What is the working title of your dissertation?
For my dissertation I have chosen to write on a very niche and largely unexplored topic: the female Jewish experience in England, as understood through clothing. My working title is ‘How did Jewish women in England negotiate dual identities through dress, 1939-1955?’
What led you to choose this subject?
I have long been interested in diaspora and immigrant experiences, especially in London, where so many different immigrant groups have passed through or settled. My own Ashkenazi Jewish heritage lead to my interest in the Jewish experience, which has not been written on extensively. The opportunity to contribute to the historiography of Jewish life in England was irresistible, especially considering that Jewish women as wearers and consumers of fashion has been almost entirely neglected to date. Furthermore, the Second World War was a catalyst for change in so many ways, but especially in altering and challenging conventions of femininity. This makes the war years, as well as the decade after, the perfect time period to explore.
Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?
Eric Silverman’s A Cultural History of Jewish Dress. It has been very insightful and his writing style is relatable and easy to read. It was the most interesting read because, while irrelevant for this dissertation, it taught me why the Hasidic/Haredi Jewish communities dress the way they do, which is something I always wondered about as a child growing up in a largely Hasidic neighbourhood.
Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?
It’s challenging to pick just one! If I really had to choose, it would be this family portrait taken by Boris Bennett in 1948. Mr. Keiner had just obtained English citizenship, and the portrait was taken to commemorate the moment, as well as to memorialise the feeling of safety the family finally felt. The hardship of the war is visible on the parents’ relieved faces, while the children (who look exactly like their parents and it’s adorable) seem innocent and happy. Finally, I love little Judy Keiner’s tartan pinafore, and I think it is too precious that she is hugging a ball.
Favourite place to work?
I usually work from home, seated at the kitchen table. It’s not the most inspiring spot, but having easy access to snacks and not having to get dressed compensates for that. When I do go out to write, it’s usually to the Humanities 1 Reader Room at the British Library. I don’t necessarily enjoy being there (if they’d just let me bring water in!) but the formal atmosphere and the impressive architecture means I always get lots of work done.