Alice and Georges Lurcy. Image: Private Collection. Courtesy of Pat Plaxico, Alice and Georges Lurcy: An International Couple (2016).

Welcome to the final class project of FOLK/JWST 481 – Jewish Belonging/s: The Material Culture of Jewish Experience. In this seminar, students examine how the creation, consumption, display, and interpretation of Jewish material culture express perceptions of identity, historical experience, cultural condition, systems of belief, and social value. What individual and collective narratives about Jewish experience can we read through the use and re-use of ordinary and extraordinary artifacts? What symbolic meanings might everyday and sacred objects communicate across Jewish contexts, and how might these meanings shift across time and place?

Throughout the fall of 2020, students in this seminar conducted an in-depth study of the “Alice Lurcy and Georges Lurcy Papers, 1937-2011,” a special collection archived in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC’s Wilson Library. Guided by the questions of this course, they explored the role that material culture played in the Jewish life experience of Alice and Georges Lurcy. This four-month journey of discovery revealed that more than seeking answers to our questions about the Lurcys’ Jewish experience and the role of Jewish things in their lives, this project was rooted in posing the questions, themselves. The archive provided us with historical images and excerpts of life stories, inventories of artwork, furniture, and linens, immigration papers and tax documents, typed letters to lawyers and handwritten love notes. The archive only offered glimpses and snippits of a Jewish life story, but this was its power — a collection of family papers that opened up issues of Jewish identity, immigration, diaspora, material and self-preservation, social belonging, and one’s relationship to home, but it did not close them. The presence of the Jewish story in the Lurcy collection was elusive but ever present, and our task became one of interpreting absence.

Students were divided into four groups and each group examined a different set of folders in the collection. They then wrote and designed pieces that interpreted the contents of those folders, and selected individuals to interview whose perspectives would shed further light on the issues that they chose to address. A highlight in our semester was the opportunity to interview, as a class, the niece of Alice Lurcy–Alice Nelson–and her husband Lewis Nelson. This conversation brought the archive to life as we discussed the life stories we read about on paper, and listened to their personal reflections of their remarkable aunt and uncle. Students incorporated pieces of this conversation into their four projects in different ways.

On this site, please explore the four final projects. They address the core issues of the class from distinct perspectives, each one offering a new layer of interpretation of the relationship between Jewish experience and Jewish things, of the negotiation between individual will and social circumstance. As we journey through the Lurcy archive together, let us consider: How can we understand the Lurcys’ Jewish life story through the lens of belonging and belongings?

With Gratitude To…

Alice and Lewis Nelson
Maxine Vande Vaarst
Aaron Smithers
Rachel Reynolds
John Conrad
Pat Plaxico
The Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC

Thank you!  We could not have carried out this project without your support!

Student Researchers/Curators of FOLK/JWST 481:
Olivia Adams
Alison Curry
Hannah Feinsilber
Sam Gaul
Vex’ahlia Martineau
Caroline Morgan
Ariel Nissan
Sophia Retchin
Alina Shcherbakova
Adam Spector
Maya Spencer
Jay Taylor
Caitlin Thompson
Seth Tysor
Hannah Vatter
Xiangman Zhao

With questions or comments, please contact Prof. Gabrielle Berlinger: