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Benjamin Nathans, M. Mark and Esther K. Watkins Assistant Professor in the Humanities in the University of Pennsylvania’s department of history, will give a lecture on “Beyond the Pale: How Jews Became Modern in Tsarist Russia” 8 p.m. today in the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights auditorium.

A question-and-answer period will follow the lecture, which is free and open to the public.

Nathans will draw on material from his new book, Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter With Late Imperial Russia, which explores the surprising number of Jews who lived, literally and figuratively, “beyond the Pale” of Jewish settlement in tsarist Russia during the half-century before the Revolution of 1917. Thanks to the availability of long-closed Russian archives, along with a wide range of other sources, Nathans reinterprets the history of the Russian-Jewish encounter.

In the wake of Russia’s “Great Reforms,” Nathans writes, a policy of selective integration stimulated social and geographic mobility among the empire’s Jews. The reaction that culminated, toward the turn of the century, in ethnic restrictions on admission to universities, the professions, and other institutions of civil society reflected broad anxieties that Russians were being placed at a disadvantage in their own empire.

Nathans has been teaching at the University of Pennsylvania since 1998, focusing on society, politics, and ethnic relations in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, Russian intellectual history, and modern Jewish history. He edited A Research Guide to Materials on the History of Russian Jewry (19th and Early 20th Centuries) in Selected Archives of the Former Soviet Union [in Russian] (Moscow: Blagovest, 1994). He is researching the history of dissent in the USSR from the death of Stalin to the collapse of communism and writing a synthetic history of Russian Jewry.

Nathans is a member of the Jewish Studies Program and the Graduate Group in Comparative Literature, as well as acting associate director of Penn’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. In 2002-03, the center will host a year-long seminar designed by Nathans, with scholars from around the world coming together for sustained research and discussion on the topic of “Jewish History and Culture In Eastern Europe, 1600-2000.”

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