All posts by Dean A. Irwin

About Dean A. Irwin

I completed my PhD (2017-20) at Canterbury Christ Church University where I studied the records generated by Jewish moneylending activities in England between 1194 and 1276. I am now an independent scholar, interested in the records (especially charters and financial documents) produced by, and in relation to, medieval Anglo-Jewry. I am also developing a project on the Jews and the baronial reform movement (1258-65) in England.

The Medieval Anglo-Jewish Women (MAJW) Project

Adrienne Williams Boyarin (University of Victoria) discusses her new project which seeks to make the lives of medieval England’s Jews accessible.

Cultural and biographical study of Anglo-Jewish women is difficult. Scarcity of women’s voices, gendered divides in literacy and religious practice, marriages, name changes — all can make medieval women difficult to find let alone assess, and this is of course true across religious lines. As Charlotte Newman Goldy has put it, “Even Christian women’s lives most often need to be examined in aggregate, and that can obscure both the humanity of their stories and their variations.”[i] Further, all scholarship on medieval Anglo-Jewish women must cope with a primary methodological problem that scholarship on Anglo-Jewish men does not necessitate: the vast majority of the evidence for Jewish women in England comes from Latin legal and financial records. There are many thousands of Latin records of many hundreds of Jewish women in medieval England—dispersed through the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, Close Rolls, Patent Rolls, Liberate Rolls, Fine Rolls, Tower of London receipts, endless writs, and more—but all are filtered through an oppressive (Christian) bureaucracy. At the same time, these records provide historically verifiable information; they allow us to see English Jewish women whom we could not otherwise see, and they allow us to reconstruct some (fragmentary) part of their lives. But can we tell Jewish stories with this material?

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