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Joshua Schreier

Professor of History

Joshua Schreier was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Baltimore, Maryland. He received is BA from the University of Chicago and his MA and PhD from New York University. He has also studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Middlebury College.

Schreier works at the intersection of Middle Eastern, Algerian, Jewish, and French histories. His research focuses on French colonialism in Algeria, and notably how several deeply-rooted North African Jewish communities responded to French imperial policy in the years before the rise of the “Imperial” (Third) Republic in 1870.

His first book, “Arabs of the Jewish Faith:” The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria, looks at how French officials deployed the ideology of “civilization” to consolidate colonial rule, but also how local actors co-opted, reformulated, or deflected it. It also explores how French lawmakers and legal thinkers used Jewish and Muslim religious law, and specifically those concerning the family, to deny or confer citizenship to Algerian Muslims and Jews. It is particularly interested in how and why French policy drove cultivated and reified differences between religious groups in their new colony.

His recently published second book, The Merchants of Oran: A Jewish Port at the Dawn of Empire, weaves together the history of a Mediterranean port city with the lives of Oran’s Jewish mercantile elite before and during the transition to French colonial rule. Through the life of Jacob Lasry and other influential Jewish merchants, it tells the story of how this diverse and fiercely divided group established themselves in Oran in the decades after the Regency of Algiers dislodged the Spanish in 1792, during a period of relative tolerance and economic prosperity. In newly-Muslim Oran, Jewish merchants found opportunities to ply their trades, dealing in both imports and exports. On the eve of France’s long and brutal invasion of Algeria, Oran owed much of its commercial vitality to the success of these Jewish merchants. It also explores how French policies began collapsing Oran’s diverse Jewish inhabitants into a single social category, legally separating Jews from their Muslim neighbors, and creating a racial hierarchy. It argues that France’s exclusionary policy of “emancipation,” far more than older antipathies, planted the seeds of twentieth-century ruptures between Muslims and Jews.

Professor Schreier teaches an introductory course on the modern Middle East, as well as intermediate courses on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also teaches a class that weaves together the histories of France and Algeria over the past several centuries. He also leads an advanced seminar on the historiography of the modern Middle East. Schreier calls Swift Hall home, but also participates in Vassar’s Jewish Studies program and often serves as a thesis adviser for students in the International Studies program.