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American Jewish History R+ Settler Colonialism Text Analysis

Word Clouding: Immigrant Jewish Female Settlers

Assumptions are the enemies of historians.  Well, at least, this historian. I had hoped that the topic modeling for immigrant female Jewish settlers would be gendered in a way that would provide stark contrast to their male counterparts.  You know that old dichotomy—masculine vs. feminine.  Even though I often write against such tropes, I nevertheless had thought that these stark contrasts would provide a rich and fertile discussion about gender on the frontier.  These hopes, however, were dashed.

 

As I looked at the word clouds, I found that, like much their male counterparts, female Jewish immigrants looked to and remembered their time in the Dakotas in terms of two key topics: family and the home.  For many of these Jewish women, life on the Dakotas was much different than it was in Russia.  Back in the mother country, Jewish women were, by and large, the economic breadwinners while their husbands went to Yeshiva.  This was not always the case, as some, like the Losk family were upper middle class business owners and the duties of the wives were like much like their Western European coreligionists.  Families like the Losks were the exception and not the rule. Many of those families who immigrated were poor and from shtetls.  Jewish women living in the Dakotas mirrored the lives of many immigrant women.  They worked in the fields, raised children, and if they lived in larger cities, kept a house while the husband worked.

 

Jewish Women on the Dakotas
Jewish Women in the Dakotas
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Jewish Women in the Dakotas
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Jewish Women in the Dakotas
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Jewish Women in the Dakotas
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Jewish Women in the Dakotas

The word clouds do tell a gendered story.  Traditionally, women both transmitted Jewish culture to their children and in inter-religious marriages, it was women who determined if the offspring were considered halachically (by Jewish law) Jewish.  One can see across the five various word clouds that for these women, religion was a primary concern.  These concerns also mirror the rise of a stable Jewish life in the Dakotas as well.  Initially, no temples existed, and Jewish settlers held religious services in homes or rented churches.  Their concern to reconstruct and ensure that Jewish life would continue for their children might be one explanation for this.

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American Indians American Jewish History Native American History R+ Settler Colonialism Text Analysis

Word Clouding: Immigrant Jewish Male Settlers

Historical actors make history!  Such axioms allow my project to include the lives of many Jewish settlers that, by in large, have been excluded in the overarching narrative of the American West.  The entire dissertation views Jewish settlers as part and parcel of a much large settler colonial project set into motion by the federal government through the  Oregon Donation Land Act, the Homestead Act, and the Dawes Act.  Immigrants were promised free land!  Although it was not technically free (filing fees and $1.00 per acre), the ability to own land was largely unheard of in many of the settlers’ home countries.  This was especially true for Russian Jews who left their country for various reasons: pograms and the inability to own land.  For many Russian Jews their lives were torn asunder.

Close reading of the some of the documents reinforce, and then, add to these historical narratives.  For example, in the case of Charles Losk who’s family fled Russia right after the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, they chose to farm because when they had traveled across Europe they witnessed German farmers.  For the Losk family, those German farmers led a peaceful life that was free of government intervention.  Yet, the word clouds do not show the reasons why they chose to move to North Dakota over the more urban locales.  In the case of Sigmund Shlesinger (below), the topics in the word clouds directly reflect the actual text.

Sigmund Schlessinger
Sigmund Shlesinger

 

 

Collectively, the Jewish male data set reflect a concern for family, land, farming, and traveling to the United States.  Some of these things might not surprise historians.  We can understand the travelogues.  One might also think that topics such as farming and land would be natural fits for immigrant families coming to the Dakotas.  Which in turn make topics like the seasons not so ordinary.  What is so fascinating, especially when one looks at the topics with special attention to gender–the fact that these men are writing a great deal about the family is especially telling.  It might lend itself to understand that Jewish males viewed the home and their family as a refuge from the outside pressure to assimilate.

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