SITG Dispatch: Archival Research in Paris

by Daisy Maslan, ’24 (Summer 2023)

Bonjour! My name is Daisy Maslan; I am a rising fourth-year majoring in History and French and minoring in Biology. With the support of the Summer International Travel Grant and from the History department and Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, I am investigating nineteenth-century letters, newspapers, and notes in the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) archive in Paris, France in preparation for writing my BA History thesis. I am studying how members of the Paris-based Alliance supported and defended people accused of ritual murder across Europe and the Middle East.

Ritual murder conspiracy theorists accused Jews of killing children and using their blood in religious rituals. We tend to associate ritual murder accusations with the Medieval period, but blood libel claims and the violence against Jews associated with them persisted into the early twentieth century. We might even consider ritual murder conspiracies to be ancestors of Q-anon. The people I study were members of the AIU, founded in 1860 by a group of Parisian Jews as an international humanitarian effort with the double mission to protect Jews and improve their lives through legal, political, economic, and educational support, and also to propagate and diffuse the French conception of human rights around the world (along with spreading the use of the French language!). The Alliance formed committees everywhere and anywhere there were Jews. These committees, in places ranging from Chicago to Bulgaria to Greece to Lebanon, sent letters and newspaper clippings to the Paris committee about the situation of Jews in their towns. I spent the summer reading letters and telegrams as well as AIU newspapers published in Paris. My aim is to understand how the Alliance’s response to ritual murder accusations was intended to support its humanitarian project, to disseminate French revolutionary values, and to shape Jewish and European modernity.

In the archive, I work through letters sent from local committees to the Paris committee, which detail ritual murder accusations, describe villagers’ reactions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), request support in judicial proceedings, and more. I match such accounts to the Alliance’s reporting of the accusations in their newspapers as I seek to understand how the Alliance relied on print media as a vital tool of education and enlightenment. One day, I read 231 exchanges of letters from Sofia, Bulgaria about a ritual murder accusation and subsequent trial in Varsa, Bulgaria. The correspondence provides a depiction of the events leading up to the accusation—the discovery of a dead child—as well as the anti-Semitic actions in the town. It discusses the lawyer’s preparation for the trial and offers suggestions and critique. The letters and notes I relied on were all undigitized, so I have been incredibly lucky to be able to travel to Paris to read these documents so crucial for my thesis. I am so grateful to the University and to the funders of the SITG for their extremely generous support: I would not have been able to carry out this research and grow as a thinker and historian without it. Finally, thank you so much to my thesis advisor Professor Moss for all his guidance and support.