Who the Folk?! Jessica Keating

Art historian, Jessica Keating, talks to us about Jewish stereotypes, seders and St. Paul.

You are an Art History professor at Carleton College. What’s your area of expertise?

Early Modern Northern Europe, basically art that was created between 1400-1700 AD primarily in the German-speaking world.

Were there many Jews living in Northern Europe then?

Absolutely. In my own research I don’t come across many works of art created for or by Jews, but they definitely exist. There is always a question of what constitutes Jewish art. More frequently, I come across representations of Jews made for non-Jewish audiences, but often these images are stereotypical and problematic. On the one hand, there are representations of Jews made by non-Jewish pilgrims to the holy land, which are ethnographic in nature. But on the other, you can regularly run into representations of Jews that construe them to be the enemy of Christendom: eating babies and the desecrating Eucharist, that sort of thing.

There is a good book in my field that deals with these topics and more. It’s called Pilgrimage and Pogrom: Violence, Memory and Visual Culture at the Host-Miracle Shrines of Germany and Austria.

Has your Jewish identity shaped your work?

It hasn’t yet, but I think it’s going to in the future. I’m going to start thinking about exploring some issues with representations of Early Modern Jews. I’ve worked on representations of Islam in the same period and it would be good comparative material

Since you work in Northfield, why do you live in St. Paul?

I think the Twin Cities has an effervescent metropolitan area filled with interesting restaurants and museums. There’s more to do in the Twin Cities. Also, I like leaving my work behind in Northfield.

How long have you been in the Twin Cities?

I moved here in August in 2014. I was coming from Los Angeles where I was doing a post doc at the University of Southern California. I’m originally from Perrysburg, OH and I did my undergrad at Ohio State. Then, I went on to get my Ph.D. at Northwestern in Chicago, did another post doc at Madison, LA, then here!

How do the Twin Cities stack up against LA and Chicago?

I think they stack up. I have been repeatedly surprised and impressed by the Twin Cities. It’s so much less stressful. Day to day life is easier. I’m really busy with work, but when I want to go to restaurants and cultural events, those things are on offer. I think the environs of the Twin Cities are really beautiful, too. I like going on hikes.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

It’s a tie between Passover and Hanukkah. I like Hanukkah for the festive nature of it. It’s all about telling stories and having fun. And, it’s about a triumph. Passover is too, to a certain extent. The Seder has a greater liturgical force, which is interesting, but it can be very somber. I also think the food is better at Passover.

You like Passover food?

In my family, we would explore Passover food from different parts of the world: Sefardi charoset, etc. We never did that for Hanukkah. Passover just had a greater element a global Judaism. My mom did a good job.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Gefilte fish. I’ve never made my own. I like the Manischevitz in water.

What makes you folkin’ awesome?

I have a very serious yoga practice—six days a week in a perfect world. It is holistically good for me. It organizes my day. Shout out for Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis!

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