James Loeffler

Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History

(434) 924-6408
236 Nau Hall
Office Hours: TBA

Field & Specialties

Jewish history
European history
International history
Human rights history
Legal history


B.A. Harvard University, 1996
M.A. Columbia University, 2000
Ph.D. Columbia University, 2006



James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia. Between 2013 and 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow in International Law and Dean’s Visiting Scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. At UVa he teaches courses in Jewish and European history, Russian and East European history, international legal history, and the history of human rights. He is a co-covenor of the UVa Human Rights Research Network and a faculty partner in the UVa Religion, Race & Democracy Lab

His publications include The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2019), Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018) and The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010). 

His current research interests include the history of human rights, the history of nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism, and the legal history of American and international anti-racism and counter-antisemitism.



The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century, ed. with Moria Paz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

  • Natan Prize Best Jewish Public Affairs Book, Finalist.
  • American Association of Publishers PROSE Award Finalist in World History.
  • Haaretz Year in Review Top 11 Books, 2018.

  • European Journal of International Law Blog Favorite Books of 2018.

The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010; paperback edition, 2013).

  • Association for Jewish Studies Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Cultural Studies and Media Studies, Honorable MentionŸ
  • Foundation for Jewish Culture Sidney and Hadassah Musher Publication Award for Outstanding First Book in  Field of Jewish Studies
  • Association for Jewish Studies Cahnmann Publication Award for Outstanding First Book in the Field of Jewish Studies
  • American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) Deems Taylor-Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book
  • Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies for outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies
  • Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature of the Jewish Book Council, Finalist
  • Historia Nova Prize for the Best Book on Russian Intellectual History, Long List


Blind Justice? Antisemitism and Civil Rights in Modern America [in preparation].

The Crime of Crimes: Raphael Lemkin between Holocaust and Genocide [in preparation].

In Search of Hebrew Music: Abraham Zvi Idelsohn’s Life and Legacy, ed., with Edwin Seroussi [in preparation].

The Resonant Past: Essays on the Sonic Turn in History and Memory, ed., with Jeremy Eichler [in preparation].


Journal Articles

The Future of Human Rights Scholarship, Law and Contemporary Problems, Special Issue, 81:4 (2018), ed. with Kevin Cope and Mila Versteeg.

"Becoming Cleopatra: The Forgotten Zionism of Raphael Lemkin," Journal of Genocide Research, 19:3 (Aug. 2017): 340-360.

"'The Famous Trinity of 1917': Zionist Internationalism in Historical Perspective," Jahrbuch Des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts 15 (2016): 211-238.

"The Particularist Pursuit of American Universalism: The American Jewish Committee’s 1944 Declaration on Human Rights," Journal of Contemporary History 50:2 (October 2014): 274-95. 

“‘In Memory of Our Murdered (Jewish) Children’: Hearing the Holocaust in Soviet Jewish Culture,” Slavic Review 73:3 (Fall 2014): 585-611.

 "Nationalism without a Nation? On the Invisibility of American Jewish Politics," Jewish Quarterly Review 105:3 (Summer 2015): 367-98.

"Promising Harmonies: The Aural Politics of Polish-Jewish Relations in the Russian Empire,” Jewish Social Studies (Summer 2015).

“The Lust Machine: Commerce, Sound and Nationhood in Jewish Eastern Europe,” PolinStudies in Polish Jewry, forthcoming.

"How Zionism Became Racism: International Law, Antisemitism, and Jewish Lawyering at the United Nations, 1945-1975," draft manuscript.

"Did Zionism Destroy Diaspora Nationalism?" draft manuscript.

"'The Conscience of America': Human Rights, Jewish Politics, and American Foreign Policy at the United Nations San Francisco Conference, 1945," Journal of American History, 100 (September 2013): 401-28.

“‘A Special Kind of Antisemitism’: On Russian Nationalism and Jewish Music,” Yuval Online. Studies of the Jewish Music Research Center (2013).

"The Holocaust and Human Rights: A New Perspective," in preparation.

"The Missing Decade: The Forgotten Roots of  Raphael Lemkin's "Genocide" in 1920s Polish Zionism," in preparation.

“Between Zionism and Liberalism: Oscar Janowsky and Diaspora Nationalism in America,” Association for Jewish Studies Review 34:2 (November 2010), 289-308.

“Do Zionists Read Music from Right to Left? Avraham Zvi Idelsohn and the Invention of Israeli Music,” Jewish Quarterly Review 100:3 (Summer 2010), 385-416.

“Israeli Music at 60: New Perspectives,” Introduction and Guest Editorship of Special Issue of Min-Ad: Israel Studies in Musicology Online 7:2 (2008-2009).

