identity in Central Europe

Hair is among the most obvious elements of a person’s appearance. Beyond a marker of individual esthetic and cultural choices, its appearance is marked by beliefs, customs and rituals. Religious traditions offer sometimes detailed prescription what to do or to avoid in matters of hair. This lecture will look at a particularly poignant example of how in early modern and modern Europe, ideas about hair have been negotiated, namely the phenomenon of the matting of hair. While today best known as a choice – in the form of the so-called dread locks – the spontaneous matting of hair was understood in pre-modern times as the result of demonic or supernatural interference with the human body. In the early modern period, this assumption was supplanted by a medicalized concept, the matting of hair as the result of a condition. This condition was defined in 1600 as Plica polonica, identifying the matting of hair as a condition endemic to Eastern Europe. In Germany, it was also identified with Jews and called Judenzopff. Today an almost completely forgotten phenomenon, the academic and public debate around controling this allegedly dangerous disease informed policies of containment, and contributed to shaping negative ideas about the other – eastern Europe, Jews –well into the 19th century.

François Guesnet is a Visiting Brownstone Professor in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College during the Fall Term 2017. He is Reader in Modern Jewish History in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He holds a PhD in Modern History from Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau, and specializes in the early modern and 19th century history of Eastern European, and more specifically, Polish Jews. 

He is co-chair of the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry and currently serves as Honorary Secretary of the European Association for Jewish Studies. He held research and teaching fellowships at the Hebrew University Jerusalem,  the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and the University of Oxford. 

His book publications include Polnische Juden im 19. Jahrhundert: Lebensbedingungen, Rechtsnormen und Organisation im Wandel (1998), Der Fremde als Nachbar. Polnische Positionen zur jüdischen Präsenz in Polen. Texte seit 1800 (2009), and, with Gwenyth Jones, Antisemitism in an Era of Transition: The Case of Post-Communist Eastern Central Europe (2014). Together with Glenn Dynner  he published Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis. Studies in Honor of the 70th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (2015) and most recently the volume Negotiating Religion. Cross-disciplinary perspectives, co-edited with Cécile Laborde and Lois Lee (2017).

This event is free and open to the public!
Sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program and the Leon Black Lecture Series.