Research Projects

Between Diaspora and the 'Land of Israel': Jewish Dress, Migration and Belonging, 1880s-1948

Dress expresses intimate feelings of belonging and identity. A focus on dress is especially rewarding when looking at migrant societies in which people from diverse backgrounds have often different ideas of how one should dress and why. The research project looks at the role of ordinary immigrants in defining dress ideals. It investigates how a consensual mode of dress emerges in a migrant society where different ideas of what 'one should wear' and why, exist, and compete. It also examines how and when certain ways of dressing become 'fashionable' in a society. The Principal Investigator will work closely with a postdoctoral Research Associate and Israeli and British project partners in the museums and heritage sector, to investigate three strands which are united in their themes of dress as an expression of belonging in times of migration. 

First, the PI will write a monograph that looks at dress in the historical migrant society in the 'Land of Israel'. It considers the period between the 1880s, when large scale Jewish migration to the region began, until 1948 when the Israeli state was founded. The project will investigate how Eastern European and German immigrants to the region expressed their identity through dress and how they were able to enforce ideal ways of dressing. It analyses visual, written, and oral sources to show how these migrant groups defined and perpetuated certain ways of dressing as 'appropriate', 'ideal' and 'national' in the new homeland. It also examines the influence of the dress habits of the local Arab population and the changing occupying Ottoman and British authorities on these dress ideals. Through the lens of dress, project will make the role of immigrants in nation building visible; it will shed light on processes of inclusion and exclusion in a migrant society with individuals from vastly different backgrounds. 

Second, the PI will use this as starting point to build an innovative global collaborative research agenda and research team to investigate how migrant groups expressed their feelings of belonging through dress and how they influenced modes of dress globally. The PI will run an international online conference and edit a book that will compare histories of dress and migration across the world. 

The third strand is an ambitious programme of engagement work with partner organisations from the heritage and museums sector in Israel and the UK. Two workshops will be held with these project partners, one in Jerusalem with the Yad Ben Zvi Institute, and one in Leicester with Leicester Museums and Galleries, which target migrant groups from the diverse populations in the two cities. In two workshops, participants will be invited to bring an item of dress or photographs of dress items. Through the lens of dress, we will explore their personal or their family's history of migration and heritage. A final fashion show in Leicester will showcase selected participants and their stories of dress and migration, documented by a professional photographer and videographer to disseminate these activities through a website, and social media.

Online workshop, Global Dress and Migration in History

Friday 29 and Saturday 30 November 2024

This online workshop exploring Global Dress and Migration in History, organised by Dr Svenja Bethke (University of Leicester) and Dr Eliza McKee (New York University), will explore the history of migration through the lens of dress in a global dimension.

Principal investigator

Project dates

  • Start: February 2023
  • End: January 2025

Project team

Dr Svenja Bethke, University of Leicester

Dr Svenja Bethke is the Principal Investigator of the project. She is Associate Professor in Modern European History and Director of the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Leicester. Her research focuses on the history of the Holocaust, modern Jewish history and the history of fashion and migration in a transnational dimension. She is the author of Dance of the Razor's Edge: Crime and Punishment in the Nazi Ghettos (UTP 2021).

From 2019-2021, she held a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship by The European Commission, hosted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to develop a methodological approach that integrates insights from visual culture and fashion history into research on nation building.

Recent publications include ‘How to Dress Up in Eretz Israel, 1880s–1948: A Visual Approach to Clothing, Fashion and Nation Building (2019) in the International Journal for Fashion Studies (IJFS) and the co-edited the Special Issues ‘Clothing and Fashion in Historical Perspective’ (IJFS, 6, 2, 2019, with Nathalie Keigel) and ‘Jewish Dress through Visual Sources’ (TEXTILE: Cloth and Culture, 2022, with Gil Pasternak).

Her article ‘Forging National Belonging: Transformation, Visibility and Dress in the German-Jewish Youth Movement Blau-Weiss, 1912-1927’ is forthcoming with Central European History in 2023.

Learn more about Dr Svenja Bethke

Dr Hilla Lavie, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr Hilla Lavie is the Postdoctoral Research Associate on the project. She is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Koebner Center at the History Department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her research focusses on modern German cultural history, film studies and film history, German-Jewish studies, Holocaust studies, queer history and environmental history.

