YC Honors Program Has a New World Encounter

New World Encounters is a class given by Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Diasporas project at the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, for Honors students in the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program. The class has been investigating the first 100 years of European exploration, colonization and conquest of the Americas through diaries, letters, ethnographies and histories that chronicle both the greed and rapaciousness of the conquerors as well as the resistance indigenous people put up against their annihilation. The world after 1492 was indeed a New World.

schottenstein honors
Dr. Flora Cassen

To widen the lens even more, Dr. Perelis invited his friend and colleague, Dr. Flora Cassen (Washington University in St. Louis), to share her current research into Jewish views on the conquest of the Americas. Her discussion was attended by the students in the class as well as other interested Honors students.

A page from the document

Columbus through Jewish Eyes” explored a fascinating Hebrew translation of Francisco de Gomora’s classic history of the Indies by the Italian Jewish physician and scholar, Joseph Hakohen. Dr. Cassen showed how Hakohen’s Hebrew translation actually subverted Gomora’s triumphal narrative of Spanish glory by mocking Columbus.

Hakohen also inserts relevant Jewish material into the narrative, such as linking Columbus’ journey to the expulsion of the Jews and the bravery of the exiles as they went into the diaspora.

Dr. Cassen gave the students access to a uniquely Jewish critique of the Spanish imperial project that they have been studying all semester and raised some important questions for their discussion about the role of Jews in the discovery and early colonialism of America.