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David Kertzer


David Kertzer

Since 1992 David Kertzer has been the Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science at Brown University, where he is also Professor of anthropology and history. He had previously been the William Kenan Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College, and has been a visiting faculty member at the Universities of Catania and Bologna in Italy, at Trinity College, Cambridge, England, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Kertzer's work falls at the intersection of anthropology and history, and he is an expert on the rise of modern family life in the West. His recent book,Sacrificed for Honor (Beacon Press, 1993), exposed the massive abandonment of newborn babies that took place in much of Europe up through the nineteenth century. He has also been at the forefront of a scholarly movement that highlights the central role played by symbols, myths, and ritual in politics. His book, Ritual, Politics, and Power (Yale University Press, 1988, translated into Italian and Chinese) has drawn a great deal of attention and provoked international debate. More recently, he has examined the difficulties faced by western communist parties in trying to redefine themselves as noncommunist (Politics and Symbols, Yale University Press, 1996).

Kertzer has also written opinion pieces for many newspapers--such as The Washington PostThe Christian Science Monitor, and The Baltimore Sun--on how to interpret politics through symbolism, and he has appeared on national television news and radio shows to discuss this topic. His popular journalism includes a cover story that appeared in TV Guide: an anthropologist's view of the Super Bowl. In February 1998, his piece on Church responsibility for anti-Semitism appeared on The New York Timesop ed page.

Kertzer is the recipient of many honors: a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship, various National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health research awards, and a fellowship year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavior Sciences, Stanford. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara(published in hardcover by Knopf, paperback issued in July 1998 by Vintage, and also published so far in Italy, France, Germany, Britain, and Brazil, with an Israeli edition in press) was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and won a Jewish National Book Award for 1997. Two of his other books have been awarded prizes as the best books of the year in Italian history, and he is the founding editor of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies.

As movingly discussed in the afterword to The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Kertzer's interest in the largely forgotten drama of the little Jewish boy seized on the order of the Inquisitor was sparked not only by his scholarly interests, but by his family background as well. His father, Jewish chaplain with the American armed forces that liberated Rome, presided over the first service held at Rome's synagogue in the days after Liberation in 1944.

Both film rights and stage rights to The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortarahave recently been sold. Alfred Uhry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofDriving Miss Daisy and other plays and screenplays, is currently preparing the stage version.

David Kertzer lives in Providence, RI, with his wife, Susan, and is father of Molly, age 24, and Seth, 22. He is currently working on another book for Knopf, on the Popes and the Jews. In connection with that project, he became, in the summer of 1998, one of the first scholars not connected with the Vatican to be admitted to the previously closed archives of the Inquisition in Rome.

David Kertzer