TITLE: Holy Moses! A Cultural History of the Ten Commandments in Modern America
SPEAKER: Jenna Joselit
EVENT DATE: 2007/10/11
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 58 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)
Jenna Weissman Joselit, a Princeton University professor who spent the summer as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the John W. Kluge Center, wrapped up her research with a lecture titled "Holy Moses! A Cultural History of the Ten Commandments in Modern America."
While a scholar at the Kluge Center, Joselit conducted research in the Library's collections for her forthcoming book on the Ten Commandments. She investigated the variety of forms in which the Ten Commandments appeared in American culture, including synagogue and church architecture, Sunday school pageants and Cecil B. DeMille's legendary movies.
According to Joselit, the Ten Commandments cast a long shadow over the body politic these days. Angry words about the appropriate role for the commandments in 21st century America fill the air as proponents and opponents square off. Have the Ten Commandments always been the stuff of controversy, or is this a new phenomenon--the consequence of a rapidly changing world?
Joselit suggests that the Ten Commandments have long exercised the popular imagination, especially at the grassroots level. Throughout much of the mid-19th and 20th centuries, Americans of all stripes identified strongly with the Decalogue and the figure of Moses, incorporating them into the domestic sphere as well as the public square, into the nation's visual culture as well as its political rhetoric.
Speaker Biography: A professor of American studies and modern Judaic studies at Princeton, Jenna Joselit started her appointment at the Kluge Center on June 1, 2007. Her residence concluded on Aug. 31, 2007. Joselit is a nationally acclaimed scholar who has taught, lectured and published widely on both the modern Jewish experience and American vernacular culture. She is a frequent contributor to The New Republic and a long-standing columnist for The Forward. She is also the author of "A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America" and "The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950," which received the National Jewish Book Award in History. A recipient of several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she has served as curator and contributed to more than 30 exhibitions throughout the United States and Israel, including the shows "Getting Comfortable in New York" and "A Worthy Use of Summer," both at the Jewish Museum in New York, and "The Glitter and the Gold: Fashioning America's Jewelry" at the Newark Museum. She was a consultant to the Library of Congress on its exhibition "From Haven to Home."