The Effron Center welcomes Professor Laura Leibman as the Leonard J. Milberg ‘53 Professor in American Jewish Studies

Written by
Effron Center for the Study of America Log
Effron Center
Jan. 31, 2024

Princeton University is extremely excited to welcome Laura Leibman as the Leonard J. Milberg ‘53 Professor in American Jewish Studies in the Effron Center for the Study of America. Leibman’s scholarship is steeped in the methodological approaches of biography and history, detailing the lives of Jewish people in the United States, the Caribbean, and the Americas more broadly. Her impressive books, articles, public media and digital humanities projects, reveal her unique gift for telling the stories of Jewish life, culture, and politics. Liebman’s focus on material culture, in particular, allows a profound understanding of Jews of color, with an emphasis on how women and children in the early Atlantic World forged community and identity despite racial, gendered, and economic barriers. Liebman’s prose brings history to life through hidden stories that demonstrate how the past continues to shape our lives and world today.

"I am thrilled to be joining the Effron Center for the Study of American,” Leibman said. “I deeply appreciate their broad vision of who and what is America as well as their focus on migration, diaspora, religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender—issues central to my own scholarship. I am excited to be part of these rich conversations. One of the many things that draws me to Princeton is the value it places on community, and I look forward to working closely with both colleagues and students as I build a new home on the east coast. I am particularly grateful to Leonard L. Milberg and his family for making this position possible.”

Leibman is currently the Kenan Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College and President of the Association for Jewish Studies. She has also served as the Chair of the Digital Media Committee for the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), and the academic director of the award-winning, multimedia public television series American Passages: A Literary Survey (2003). 

Leibman’s latest book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family (2021), tells the story of an early multiracial Jewish family who began their lives enslaved in the Caribbean and became some of the wealthiest Jews in New York. Lewis R. Gordon said of the book, “Beautifully written, with clarity and unusual frankness, Once We Were Slaves is also an extraordinary text on the impact of colonialism on Jewish identity. This is a book not only to be read, but re-read, time and again.” Once We Were Slaves was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award.

“Laura Liebman has turned her critical eye toward excavating histories of colonialism, slavery, and material culture, providing us with startling insights on the entanglements of race, American colonialism, and Jewish identity,“ said Aisha Beliso De-Jesús, chair of the Effron Center for the Study of America and Olden Street Professor of American Studies. “Her work is transforming how Jewish history and identity is written, taught, and conceived.”

In addition to Once We Were Slaves, Leibman is the author of other pathbreaking books. The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects (2020) won three National Jewish Book Awards. Her book Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (2012) won a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award and a National Jewish Book Award. She has written several other books and numerous academic articles, including three articles co-authored with students she worked with at Reed College, one of which won the 2015 Wasserman Essay Prize from the journal American Jewish History. She was also the series editor for Gale Researcher’s 10-volume American Literature I, and the religion and literature delegate to the Modern Language Association. 

“We’re absolutely thrilled to welcome Leibman to Princeton University. Her interdisciplinary research across Jewish studies, Indigenous studies, literary studies, history, and the digital humanities will contribute enormously to the important work we’re doing at the Effron Center,” Beliso De-Jesús continued.

Among other honors and recognition for her work, Leibman has been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Panama and the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), a visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew an Jewish Studies at University of Oxford, and the Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center.

Leibman received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.