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»Minhag Italia«: Digital Approaches to Jewish Print Cultures – Nineteenth-century Italian prayer books

The aim of this project is to produce an inventory and carry out a digitization and consequent digital and conceptual analysis of nineteenth-century Italian prayer books, with the purpose of preserving and utilizing them as objects of historical inquiry. The project is based on two main innovative elements. The first is the fact that the object of inquiry are printed books as opposed to medieval manuscripts. Up to now, the most of the research in the field of book history within the Jewish Studies has focused on medieval manuscripts. The second innovative element is that, within the realm of book history, the focus is on prayer books. In fact, prayer books encompass every aspect of Jewish life, from every day prayers to the special occasions of the High Holidays. For this reason, they are the most frequently printed book in Judaism. In spite of their prominence in Jewish life, they have received very little academic attention, because they have been considered as stable factors, unworthy of analyses of its dynamics. Indeed, it is true that prayer books maintained a certain uniformity in space and time, but the small changes of the different editions can actually represent substantial changes in the political and cultural perception of a specific Jewry, in a specific place and time. Thus, they are a stable factor in the sense that they provide stability through change. As a project in the Digital Humanities, the tool of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is used to single out and address exactly these variations, with the purpose of answering the following questions: How do materiality and spirituality relate to each other? Can we establish changing patterns relating to siddurim as religious/sacred objects over time? How do prayer books attest to the construction of their owners' Jewish identities?