Hillel J. Kieval

​Professor of History and Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
Gloria M. Goldstein Professor of Jewish History and Thought
PhD, Harvard University
AM, Harvard University
AB, Harvard University
research interests:
  • Jewish History since the 18th Century
  • Central and Eastern Europe
  • Antisemitism
  • The Holocaust

contact info:

office hours:

  • Wednesday 1:30 - 3:00 pm
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mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • CB 1062
  • ONE BROOKINGS DR.
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899

Professor Kieval teaches broadly in European Jewish history from medieval to modern times. His research focuses on transformations in Jewish culture and society in East Central Europe from the Enlightenment to the Second World War.

Hillel J. Kieval is the Gloria M. Goldstein Professor of Jewish History and Thought at Washington University in St. Louis. A historian of Jewish culture and society in Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, his research interests range widely: from pathways of Jewish acculturation and integration to the impact of nationalism and ethnic conflict on modern Jewish identities; from cross-cultural conflicts and misunderstandings to the discursive practices of modern antisemitism; and from theories of Jewish citizenship to the phenomenology of "ritual murder" trials at the turn of the 20th century. Among his numerous books and articles are The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia, 1870-1918 (1988); Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands (2000); and, forthcoming, Blood Inscriptions: Science, Modernity, and Ritual Murder in Fin de Siècle Europe.

Educated at Harvard University, Hillel Kieval has taught previously at Brandeis University and the University of Washington. He has also held visiting appointments at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at Penn, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the University of Vilnius, and the Universidad Hebraica in Mexico City.

selected courses

Out of the Shtetl: Jewish Life in Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries (History 3350)

"Out of the Shtetl" is a course about tradition and transformation; small towns and urban centers; ethnicity and citizenship; nations, states, and empires. At its core, it asks the question, what did it mean for the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe to emerge from small market towns and villages to confront modern ethnicities, nations, and empires? What lasting impact did the shtetl experience have on Jewish life in a rapidly changing environment? The focus is on the Jewish historical experience in the countries that make up Central and Eastern Europe (mainly the Bohemian lands, Hungary, Poland, and Russia) from the late eighteenth century to the fall of the Soviet Union. Among the topics that we will cover are: Jews and the nobility in Poland-Lithuania; the multi-cultural, imperial state; Hasidism and its opponents; absolutism and reform in imperial settings; the emergence of modern European nationalisms and their impact on Jewish identity; antisemitism and popular violence; nationalist and radical movements among Jews; war, revolution, and genocide; and the transition from Soviet dominion to democratic states.

    Vienna, Prague, Budapest: Politics, Culture and Identity in Central Europe (History 3354)

    The worlds of Freud and Mahler, Kafka and Kundera, Lukács and Koestler, were embedded in the politics of empire (the Habsburg Monarchy); ethnic, religious, and social struggles; modern state formation; and the emergence of creative and dynamic urban centers, which continue to captivate the imagination today. This course seeks to put all of these elements into play-empire, nation, urban space, religion, and ethnicity-in order to illustrate what it has meant to be modern, creative, European, nationalist, or cosmopolitan since the 19th century. The course engages current debates on nationalism and national identity; the viability of empires as supra-national constructs; urbanism and modern culture; the place of Jews in the social and cultural fabric of Central Europe; migration; and authoritarian and violent responses to modernity.

      Becoming "Modern": Emancipation, Antisemitism, and Nationalism in Modern Jewish History (History 335C)

      This course offers a survey of the Jewish experience in the modern world by asking, at the outset, what it means to be-or to become-modern. To answer this question, we look at two broad trends that took shape toward the end of the eighteenth century-the Enlightenment and the formation of the modern state-and we track changes and developments in Jewish life down to the close of the twentieth century with analyses of the (very different) American and Israeli settings. The cultural, social, and political lives of Jews have undergone major transformations and dislocations over this time-from innovation to revolution, exclusion to integration, calamity to triumphs. The themes that we will be exploring in depth include the campaigns for and against Jewish "emancipation;" acculturation and religious reform; traditionalism and modernism in Eastern Europe; the rise of political and racial antisemitism; mass migration and the formation of American Jewry; varieties of Jewish national politics; Jewish-Gentile relations between the World Wars; the destruction of European Jewry; the emergence of a Jewish nation-state; and Jewish culture and identity since 1945.