our words make worlds


Jews constituted one of the oldest and largest colonies within medieval Iberia, named Sefarad in Hebrew after a passage from the prophet Obadiah: 'And the exile of Jerusalem that is in Sefarad'. Although the biblical term probably referred to Sardis (Lydia, in modern Turkey), from the eighth century Jews equated Sepharad with Spain. But Sefarad is much more than a geographical entity. The presence and cultural legacy of the Sephardic Jews had a profound impact upon the history and culture of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking worlds. Our research examines the formative role played by language, both written and oral, in constructing religious, political and cultural identity for Sephardic Jews, before and after the forced conversions and expulsions from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Our geographical scope includes Spain and Portugal, Italy, northern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, as well as the Hispanic and Lusophone Americas. Our research asks what books, vocabularies and discourses were deployed by Jews, Christian or Muslims in order to assign Sephardic Jews (or, following the 1490s, crypto-Jews) a place in the world and in history?

Projects within the 'Travelling Concepts' strand that address some of the above issues include: