The Montefiore Testimonials Digitization Project

Digitizing, Transcribing, Translating the Montefiore Testimonials

One of the most spectacular collections of documents pertaining to Jewish cultural and political history in the 19th century is being preserved at UCL. This collection consists of hundreds of testimonials sent by Jewish communities, associations, and individuals to Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), probably the most prominent Jew of this century, and most recently the protagonist of the remarkable book by Abigail Green (Moses Montefiore. Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero, Harvard University Press 2010).

In close cooperation between the Montefiore Endowment (the actual owner of the collection), the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department at UCL, the Special Collections of UCL, and the UCL Learning and Media Services, a project to digitize, transliterate, and, if necessary, translate into English the complete set of the Montefiore Testimonials has been initiated. The project is directed by Dr Fran├žois Guesnet, Sidney and Elizabeth Corob Lecturer in Modern Jewish History at the HJS Department, and will enhance the accessability of this well-known and unique set of documents.

The Montefiore Testimonials consist of a collection of several hundred documents addressed to Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) between the late 1830s and 1884. The testimonials represent a unique source to 19th century Jewish cultural history. Many celebrate the achievements of Sir Moses as a spokesman of Jewish communities under duress, and often feature highly sophisticated wording, calligraphy, ornaments, and iconographic material. A great number of impressive testimonials arrived in Ramsgate on the occasion of Montefiore's one hundredth birthday, in 1884. The project will continue the next two years, and conclude with an academic conference on Sir Moses Montefiore and this extraordinary collection of documents.

Since late 2009, a group of student volunteers of the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Departement is closely involved in transcribing the original documents, thus contributing to one of the central data bases of the project. The documents are written in a great number of languages: Hebrew, English, Italian, German are the most frequent, but there are a number of documents in other languages as well. These documents represent a journey around the Jewish world of the 19th century, as they were sent from around the whole world, including the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia, and obviously from the various parts of the European continent. They offer insights into religious trends and movements, of which a significant part considered Moses Montefiore their symbolical (or real) spokesperson). Culturally, they offer a fascinating display of iconographic traditions and innovations. In the vast majority, they have been produced with the utmost care, and in many cases offer impressive calligraphy and decoration.

The project welcomes students who would be willing to join the effort as volunteers. It offers a rare opportunity to learn how to work with archival material. Beyond the transcription of documents, some initiatives will take place for the volunteers. If you want to get involved, please send an e-mail to jewishstudies [at] ucl.ac.uk or phone 0207 679 7171.