Within the first few weeks of the Digital Durham course, I have begun to realize the vast amount of history I do not know regarding this town and its development since the 1880s. Since delving into the course material, I have been thinking about what questions I have regarding Durham. I consider Raleigh my home, and a large part of my identity while growing up rested upon my Jewish religion in a majority-Christian area. Looking at the resources that Duke and the Rubenstein Library have, I want to investigate the beginnings of the Jewish community in Durham starting with the first arrival of Jews in the 1880s. Working at Beth El Synagogue, I know that this place of worship has existed in the Durham community for around a century and a half, and I believe that this project will give me the opportunity to know more about a synagogue that helped to define the vibrant Jewish community that exists today. Specifically, I want to concentrate on the role (or lack thereof) of women during the development of the Jewish community in Durham, as I think that this connection is less researched when talking about the expansion of Judaism in this town. Were women given any responsibilities with the synagogue? Could women lead prayers and services during the formation of Beth El? I seek to find out the origins of this strong community and attribute it to the work of women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I know that the Rubenstein Library houses archives on the foundation of Beth El Synagogue. I would plan to combine this primary resource with secondary sources describing the role of women during this era in the South. I hope to create a link between the advanced role of Jewish women in Durham during this time with the general trend of increased feminist work and Jewish expansion in the United States.
There are so many unique and interesting areas open for exploration that settling on one paper topic instantly will be a difficult feat. Thus, my topic choice will likely evolve, and may even change completely. I am interested in exploring how socioeconomic class determined and affected women’s roles in society in the late 19th century, specifically in Durham. After reading and interacting with the Mayo Greenleaf Patch reading over the course of two semesters now, I hope to reflect this style of writing in my own paper. Exploring women’s roles in this manner would then require the study of one or a few specific individuals. I am hoping to research the lives of both a woman in the Duke family and a more “common” woman also living in Durham at the time to discover potential similarities and differences in their roles. The initial discovery of these women may prove difficult, but I am hoping the eventual comparison can reveal trends and be useful in dictating historical viewpoints of the time.