As a child growing up Jewish in Belgium,
Flora Cassen was naturally curious about
European history, and thanks to inspirational
teachers and mentors who influenced her studies,
Cassen has followed a career path that explores
the rich history of Jews in Europe.
Professor Cassen, who joined Carolina’s History department this year as the inaugural JMA and Sonia Van der Horst Fellow in Jewish History and Culture, will now inspire Carolina’s students just as her teachers guided her studies.
Cassen teaches classes on Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History, specifically focusing on the history of Europe from 10th through 18th
centuries. This fall, she is teaching two undergraduate courses: History 490: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Early Modern Europe, and an honors
course called The Passion and the Jews. Inspired by the debate that Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” generated, the course
explores the alleged role of the Jews in Christ’s Passion from the gospels to today through text, art, and film.
“In the future, I hope to create a senior seminar course on Jewish history and introduce graduate-level courses on Jews in Italy and Spain, which will explore their lives in terms of commerce, channels of information and their
relationships with Christians and other Jewish communities.” Her current research focuses on Jews in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. She is
writing a book based on her Ph.D. dissertation, which studies the roots and consequences of anti-Judaism by examining discriminatory marks,
typically a yellow hat or yellow badge, that the Jews were compelled to wear in 15th- and 16thcentury Italy. She is also starting research on Jews in Italy who acted as spies for the King of Spain, despite the fact that Jews were previously expelled from Spain.
“I was shocked when I found out about these spies while doing my research on the yellow badges,” said Cassen. “But through their Jewish networks, the spies had very specific information on both Italy and the Ottoman Empire, which was at war with Spain. “In general I am interested in how the Jews
lived during this time. As a small minority under Christian rule, they were subjected to a whole series of religious and legal restrictions and had an inferior status, but in spite of that, they achieved remarkable success in building communities and businesses, and developing a rich culture. Their resourcefulness was very impressive.” said Cassen.
Cassen previously was an assistant professor at the University of Vermont and last academic year she held a fellowship at Columbia University’s
Italian Academy, allowing her to pursue her research full time. She holds a B.A. from the Free University of Brussels, an M.A. from Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in History and Judaic Studies from New York University.
“I am delighted to join such a prestigious university, and a history department that is so impressive and collegial,” added Cassen. “The
reputation of the history department, combined with the thriving Jewish Studies program, makes it a true honor to be joining Carolina.”
The JMA and Sonja van der Horst Distinguished Professorship was established by the children of the late Johannes and Sonja van der Horst (Charles van
der Horst, Roger van der Horst, Jacqueline van der Horst Sergent ’82, and Tatjana Schwendinger) with reparation funds that were awarded to their mother.
return to top