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Derek J. Penslar

Resident Faculty & Seminar Chair

“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.”

Derek J. Penslar

Resident Faculty & Seminar Chair


Derek J. Penslar

Derek Penslar is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. He is based in the department of history, where he is the director of undergraduate studies. Penslar is a resident faculty member at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES) where he chairs the Jews in Modern Europe Seminar. At Harvard, Penslar also serves as director for the Center for Jewish Studies and is affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Penslar takes a comparative and transnational approach to modern Jewish history, which he studies within the contexts of modern nationalism, capitalism, and colonialism. His books have engaged with a variety of approaches and methods, including the history of science and technology (Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of the Jewish Settlement in Palestine 19870-1918, 1991), economic history (Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe, 2001), military history (Jews and the Military: A History, 2013), biography (Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader, 2020), and the history of emotions (Zionism: An Emotional State, 2023). In two co-edited volumes, Penslar has brought Jewish studies into conversation with postcolonial studies (Orientalism and the Jews, [2005] and Unacknowledged Kinships: Postcolonial Theory and the Historiography of Zionism [2023]). Penslar’s current interests lie in international history, and he is writing a book about worldwide reactions to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Penslar’s teaching reflects his interests in integrating Jewish history into global contexts. In addition to teaching courses in modern Jewish history and the history of Zionism and Israel, he teaches courses on nationalism, military history, and the history of emotions. He brings these themes into his General Education course on war and anti-war movements in the modern world.

Before coming to Harvard, Penslar taught at Indiana University Bloomington, the University of Toronto, and the University of Oxford, where he was the inaugural holder of the Stanley Lewis Chair in Israel Studies. He has taught as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). He has held research fellowships in Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Penslar is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Academy for Jewish Research and is an honorary fellow of St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford.


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

Recent Books

  • Penslar, Derek. Zionism: An Emotional State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2023.
  • Penslar, Derek. Unacknowledged Kinships: Post-Colonial Theory and the Historiography of Zionism. (co-edited with Stefan Vogt and Arieh Saposnik). Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2023.
  • Penslar, Derek. Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. German edition: Staatsmann ohne Staat: Theodor Herzl Biographie. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2022.

Recent Articles

Featured Lectures

Theodor Herzl - Staatsmann ohne Staat (in German, 2023)

Zionism: An Emotional State (2022)

Engaging With Israel: Israel-Diaspora Relations (2023)

When Criticism Becomes Hateful: Defining Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism (2022)