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“Europe no longer dominates the world, but it has been an engine of modernity. Without understanding Europe's past, we cannot understand the world's present.”

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Derek J. Penslar

Resident Faculty & Seminar Co-chair

Derek J. Penslar

Resident Faculty & Seminar Co-chair


Derek J. Penslar

Derek Penslar is William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University and Resident Faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. He approaches modern Jewish history from a transnational and global perspective. His work encompasses the history of the Jews in modern West and Central Europe, North America, and Palestine/Israel. He is particularly interested in the relationship between modern Israel and diaspora Jewish societies, global nationalist movements, European colonialism, and post-colonial states.

Penslar has taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, the University of Toronto, and Oxford University, where he served as the inaugural Stanley Lewis Professor of Modern Israel Studies from 2012 until 2016. He co-edits (with Anita Shapira) The Journal of Israeli History and serves on the editorial boards of The Journal of Jewish Studies, Jewish Social Studies, and Israel Studies. He is president of the American Academy for Jewish Research and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Penslar's books include Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine, 1870-1918 (1991); In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria, 1918-1933 (1998, co-edited with Michael Brenner), Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (2001); Orientalism and the Jews (co-edited with Ivan Kalmar, 2004), Israel in History: The Jewish State in Comparative Perspective (2006); The Origins of the State of Israel 1882-1948: A Documentary History (with Eran Kaplan, 2011). and Jews and the Military: A History (2013).

His latest book is: Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader (Yale University Press “Jewish Lives” series, 2020) and he is working on Zionism: An Emotional State (for Rutgers University Press’ “Keywords in Jewish Studies” series).


  • William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History, Harvard University
  • Resident Faculty & Seminar Chair, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University

Recent Publications

  • Penslar, Derek. "Rebels Without a Patron State: How Israel Financed the 1948 War," in Purchasing Power: The Economics of Modern Jewish History, eds. Rebecca Kobrin and Adam Teller, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
  • Penslar, Derek. "What If a Christian State Had Been Established in Modern Palestine?," in What Ifs of Jewish History, ed. Gavriel Rosenfeld, Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Penslar, Derek. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Colonialism," in Colonialism and the Jews, eds. Ethan Katz, Lisa Leff, and Maud Mandel, Indiana University Press, 2017.

Featured Lectures

Between Honor and Authenticity: Zionism as Theodor Herzl’s Life Project

A presentation at University of California, Berkeley, April 22, 2015.

Is There a Link Between Judaism and Economics?

An interview at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, July 7, 2016.

What is Israel Studies?

A presentation at Manchester University, April 2013.

News Articles

Other Affiliations

  • President, American Academy for Jewish Research