I am a cultural and intellectual historian of Europe and the Mediterranean World, 1450-1900, with particular interest in early modern Spain and the Low Countries, the nineteenth-century research university, and the history of the Jews. Much of my work across historical periods takes place at the intersections of Biblical scholarship and the History of the Book. I am especially interested in learned encounters between Jews, Christians and Muslims and in the ways their textual traditions and scholarly practices interact, carry over, and respond to technological innovation, from the invention of print to the invention of photography. At the centre of my research, in different historical and geographical contexts, is the Hebrew Bible: its readers, editors and collectors; its study, reception, and transmission; its material, visual and artistic histories; and the ways in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars have negotiated the tensions between the idea of a sacred, revealed book and the imperfect human transmission of the material text.
Since 2017, I have been Senior Research Associate and Academic Co-ordinator of Religious Diversity and the Secular University (2017-2022), a CRASSH-project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and directed by Simon Goldhill. We run four major international workshops a year as well as annual summer schools for early career researchers. Curating conversations between leading academics, artists and higher education policy makers, we to try to understand what the place of religion, religious diversity and the secular in the modern university was and is and imagine what it could be.
At Cambridge, I teach students in History (Early Modern Europe, Renaissance Humanism and History of the Book), Divinity (Ancient and Modern Judaism), and Classics (the History of Philology), and I supervise for colleges across the university. In 2015-16, I convened the Comparative Seminar in Social and Cultural History, together with Mary Laven, Liesbeth Corens and Peter Burke. In 2017, together with Kirsten Macfarlane and Tim Twining, I founded the ongoing Cambridge Seminar in Early Modern Scholarship and Religion, which I continue to convene, now with Lisa Kattenberg, Harriet Lyon and Richard Calis.
I am an affiliated lecturer in the Faculty of History, a member of the Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies and of the Centre for Material Texts, a former Research Associate of St John’s College (2013-2018) and since 2019 a Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at Trinity College. Beyond Cambridge, I am a member of EMoDiR (Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism), Ideas in Motion (a working group of the Cost Action "People in Motion"), and the British Academy Early Career Network on Critical University Studies, directed by Alison Wood. Increasingly interested in global and comparative approaches, in 2017 I joined a working group at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan that produced Impagination – Layout and Materiality of Writing and Publication. Interdisciplinary Approaches from East and West, edited by Ku-ming (Kevin) Chang, Anthony Grafton, and Glenn W. Most (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2021).
I strongly believe in the importance of communicating scholarly research with wider audiences in society at large. I have contributed to museum exhibits in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK; and I recently recorded a podcast with Emile Schrijver, director of the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, in which we discuss a book I edited about Amsterdam as the global centre of Hebrew and Jewish printing and book trade.
As a historian of scholarship and of universities, I am committed not only to teaching and research, but also to the cause of academic freedom and ongoing activism on behalf of at-risk academics. In 2020, with funding from CRASSH and from Trinity College, Aaron Kachuk and I organised a major international conference devoted to academic refuge in Cambridge, focusing on the years 1933-45 (report here), with a spin-off event for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
Born in Delft to an American mother and a Dutch father, I grew up in The Hague and was educated at the Christelijk Gymnasium Sorghvliet and at the universities of Leiden and Chicago. I was a visiting graduate student at Princeton (2005-6) and Oxford (2008) and received my Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought in 2012. My doctoral thesis was a study of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible (1568-1573), supervised by Glenn W. Most, David Nirenberg, James T. Robinson and Anthony Grafton. The thesis tells the story of "the most beautiful book ever printed": reconstructing the way a small group of brilliant scholars and editors from Spain and the Spanish Low Countries collaborated with the leading printer and type-cutters of the sixteenth century, exploring ancient and medieval Jewish history in order to defend the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible in a post-Tridentine Catholic world.
