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Chanukka-Eisen: Ethnography, Museums and “Hanukkah Lamps of Iron” from Rural Germany

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This case study combines the disciplines of art history, community history, and ethnographic fieldwork to identify a group of museum objects within their cultural context. It shows how ethnography can be used to supplement the tool box available to the art historian in a positive way. Thus, private collections are used to identify the group of Hanukkah lamps of sheet metal in museums. Images of the lamps in folk and fine art, and mention of them in newspaper advertisements and community satirical publications—all contemporary to the period of their use—were consulted. Over 80 interviewees from southern Germany, Alsace, and the Netherlands were interviewed; the majority former teachers from a Jewish school in Wurzburg, others residing in Jerusalem and on the Moshav Shavei Tzion. As a result, the Hanukkah lamps were identified by country, ethnic group, religious affiliation, and object name in the local idiom. Tracing the development and geographic spread of the form also enabled us to identify the same lamp used in different social contexts, among itinerate members of society and the bourgeoisie.


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