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The Steinheim Institute in Essen: researching Jewish epigraphy

The Salomon Ludwig Steinheim Institute of German-Jewish History at the University of Duisburg-Essen carries out research on the history, culture and religion of the Jewish communities in German-speaking areas from the early modern period to the present. The research investigates the complex patterns of interrelations between Jewish and general history paying special attention to contexts, traditions and Hebrew sources.

Ehemaliges Rabbinerhaus Essen
Steinheim Institute in Essen. Photo by Harald Lordick (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Epidat – a database of Jewish epigraphy
Research on Jewish cemeteries is one of the Institute’s outstanding contributions to Jewish studies. Epidat provides an inventory and extensive documentation of over 25,000 epigraphic records with Hebrew inscriptions, German translations and photographs of tombstones covering the period 1063-2010. The Epidat database and the research tools are used for collaborative editing and for presenting epigraphical objects from different disciplinary perspectives. They enable the researcher to collect huge amounts of data on style and language, on quotations and allusions used in the text of an inscription; dating; genealogy; types of monument, material; art and crafts; secondary sources related to buried persons or monuments, current and historical photos, etc.

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Tombstones in the Jewish cemetery (Ashkenazi area) at Hamburg-Altona, Königstrasse. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons.
Nanette A Cohen tombstone

The Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Altona
The cemetery in Hamburg-Altona dates back to the early 17th century and ranks among the world’s most important Jewish burial sites on account of the historical and cultural value of its numerous gravestones. Some of the graves, like those of the famous 18th century rabbis and talmudists Jonathan Eybeschütz and Jacob Emden, attract a growing number of visitors. The “Guter Ort" ("good place”) at Königstrasse used to be divided into a Sephardic (Portuguese) and an Ashkenazi part; it now covers 1.9 hectares. The number of tombstones that have been preserved is estimated at 6,400.

The Steinheim Institute has been conducting research into the Ashkenazi part of the cemetery, producing an inventory of approx. 5,000 epitaphs. The Hebrew texts are edited and analysed with regard to names, dates and other information. This serves as a basis for further investigation of the history of Jews in Hamburg and Altona, their genealogy, cultural relations between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews and the internal structure of the community. An important aim of the project under the leadership of Professor Dr. Michael Brocke, is the creation of a ‘second tradition’: a comprehensive documentation of the cemetery serving as a virtual counterpart that, unlike the original, is not subject to weathering or pollution.

Thomas Kollatz, a researcher on Epidat, works closely with Judaica Europeana to harvest this unique collection to Europeana in the framework of the AthenaPlus project. The Steinheim Institute is also involved in two of the most advanced Digital Humanities networks: the European DARIAH project and the eHumanities-project on spatial relations.

Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from the National Library of Israel, the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary,
the Steinheim Institute, the AthenaPlus and DM2E projects. | Contact us | Subscribe to Judaica Europeana Newsletter
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