Matthew Rosenblum

  • PhD Student, Graduate Teaching Assistant
  • Geography
1422 Patterson Office Tower
Research Interests:
Fall 2016 office hours: by appointment

Social Theory Graduate Certificate, University of Kentucky 

M.A. Geography, University of Kentucky 

B.S. Geography, Florida State University


I am a political and cultural-historical geographer with interests in Jewish identity, the history and philosophy of geographic thought, and the role of notions of space and place in the myriad Jewish intellectual and cultural traditions. Drawing inspiration from discussions in other disciplines –sociology, American studies, philosophy, but anthropology, in particular- I have begun to ask, does geography have a Jewish problem? By posing this question I mean to refer to several possibilities, ranging from the more common sense interpretation of locating the history of anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish sentiment in the discipline –as in, does geography actually have a problem with Jews?- to the more conceptual task of making ‘the Jew’ a problem of thought for geography –as in, how does ‘the Jew’ understood as both a real body or even a cognitive schema complicate our assumptions about the history and theory of geography? Thus, my research, tentatively titled ‘Geography and the Jew’, emerges from what I’ve identified to be two interrelated phenomena; on the one hand, geography doesn’t seem to have much to say about Jewish identity or culture aside from some discussions of the Holocaust, population geography/demography, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, ones that I would argue, most often happen only under certain conditions, with certain assumptions, in certain ways, etc. In this modality my research is interested in the ways in which geography has made sense of its own kind of Jewish Question throughout history; how the discipline has apprehended Jewish difference, how its development has been informed by a history of anti-Jewish ideology, how some sense of Jewish identity has informed the theorization and practice of geography, and other related issues. To this end my preliminary fieldwork has included an oral history interview with Saul Cohen –a prominent 20th century Jewish-American political geographer, chair of geography at Clark University, AAG president, and university administrator whose work was both attentive to the early geographies of Israel/Palestine beginning in the 1950’s, as well as the relevance of Jewishness and Judaism as serious topics of geographical import- in addition to archival research at the University of Kentucky where the papers of Ellen Churchill Semple –an early 20th century American geographer, student of the influential German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, and proponent of environmental determinism- are located. In going through these materials I am particularly interested in the influence of anti-Semitism on Semple’s thinking in addition to how her work in the Mediterranean constructed Jewish identity/culture and the geography of Israel/Palestine. In the future I hope to conduct additional interviews with a range of geographers whose work has broached so-called Jewish topics, in addition to conducting further archival research on key figures from the discipline including Carl Sauer, Charles P. Daly, Ellsworth Huntington, Wilbur Zelinsky, Saul Cohen, Isaiah Bowman, Wallace Atwood, Richard Hartshorne, and others.

On the other hand, that it is the case that Jewish bodies have been largely absent from the formal boundaries of academic geography does not deny the fact that the theorization and production of space and place has nevertheless been a longstanding part of Jewish intellectual, communal and religious traditions. This aspect of my research follows recent calls from theorists and historians of geography to decenter the discipline’s canon by recognizing other –even lay- kinds of geographical knowledge as relevant fragments of geographic thought. This has drawn my interest to a wide range of Jewish thinkers including Max Weinreich –a noted Yiddish scholar and founder of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research- Michael Chabon –a popular Jewish American author- Ber Borochov –a Yiddishist and Jewish Marxist thinker- and others.

None of this means that my work endeavors to unearth the supposedly concealed ‘Jewish roots’ of geography –as if there could every be coherent, legible roots to a discipline that did not intersect with or congeal to a diverse array of influences. On the contrary, I argue that there are instead Jewish routes through the evolution of geographic thought. My wager is that exploring those routes is a fruitful exercise in thought both because of the possible ways in which geography can stumble over the figure of ‘the Jew’ and begin to ask different questions about its intellectual history, and also because without some engagement with Jewishness geography operates under an incomplete understanding of identity, difference and exclusion which would seem to have consequences for the critical allegiances of contemporary human geography. That is, thinking in Jewish -as Jonathan Boyarin has it- has, in my estimation, something to offer geography. At the same time, the interdisciplinary relationship that my work stages between geography and Jewish Studies is also a possibly useful supplement to the latter discipline as well – particularly to the kind of critical work in the so-called ‘New’ Jewish Cultural Studies which continues to struggle to construct a firm place in the broader Cultural Studies milieu.

In addition, I am affiliated with the Committee on Social Theory at the University of Kentucky. During the 2016-2017 school year I will serve as co-editor-in-chief of UK’s graduate student run social theory journal, disClosure, with my colleagues Eric Huntley (also from geography) and Alan van den Arend (from Classics). In my spare time I enjoy watching basketball and eating club sandwiches at Lynagh’s Irish Pub. If you’re thinking about UK’s geography department as a possibility for graduate school please feel free to shoot me an email with any questions. Go Cats. 

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