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American Historian Reports on Jewish Impact on U.S. Culture

December 30, 1966
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A leading American historian said here yesterday that ancient Hebraic values and those of the Jewish immigrants in the United States were the two most significant elements in contemporary American culture. He urged his fellow historians to go deeply into American history for its Jewish components.

That evaluation was presented to some 8,000 members of the American Historical Association’s 81st annual meeting by Dr. Clifford K. Shipton, director of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass., and author of many multi-volume studies of New England history. He presented his paper, “An Americanist Looks at American Jewish History,” at a joint session with the American Jewish Historical Society.

He said American historians should assume the task of collecting and studying all available records of the presence throughout American history of Jews to understand the full impact of Jews on the American contemporary culture. He said “the two most significant factors in determining the character of American culture today “are the Puritan version of the Hebraic contribution and that of the modern Jewish immigrants.”


The historian said that the day of “professional prejudice” had passed and that there was therefore no longer any reason to neglect the history of the Jewish community in the United States. He told his fellow historians that the early settlers rejected, in their political and social outlook, “the medieval acceptance of evil inherent in predestinarianism and turned back to the Old Testament for the belief that man can and ought to effect his own salvation.”

One of the most fascinating problems of the history of American society is the question of interrelation and comparison between the Puritan-Hebraic contribution and that of the Jewish immigrants, between a culture in literary translation and the same culture represented by living individuals, the Jewish newcomers,” Dr. Shipton declared. He suggested as the kind of question historians should seek data on: “To what extent did the cultural background of a Brandeis or a Frankfurter shape their contributions to a society which we are earnestly trying to make the most enlightened the world has ever seen.”


He added that “the Jews who have contributed so much to American medicine and science derive their intellectual energy, their vocations, from their cultural heritage.” He declared that historians need to know “who the immigrants were; not selected individuals among them but every individual in at least selected communities” and their European backgrounds.

Dr. Shipton emphasized that it was important to record the recollections of the Jewish immigrant generation as indispensable source material. He proposed the collection of biographical material to be recorded on I.B.M. cards, that geneological societies should be started to trace the histories of American Jews, and that synagogue records and newspapers should be studied carefully.

He urged the compilation of every apparent Jewish name appearing in United States immigration records down to the 1900’s. Such names, he declared, would provide keys to research in public and synagogue records and newspapers. Such an element of what he called the “American kaleidoscope” was of “primary interest to historians of every nation” because the American culture “seems destined to become the wave of the immediate future for the entire world.”

He said it was “highly significant” that some of the best writing in colonial history “and particularly in the intellectual aspects of Puritanism has been done by the young Jewish historians.”

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