Home and the Female Scholar: Re-visiting the Salamans’ Archives

Ann Lazarsfeld-Jensen

Abstract


It took me just one month in the Salaman archives of Cambridge University Library to accumulate hundreds of digital images relating to the life of a female Hebrew scholar born at the fin de siecle, Nina Salaman, a Sephardic Jew of rare beauty who died young. It has taken several years to revisit and analyse the resonance I experienced at that time. In reading the Salamans’ lives I felt like I had fallen among interesting friends and I wanted to enter the rich diversity of their artistic and scholarly lives. The sheer volume of material in the archives attracts several historians, and that led me to question why I was working beyond my own scope and practice. The Salamans had deep roots in England. Their intellectual networks dipped into a dozen disciplines, touching many lives, questioning greater minds, gathering grass roots support for causes that were feminist, Zionist, and often far to the left. They shared my ancestors’ ethnicity and even attended the same synagogue in London, but the similarity ends there. One branch of my family has no recorded legacy, as though all our creativity sprang up spontaneously. The Salamans’ writing is often evocative auto ethnography, transparent and poignant, particularly the letters and unpublished memoir of patriarch Dr. Redcliffe N. Salaman and the books and memoirs of his daughter-in-law, Esther Polianowski. Nina Salaman’s heart beat is in her translations of medieval poetry from the tragedy of the Arabic-Spanish period (S. Litman, 1957). What interested me was the way Nina’s Jewish spirituality mapped out family life, education and expectations. At a time when my own family had lost one another through the death of my grandmother aged just 33, the Salamans were consolidating around the thing we denied: Jewishness. Yet both Redcliffe Salaman and Esther Polianowski were agnostic as were so many others in the family, and their passion for Zion was a cultural and political yearning. In returning to explore the personal lives of the Salamans I constructed a Foucault’s genealogy of family and home itself, to explore its hegemonic power and the cost and beauty of its perpetuation. In this work I regard myself as a Foucauldian Detective discovering the family values of my own lost tribe.

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