Beatrix Conti, 2018 Global Research Scholar

Research ProjectThe Sassoon Family: From Essential Outsiders to Insiders of Empire  

Research Location: Israel & the United Kingdom

Majors: History and English

How did you learn about the opportunity through the Halle Institute for Global Research and what about it made you apply? 

My honors thesis advisor, Dr. Elle Schainker, recommended that I apply to the fellowship through the Halle Institute for Global Research, due to the scope of my project. My honors thesis in history examines the Sassoons, a historically famous Baghdadi Jewish family. I trace misrepresentations of their narratives as “other” through the Anglo-Saxon dominated culture of the nineteenth century British Empire. To tell their story, I knew I would need to do original research to uncover their hidden narratives. I also appreciated the support, beyond funding, offered by the Halle Institute through the group dynamic and staff/faculty guidance.

What is unique and significant about your research/project and its contribution to your field? 

The Sassoons, while historically famous, have been significantly understudied by academics, although they represent many unique and fascinating intersections of culture, economy, and empire during the nineteenth. I follow the family’s navigation of what it meant to be people of Middle Eastern Jewish descent living in Bombay, London, and Shanghai. In addition, I trace the ways antisemitism twisted their narrative as either “Orientals,” “Opium peddlers,” or members of “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” I hope that this scholarship will explore a unique facet of Jewish cultural and economic history by following the Sassoons as a case-study for both their work with the British Imperialism and commodity trades during the nineteenth century. In addition, my study will explore how Jewish trading companies actively inserted themselves into global imperial commerce and commodity trades. I am interested in this engagement and how Jews, as economic agents, operated within and around the racial and cultural hierarchies of empire.

How did the support from the Halle Institute for Global Research facilitate your research/project?

Funding from the Halle Institute and other sources within Emory University, facilitated my archival research abroad for two months in Jerusalem, Israel, and London, United Kingdom this past summer.

Why was it important that your research be conducted in the location you chose?

The National Library of Israel houses the David Sassoon Archive and represented the majority of my gathered research. The collection held familial correspondence, business memos, diaries, and newspaper clippings that belonged to the family from around 1840 until as late as 1970. The archive, with over thirty file boxes, is not digitally archived which necessitated my visiting Israel in person. In London, I visited the Cutty Sark in Greenwich which was a tea skipper from the 1860s and would have been like a vessel utilized by Sassoons in their trade. The British Library housed the India Office records of the Empire, which were necessary for understanding the scope and placement of the Sassoons in history.