She earned her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2020. Her PhD thesis, which is currently turned into a monograph focuses on representations of Israel in 1950s-1960s West German Films. The dissertation received the Simon Wiesenthal Prize for Holocaust Studies.

She was a guest scholar at the Leibnitz Institute for Jewish history and culture – Simon Dubnow in Leipzig, and at the Friedrich Meinecke Institut at the Free University Berlin with the support of the Armbruster fund.

Hilla graduated in Film Studies at Tel Aviv University and holds an MFA (film directing) and MA (film studies). Her MA thesis won the Goldhirsh prize for Holocaust Studies.

Her latest research on the perception of nature among German-Jews during the Nazi era as reflected in the German-Jewish press, was supported by the International Institute for Holocaust Research Yad Vashem and will be published by Yad Vashem Publications.

Over the last few years, Hilla has been teaching courses on film and history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Contact Hilla at

Professor Jo Story, University of Leicester

Professor Jo Story acts as academic mentor on the project. She is Professor in Early Medieval History with a strong interest in the Age of Charlemagne, and in travel, migration and mobility stretching across the early medieval world from Iceland to Baghdad before 1100CE.

Having worked closely with the British Library on their major international exhibition and associated exhibition catalogue Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Art, Word, War (October 2018 to February 2019), she will provide guidance on research, engagement and impact related questions.

Learn more about Professor Jo Story

MA Jessica Amoako-Acheampong

Jessica Amoako-Acheampong is a Research Assistant and Co-I on the project. She is a current PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Leicester. Her research explores fashion history and visual culture with a particular focus on Black British history.

Her PhD thesis explores the development of Black British style in the Midlands during the late twentieth century. Using visual sources and oral interviews, her research investigates the style choices of Afro-Caribbean migrants and their families during the 1970s and 1980s. She plays a key role in developing the project’s outreach work in Leicester through community engagement and promoting the project's activities and outcomes through social media.

External partners and collaborators

The Yad Ben Zvi Institute

The Yad Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem acts as Israel-based project partner. The Yad Ben Zvi Institute was established in 1969, devoted to research and education regarding the history of Eretz Israel and Jewish communities in Arab countries. It fosters public dissemination and community engagement through cultural heritage projects on these themes.

It is home to the project ‘Israel Revealed to the Eye’, a large-scale digitisation project of family photo albums in Israel and the project ‘Object- Land’ that promotes and facilitates engagement which cultural heritage through the preservation of material objects.

The Yad Ben Zvi Institute will support the research team in building contacts within the city of Jerusalem and nearby Kibbutzim among local authority figures and archivists. They will provide access to their our own archival, material and photographic collections and will co-design and organise a workshop on the theme of Dress, Material Culture and Heritage in 2023.

Dr Nirit Khalifa

Dr Nirit Khalifa, curator and manager of the community based visual history project ‘Israel Revealed to the Eye’, and the material culture project ‘Object- Land’ at the Yad Ben Zvi Institute, will act as impact mentor for the Principal Investigator to advise on impact and community engagement resulting from the project’s research.

Leicester Museums and Galleries

Leicester Museums and Galleries acts as UK-based project partner. Since 1849, Leicester Museums and Galleries have been welcoming the public into their museum venues in Leicester for free, being a National Portfolio Organisation supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

Leicester Museums and Galleries will support the research team by providing space at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery for a Leicester community-based workshop and an alternative fashion show on Dress, Migration and Cultural Heritage in 2024; by helping to raise awareness of the project across migrant communities; and by helping to disseminate the project’s results virtually.

Professor Gil Pasternak, De Montfort University

Professor Gil Pasternak acts as Impact Mentor on the project. Pasternak is Professor of Photographic Cultures and Heritage in the Photographic History Research Centre (PHRC) at De Montfort University. Combining political science, cultural history and critical theory, his work investigates intersections of photography with liberal-democratic politics, populism and cultural heritage practices.

Between 2018 and 2021 Pasternak served as Project Leader of Digital Heritage in Cultural Conflicts—DigiCONFLICT, a European Commission funded international research project that explored the impact of digital heritage in nationally-framed zones of cultural conflict.

Drawing on extensive experience in public and community engagement in Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Poland and the UK, he will provide guidance for the development of efficient pathways to impact.

Contact Professor Gil Pasternak at

HaShomer, around 1913. Archives of the Pinchas Lavon Institute, Avraham Soskin Photo Collection. Sign. P -51055.

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