I first arrived in Cambridge in 2012 to take up a postdoctoral research fellowship on The Bible and Antiquity in 19th-century Culture. An ERC-Advanced Grant project with five senior directors and eight post-docs across history, art history, classics, modern literature and theology, "Biblant" proved an invaluable apprenticeship in the kind of long and deep interdisciplinary collaborative work that CRASSH fosters. Since then, I have (co-)organised more than twenty international conferences and workshops here.
Over the years, my work has received generous support from, among others, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Belgian-American Educational Foundation (BAEF), the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, the Scaliger Institute, the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp, the European Research Council, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Besides Cambridge, I have taught at Bryn Mawr College, the University of Pennsylvania, the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and,as the visiting chair in Jewish-Christian Relations, at the University of Antwerp.
I live in Cambridge with my wife and two daughters. Like countless immigrants to this country before me, I am the recipient of an English-born child’s loving mockery of her father's imperfect understanding of the rules of cricket.
Theodor Dunkelgrün (ed.), The Jewish Bookshop of the World: Aspects of Print and Manuscript Culture in Early Modern Amsterdam = Studia Rosenthaliana 46:1-2 (2020)
Theodor Dunkelgrün and Paweł Maciejko (eds.), Bastards and Believers: Jewish Converts and Conversion from the Bible to the Present (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).
History of Photography 40:3 (2016). Special issue: "Photography, Antiquity, Scholarship". Guest editors: Mirjam Brusius and Theodor Dunkelgrün
Het Lievelingsboek als zelfportret, eds. Maarten Asscher and Theodor Dunkelgrün (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016). Festschrift for Willem Otterspeer.
Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 48 (2016). Special issue devoted to Solomon Schechter in his English period. Guest editor: Theodor Dunkelgrün.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "Introduction to the Special Issue: The Jewish Bookshop of the World: Aspects of Print and Manuscript Culture in Early Modern Europe," Studia Rosenthaliana 46:1 (2021), 7-28.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "The Testimonium Flavianum Canonicum: Josephus as a Witness to the Biblical Canon, 1566–1823", in the International Journal of the Classical Tradition 23:3 (2016). Special Issue: "The Reception of Josephus in the Early Modern Period", edited by Martin Goodman and Joanna Weinberg, 252-268.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "When Solomon met Solomon: A Medieval Hebrew Bible in Victorian Cambridge", Journal of the Bible and its Reception 3:2 (2016), 205-253.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "Solomon Schechter: A Jewish Scholar in Victorian England (1882-1902)", Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 48 (2016), 1-8. Guest editor's introduction.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "The Kennicott Collection", in Rebecca Abrams and César Merchán-Hamann (eds.), Jewish Treasures from Oxford Libraries (Oxford: The Bodleian Library, 2020), 115-157.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "The Christian Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe" in Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe (eds.), The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 7, The Early Modern World, 1500–1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 316-348.
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "The Humanist Discovery of Hebrew Epistolography" in Scott Mandelbrote and Joanna Weinberg (eds.), Jewish Books and their Readers: Aspects of the Intellectual Life of Christians and Jews in Early Modern Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 211-259
Theodor Dunkelgrün, "De boom, de puzzel, en het gemis. Over Georges Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi" in Theodor Dunkelgrün and Maarten Asscher (eds.), The Lievelingsboek als zelfportret (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016), 67-86.
Zur Shalev, Sacred Words and Worlds: Geography, Religion, and Scholarship, 1500-1700 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012); reviewed in Journal of Jewish Studies 63:2 (2012), 383-385.
Joseph R. Hacker and Adam Shear (eds.), The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); reviewed in De Gulden Passer 89:2 (2011), 292-295.
"Thomas Kaufmann, ‘Luther and Lutheranism’, in The Oxford Handbook of Protestant Reformations, ed. Ulinka Rublack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), German into English.
Senior Research Associate and Academic Co-ordinator, Religious Diversity and the Secular University
June 2017 - October 2021