October 11, 2011

The Jerusalem Project 1991-2011

On October 12, from 1:30-4:30 in the Mathers Museum of World Culture, Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. scholars will address the terms of engagement that emerge and diverge in the occupied/disputed/contested city of Jerusalem. In light of the recent human rights violations against Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, they will discuss boundaries and border crossings between political activism and academic research as well as the prospects and pitfalls of scholarly “dialogue” projects that engage across Israeli and Palestinian lines in the city.

Participants will draw upon their twenty-year engagement in developing the Jerusalem Project’s ethnographic and pedagogic programs as well as their ongoing and much longer involvement with numerous political movements and organizations to assess the prospects as well as the limits of such engagements.

The forum will draw upon the twenty-year experience of this folklore-based project in asking how folklorists can be effective in resisting the human rights violations against Palestinian residents of the city.

History of the Project
The Jerusalem Project began in 1992 under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage as a research initiative among Israeli, Palestinian and US scholars. In 1992-93, parallel and self-determined Israeli and Palestinian research teams conducted ethnographic research on the cultures and identities in contemporary Jerusalem. The research teams, led by Galit Hasan-Rokem (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Suad Amiry (Bir Zeit University) in coordination with Jerusalem Project director, Amy Horowitz (Smithsonian/OSU), recorded tales and memories of cooks, poets, folk healers, craftspeople, storytellers, and other cultural practitioners and community leaders. This ethnographic portrait, initially intended as the basis for a Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, presents Jerusalem's human legacy—people who, in the early 1990s, try to live ordinary lives under extraordinary conditions.

In 1996, the research teams developed a thirty-minute video documentary project based on their ethnographic findings.  The video project continued to explore the ethnographic method that had been developed, with parallel and self-determined Israeli and Palestinian directors, editors, and researchers who created two video snapshots of cultural life in the city. The video, Jerusalem: Gates to the City is distributed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.  In 1999, ten Muslim and Jewish liturgical practitioners from the earlier ethnographic phase traveled to Washington to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Sacred Sounds program.

In 2001, the Living Jerusalem Project relocated to its current academic home at The Ohio State University Mershon Center for International Security Studies. In 2006, the Mershon Center hosted a working conference attended by Jerusalem Project team members from Israel, Palestine and the US. Outcomes of this meeting include: 1) an International Studies/Folklore course entitled Living Jerusalem, 2) a Living Jerusalem mini-study tour, and 3) an edited volume of essays by Jerusalem project scholars (now in manuscript form).

Today, archival holdings containing the ethnographic materials from the early 1990s are housed at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bir Zeit University and The Ohio State University. The archives include over 100 interviews with cultural practitioners, audiotapes, photographs, and forty hours of raw broadcast-quality video footage.

Please join us on October 12.  

Amy Horowitz

Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Comparative Studies
Lecturer, International Studies Program
The Mershon Center
The Ohio State University
The author is currently a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

A roundtable discussion "Folklore in Jerusalem between War and (no) Peace: The Jerusalem Project 1991-2011" will take place on October 12, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

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