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Transfer of Goods – Transfer of Culture: Jewish families and the tobacco monopoly in the Habsburg Monarchy

Despite several studies on the history of tobacco trade, the role of Jews in this important economic activity is a considerably under-researched topic. While some historians have hinted at the importance of the tobacco trade for modernization and acculturation processes of Jews in the Habsburg Empire, a systematic and comprehensive study on the subject is still lacking in Jewish history. The proposed project aims at filling this lacuna by collecting genealogical material on Jewish tobacco leasers, subcontractors and traders in the Habsburg Monarchy between mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century.

The carriers of affluent leaseholders like d’Aguilar, Hönig, Dobruschka testify to the extraordinary the positions individual Jews could hold in the Habsburg Monarchy. At the same time, the phenomenon of tobacco consortiums and subcontractors seems no less remarkable. By providing a solid material basis, the Jews in the tobacco business secured the upward-mobility of future generations, which in turn produced an impressive number of intellectuals. While fathers traded in tobacco, their progeny busied themselves with the transmission of secular culture.

For the first time, prosopographic data on Jewish families in the tobacco business of the Habsburg Monarchy will be collected systematically and used for genealogical analysis, as well as for an investigation of the role of family-networks for the acculturation of Habsburg Jewry and for cultural transfer in general.

This study will be conducted by Dr. Louise Hecht, at the Kurt and Ursula Schubert Center for Jewish Studies at Palacky University in Olomouc (Czech Republic).

Click here for the project abstract.

Click here for a paper on this study, as delivered at the 16th Congress of the World Union of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, July 2013).