About the Project

About the Project

What is “feuilleton”? If you have never heard of this word, or heard of it, but not sure what it is—you are not alone.

a book with Hebrew writing
Fueilletons by Theodor Herzl, translated into Hebrew by David Frishman (Warsaw, 1911)

The feuilleton was an important and immensely popular feature in newspapers and journals during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, though it has been largely forgotten today. The goal of the Feuilleton Project is to investigate and illuminate the feuilleton, its generic features, and its development within the context of the public sphere of modernity. 

The Feuilleton Project is a collaborative effort of Shachar Pinsker at the University of Michigan, Naomi Brenner at the Ohio State University, and Matthew Handelman at Michigan State University. With the generous collaborative research grant from the NEH, we look forward to holding conferences at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in order to convene an international group of scholars working on the feuilleton. 

a presentation at an academic conference
From the Ohio State Conference, 2018.

A novel form of urban literature and journalism, the feuilleton was a critical public space for political debate, social commentary and literary innovation that supplemented the news in a time of rising literacy and growing newspaper circulation. It was also multilingual and transnational, with feuilletons published in a remarkable number of languages across the globe. The cross-cultural and multi-lingual breadth of the feuilleton in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries challenges the model of single-author scholarship.

A collaborative study is thus essential in defining and mapping the feuilleton and its impact in shaping modern politics, culture, and journalism. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the feuilleton became associated with Jews and Jewishness, because so many feuilleton writers were Jewish. The feuilleton was understood by some to be a “Jewish” genre or form, identified, for good or bad, with specific kinds of writing and modes of communication. Furthermore, the feuilleton was an important feature in the creation of a transnational modern Jewish press. With a specific focus of “Jewishness” of the feuilleton, this project investigates the unique place of the feuilleton in the creation of multilingual modern Jewish cultures in French, German, Russian, and Polish, as well as in Jewish languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic.

The project brings the historical and contemporary importance of the feuilleton as a new form of media to the awareness of scholars, students, and the public, as well as to make key texts published as feuilletons available, accessible, and better understood. Many scholars work with feuilletons without thinking much about the form and its historical context. By bringing together people from different academic disciplines in two conferences, “Below the Line” will call attention to the feuilleton and the possibilities it offered for articulating and disseminating versions of modernity. In essence, our project proposes the feuilleton as a new area for intensive, interdisciplinary and multilingual inquiry, seeing the feuilleton as a critical juncture in the production of modern cultures and sensibilities.

a picture of an old newspaper
The Frankfurter Zeitung (1906) with the distinctive feuilleton section “below the line.” (Source: Wikipedia).

Nineteenth and twentieth century feuilletons, which have never been collected and anthologized in their geographical and linguistic diversity, are key source texts for students and researchers in fields such as history, literary studies, cultural studies, critical theory, and communications. 

While the feuilleton is an historical phenomenon, it raises questions about changing modes of communication, the distinction between news and commentary in mass media, and the formation of cultural and political discourse that are the only all the more relevant since the advent of digital media and the digital age. The only way to make progress towards achieving these goals is through an international and cross-disciplinary collaboration. 

The Feuilleton Project began in 2017 with the goal of exploring the feuilleton’s role in modern Jewish culture. We plan on building on this initial success and transforming our work into a larger, interdisciplinary project in 2019-2020, by assembling scholars from a number of fields—history, language and literature, media and film studies—from North America, Europe, and Israel who are experts on various languages, geographical areas, historical contexts and national traditions. The two  conferences in Ann Arbor and Jerusalem will invite scholars to explore and sharpen the topic of investigation, to identify important sources and texts for publication, and to discuss and plan subsequent publication in print and digital forms.