The Medieval Political Economy of Antisemitism

In an era of social and economic upheaval and geopolitical competition, political leaders sought to identify stable income sources and expand their administrative intrusion while satisfying a range of interests, including those of the state itself. During this epoch, communities of Jews could be assets to governments. The Holy Roman Emperor farmed out rights to govern, protect, and tax local Jews as special subjects of the emperor. By the late Middle Ages, emperors, landgraves, guilds, and town councils wrestled over determining the relevant authority over Jews in a patchwork landscape of overlapping jurisdiction. German territories were particularly inhospitable for Jews from the 15th century onward, as authority over Jews became more hotly contested. If city rulers faced both reasons for expulsion and reasons against expulsion, then where, when, and why did medieval and early modern cities in the Holy Roman Empire expel their Jewish residents?

I translated and digitized records in Geschichte der Juden im Mittelalter von der Nordsee bis zu den Südalpen (Haverkamp 2002), producing a spatial database including over 800 cities in the period 1000-1520. Geschichte der Juden covers Jewish settlement and persecutions in the western Holy Roman Empire (historic Ashkenaz) based on the encyclopedia Germania Judaica (Maimon et al. 1987-2003) and the Deutsche Städtebuch. The project uses Bayesian logistic regression, spatial discrete-time event-history regression, and comparative-historical methods.

This research has received support from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdiesnt (DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service) and the University of Washington Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.

Research Products

Ideas and findings have been presented at meetings of the American Sociological Association; Social Science History Association; Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture; Association for the Sociology of Religion; and at the Arye Maimon Institute for Jewish History at Universität Trier and the Department of Economic History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Journal Articles

Kerice Doten-Snitker. “Contexts of State Violence: Jewish Expulsions in the Holy Roman Empire.” Social Science History 45(1):131-163. doi: 10.1017/ssh.2020.39 (working paper on SocArXiv)

Policies excluding ethnoracial and religious minorities reinforce the power of political elites. This study addresses an extreme case of exclusion, urban expulsions of Jews in the medieval western Holy Roman Empire. Expulsions were official edicts proclaimed by Christian princes, lords, or town councils, whomever ruled a territory. Changing religious and political culture, in the form of new value on community righteousness and the beginning of territorialization, provided incentives for polities to expel their Jewish residents. Using a new database of Jewish settlement and city development in the Western Holy Roman Empire 1000-1520 CE, I show that the relational structure of political power between Christian elites could insulate or expose Jewish communities to political contests of the time. Jews were derided, lesser members of Christian society, but in spite of increasing focus on Christian piety and legislating community purity, most cities did not expel their Jewish residents. City rulers that did expel were attempting to solve challenges for sovereignty through their policies towards Jews.

Working Papers

Kerice Doten-Snitker. “The Temporal and Spatial Structure of Medieval Expulsions of Jews.” (under review) working paper on SocArXiv

What social processes guide the spread of ethnic or racial exclusion? I investigate the diffusion of medieval expulsions of Jews among over 500 polities in the western Holy Roman Empire, 1385-1520 CE. For medieval governors, religious and material concerns were strong rationales against expulsion. Yet expulsions increase markedly in the fifteenth century. Did an expulsion by one government affect another government’s choices about expulsion? Using event history analysis methods, I appraise relational-cognitive and resource-based explanations for the limited spread of expulsion. The adoption of expulsion followed political and economic incentives that were embedded in inter-city relationships of power and dependency, particularly after theological changes gave expulsion fresh political value. Social interdependence can spur as well as squelch ethnoracial extremism. Sociologists should give greater consideration to how social influence shapes the institutionalization of social closure and explore how the diffusion of ethnoracial inclusion or exclusion reimagines general theories of policy diffusion.

Other Venues

“BREXIT Britain, Medieval Echoes.” Monitor: Global Intelligence on Racism, Issue 8, May-June 2022. Magazine article; Video

Medieval Political Competition and the Attack on Ethnoreligious Diversity – University of Washington Dissertation

“Expect Iteration for Historical Projects” – States, Power, & Societies: ASA Political Sociology Section Newsletter, Summer 2019, 10–11. Newsletter article

“Debunking the myth of ‘elite Jews’ in medieval Europe” – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies E-Journal Blog post

“How anti-Semitism was used to gain political power in medieval Germany” – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies E-Journal Blog post

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