What are you looking for?

Coenen Snyder, Saskia

Coenen Snyder, Saskia


Diasporic Gems: Diamonds, Jews, and Nineteenth-Century Global Commerce

Research Question

What role did Jews play in the 19th century transatlantic diamond trade, in the conspicuous expansion of bourgeois commodity culture, and the rise of the Jewish middle class? We know that in Holland, the diamond industry was essential to pulling Dutch Jewry out of poverty, but how did this occur in an international context? We can learn much about modern Jewish history and Jewish modernization by analyzing the diamond as an object of trade, consumption, and manufacturing in a broader, transatlantic context.

Project Description

This project examines Jewish participation in/contribution to the 19th c. transatlantic diamond trade, which intensified after the discovery of vast diamond deposits in South Africa in 1869. At its core, it analyzes Jews and diamonds in the context of expanding bourgeois consumerism and commodity cultures, a direct result of expansive European imperialism. The book follows the diamond from the moment of extraction in South-African mines to factories in Amsterdam and Antwerp (where diamond workers were central in the emerging socialist movement), to retail stores in London and New York. We trace the stone as it crosses the seas and metamorphoses from a rough stone to a brilliant gem in the hands of miners, traders, cutters, polishers, jewelers, advertisers, and customers. Simultaneously global and local, this study investigates how a precious stone reached across lines of class, commodity culture, and ethnicity, illuminating the complexities of Jewish lives in the 19th c. diaspora.

Selected Publications

Building a Public Judaism: Synagogues and Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Harvard University Press, 2013)

“An Urban Semiotics of War: Signs and Sounds in Nazi-Occupied Amsterdam,” Studies in Contemporary Jewry (forthcoming in Volume 30, 2016)

“Space for Reflection: Synagogue Building in Nineteenth-Century Urban Landscapes,” in Jewish and Non-Jewish Spaces in the Urban Context (Berlin: Neofelis Verlag, 2015)

Personal page