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Toni Pitock

  • Ph.D. Program, American History
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Toni Pitock

University of Witwatersrand, B.A., English and Psychology 1987; University of Pennsylvania, M.Sc., Early Childhood Ed., 1998; Villanova, M.A., History, 2008.

Cathy Matson

Dissertation Title
"Commerce and Connection: Jewish Merchants, Philadelphia, and the Atlantic World, 1738-1822"

Dissertation Summary
Seen through the lens of American historical writing, the arrival of Jews in colonial North America marks the beginning of a new phase in Jewish history, a break from a past of prejudice, persecution, and limited opportunities in Europe and the prelude to Jews achieving civil rights. Some recent scholarship shows that Jewish migration to the New World went hand-in-hand with Europe’s early expansion, generating opportunities in Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies. But this more recent scholarship focuses on Sephardim – Jews of Iberian descent – in the seventeenth century. My dissertation extends the time frame of this migration by capturing a picture of inter-imperial and porous migration through the eighteenth century and age of Revolutionary crisis, and by centering my work on the rising British colonial city of Philadelphia. My dissertation will address a central dilemma for Jews: choosing between assimilation and retaining religious practice. Scholars typically see this choice carrying a negative outcome for Jewish identity: assimilation leads to losses of religious practice and tradition, and religious distinctiveness entails an outsider status that, in the eighteenth century, endangered family success. But for Jewish merchants living from about 1750 to 1820 in Philadelphia, these choices were daily events full of contradictory impulses and shifting perspectives of Jews and their gentile contemporaries, never fixed on one outcome. Further, Jews who were born and raised in America confronted the tension between the culture that their parents prized and the dominant culture around them differently than their parents did. My dissertation examines their cultures of “creolization” – the ways in which Jews adapted and accommodated in an urban and Atlantic environment of assorted cultural practice that mingled and merged, always making inclusion problematic. Among European colonists, marginal groups learned to speak the cultural language of those in power and to navigate their relations, even as they also sustained group kinship and commercial ties.

Research Interests
Eighteenth century American history; Atlantic world; Trade networks; Colonial American Jewry; Colonialism and Empire