Matthew Rosenblum

mlro239's picture
  • PhD Candidate, Graduate Teaching Assistant
  • Geography
1422 Patterson Office Tower
Research Interests:
Availability
Spring 2019 office hours: Monday and Wednesday 11-12, or, by appointment
Education

Social Theory Graduate Certificate, University of Kentucky 

M.A. Geography, University of Kentucky 

B.S. Geography, Florida State University

Research

I am a broadly trained human geographer brought up primarily in the tradition of political geography and geopolitics. As an MA student at the University of Kentucky I conducted research on the geopolitics of pro- and anti-Zionist activist networks emerging from Jewish-American communal organizations. Drawing on insights from the still-unfolding turn to affect and emotion in the humanities and social sciences, theories of diaspora from Jewish cultural studies, and critical geopolitics, this work dealt with the ways in which distant territorial imaginaries -Israel/Palestine, in this case- affected even the banal workings of diaspora communities -in this case I focused on American Jewry- causing intra-communal schisms which, in the highly charged context of debates regarding Jewish identity and Zionism, often developed into advocacy organizations, activist groups, etc., which were themselves a kind of geopolitical actor. 

My doctoral work changed direction slightly, pivoting away from Jewishness as a mere empirical subject of geographical inquiry, to examine how Jewish difference has been produced in the history of geographic thought. This work is inspired, in large part, by the so-called Jewish social sciences and related projects which draw attention to topics such as the history of the social scientific study of Jews and Judaism, the figure of 'the Jew' as a conceptual apparatus for non-Jewish social scientists, the influence of Jewish identity on the production of social scientific research, anti-Semitic exclusion in the evolution of the social sciences, and related topics. Based on more than a mere fascination with Jewish identity and difference, this project is a case study which allows me to ask different questions pertaining to race, racism, and racialization as well as related discussions of inclusion and exclusion in the disciplinary history of academic geography. To that end, tracing the constitutive processes that circulate, valorize, and normalize social scientific understandings of race and ethnicity in the history of geographic thought is a task that 'Jewishness' is uniquely suited to because of the key role of the Jews in the early definition of race, the liminal nature of Jewish racial identity, etc. Thanks to the support of grants from the geography and Jewish studies departments at UK as well as a summer fellowship at the YIVO Center for Jewish Research, and armed with a mix of qualitative techniques including critical discourse analysis, oral history interviews, and archival research at Yale, Johns Hopkins, UK, the New York Public Library, the University of Florida, and the Library of Congress, this work -entitled Geography and the Jew: Space, Place, and Jewish Difference at the Limits of Geographic Thought interrogates the life and work of figures from geography's history including Carl Ritter, Ellen Churchill Semple, Friedrich Ratzel, Charles P. Daly, Saul Cohen, Ellsworth Huntington, Oscar Pescel, Isaiah Bowman, Wallace Atwood, Nathaniel Shaler, and others. The first chapter -currently in the final stages of preparation for submission to Political Geography- called 'Political Geography and the Jewish Problem: An Essay on Isaiah Bowman and Anti-Semitism' traces the development of anti-Semitic tropes in Bowman's seminal contribution to political geography The New World: Problems in Political Geography (1921), showing how the conceptual origins of American political geography are deeply entrenched in anti-Jewish hostility that must be critically interrogated. In the second chapter, 'Aryan and Semite: Tracing the Race-Religion Constellation in the History of Geographic Thought', I identify the racialized legacy of comparative philology in the work of Ratzel, Semple, and Peschel, arguing that their contributions to the discursive production of 'Aryan' and 'Semitic' identities are an example of how the discipline's particular racial taxonomy took shape, and how early social scientific understandings of race were heavily implicated in religious discourses wherein the co-constitution of whiteness and Christianity were accepted and affirmed as superior in relation to those of inferior stock, particularly the Semites, a term used to designate the Jewish race. The third and final substantive chapter of my dissertation, tentatively titled 'The Greatest of All Races: Philosemitism and the Politics of Race and Religion in the Work of Ellsworth Huntington', is a significant departure from other accounts of how geography has treated Jewishness throughout the history of the discipline because instead of dealing with anti-Semitic exclusion, it focuses instead on the interest in, respect for, and appreciation of Jewish identity, culture, religion, history, and civilization, etc. in the work of the famed American environmental determinist, Ellsworth Huntington.      

Aside from preparing parts of my dissertation research for publication, I am also involved -along with my collaborator Eric Huntley (MIT)- in an extracurricular project on the closure of the geography department at the University of Michigan. Based on our fieldwork at UM's Bentley Historical Library as well as oral histories we conducted with surviving former faculty members, this paper, tentatively titled 'The Omega Affair: Disciplinary Vulnerability and the Discontinuance of the University of Michigan Geography Department (1975-1982)' draws attention to the need for historians of geographic thought to contend with the circumstances under which the discipline's representative institutions decline and/or are eliminated. Following Livingstone (1992), as we see it, "geography is a tradition that, like a species, has undergone historical transformation." Our contention is that re-visiting these painful moments in geography's history is key to actively justifying the existence of the discipline in the future because of how they open up space to revisit what Alain Reynaud (1974) calls the "myth of the unity of geography." Upon publishing our work on the loss of Michigan geography we hope to conduct related research on the closure of geography departments at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. 

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