Jonathan Z. S. Pollack

Position title: Honorary Fellow (2018-2020)

History, Madison Area Technical College; Honorary Scholar, George L. Mosse/Laurence A. Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies

Portrait image of Jonathan Pollack outdoors wearing a black sweater

Success from Scrap and Second-hand Goods: Jewish Business in the Midwest, 1890-1930

We are living in an “economic moment” in the field of Jewish history. Scholars around the world are examining how Jewish entrepreneurs, who were often excluded from full participation in national economies, nonetheless managed to build networks that spawned and sustained Jewish communities. Traditionally, scholars in the Jewish economic history of the United States have focused on the clothing business, from sweatshops to department stores. However, outside of the New York-to-Philadelphia corridor, a dominant Jewish economic niche has been the trade in scrap, surplus, and second-hand materials. Beginning in the late 19th century, Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe rode booming markets in these areas but, due to scrap’s unsavory, “dirty” associations, were excluded from philanthropic activity outside of Jewish communities. As a result, Jewish dealers in scrap, surplus, and second-hand materials created Jewish institutions from synagogues to Jewish day schools to Jewish community centers. My project will exhume this past from the scrap heap, due to the stigma of earlier generations. In a broad sense, my project sheds light on the ways that ethnic economic networks, even among marginalized people, can lead to the creation of strong ethnic communities.

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack earned his PhD in History from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1999, and he has been a full-time Instructor in History at Madison Area Technical College since 1998, where he teaches courses in African-American History, Native American History, the history of the Vietnam War, and Jewish history. He has published articles in American Jewish History, Journal of Jewish Identities, and several conference volumes. His article, “Shylocks to Superheroes: Jewish Scrap Dealers in Anglo-American Popular Culture,” will be published in Business History later this year. This fall, he will be completing his book, Wisconsin, The New Home of the Jew: 150 Years of Jewish Life at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He held an Honorary Fellowship at the IRH in Fall of 2007, and served as the first Madison Area Technical College Fellow at IRH from 2008-2011. He has continued his affiliation with IRH during summers from 2012 to the present, and has been an Honorary Fellow during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.