“Richard Wagner’s Jewish Music: Antisemitism and Aesthetics in Modern Jewish Culture,”Jewish Social Studies 15:2 (Winter 2009 [New Series]), 2-36.


Book Chapters

"Hersch Lauterpacht and the Zionist Rights of Man: Rethinking Jewish Legal Internationalism," to appear in The Law of Strangers: Critical Perspectives on Jewish Lawyering and International Legal Thought, forthcoming.

“‘A Long Jewish Tradition’? The Promise and Peril of Legal Biography,” in Émigré Lawyers and International Law, eds. Annette Weinke and Leora Bilsky, in preparation.

“Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: The Entangled Pair,” in Key Concepts in the Study of   Antisemitism, edited by Sol Goldberg, Jonathan Judaken, Adam Teller, Scott Ury, and Kalman Weiser, Routledge Press, forthcoming.

“Two Kinds of Jewish Liberalism,” in Jews, Liberalism, Anti-Semitism:  The Dialectics of Inclusion, 1780-1950, eds. Abigail Green and Simon Levis Sullam, under review at Cambridge University Press.

“The Unfinished Hebrew Revolution: The Future of Jewish Nationhood in Israel and Beyond,” Imagining Israel in 2040 –Different Visions, eds. Michael Brenner and Pamela Nadell. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2018.

“When Hermann Cohen Cried: Zionism, Music, Emotion,” in Zionism as a Cultural Movement, eds. Israel Bartal and Rachel Rojanski, forthcoming from Brill Publishers.

“Modern Jewish Politics,” Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies. ed. Naomi Seidman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

"The Features on My Face: Vladimir Stasov, Dmitrii Shostakovich, and Russian Philosemitism Reconsidered," Jewish Music in Eastern and Central Europe. Conference Proceedings, 2011 (in preparation).

“‘A Special Kind of Antisemitism’: On Russian Nationalism and Jewish Music” and “Three Jews, Two Opinions: Revisiting the Great Yiddish Folk Song Debate of 1901” On the History of Jewish Music in Russia, Volume 3 [Russian], eds. G. Kopytova and A. Frenkel (St. Petersburg: Russian Institute for the History of the Arts), forthcoming.

“Music,” Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture, ed. Dan Diner, in association with the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, 2014.

“International Law,” Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture, ed. Dan Diner, in association with the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, forthcoming.

“Joel Engel and the Development of Jewish Musical Nationalism [Russian],” On the History of Jewish Music in Russia. Volume 2. [Russian], eds. G. Kopytova and A. Frenkel (St. Petersburg: Russian Institute for the History of the Arts, 2006).

English Translation of Vassily Grossman story, “Stary Uchitel’,” in Maxim Shrayer, ed., An Anthology of Russian-Jewish Literature, 1800-2000 (M. E. Sharpe, 2006).

Di Rusishe Progresiv Muzikal Yunyon No. 1 af Amerike: The First Klezmer Union in the United States” in American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, ed. Mark Slobin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

“Neither the King’s English nor the Rebbetzin’s Yiddish: Yinglish Literature in America,” in American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni, ed. Marc Shell. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).


Current Research

I work broadly on the intersection of Jewish culture, politics, and identity in modern Europe, Israel, and the United States. My recent book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018), looks at the Jewish role in building and critiquing the modern human rights movement before and after World War II, focusing on transnational Jewish political activity in international legal circles and at the United Nations over the period from the 1930s to the 1980s. I aim through this work to rethink Jewish internationalism and the history of modern Jewish politics across the twentieth century, as well as relations between the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. This work opens up into a larger reconsideration of the history of human rights and the relationship between nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism in modern legal thought. Connected to this work, I have recently co-edited an anthology, The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century, that is devoted to rethinking how Jewish identity intersected with the careers and ideas of leading international lawyers across the middle decades of the twentieth century.

My current book project is entitled Blind Justice? Antisemitism and Civil Rights in Modern America. I intend it to be a new history of antisemitism in American life, and the different ways in which American Jews have tried (and not tried) to use law to fight it. A preview of my research and thinking on this can be found in this recent article of mine. 

Zionism remains a key interest of mine, and I have long focused on its history, especially in relation to the question of the relationship between Zionism and Diaspora Nationalism in modern Jewish politics. By rereading the political writings of interwar American and East European Zionist leaders, and retrieving forgotten moments in global Jewish political organization (including the 1918 American Jewish Congress, the 1927 European Congress of Minorities, the 1943 American Jewish Conference, the 1945 San Francisco UN Conference, and the 1960 Paris Conference on Soviet Jewry), I argue for a reconceptualization of nationalism, liberalism, and minority rights in twentieth-century Jewish political history. My goal is to demonstrate how Zionist internationalism shaped European, American, and Israeli Jewish attitudes towards modern statehood and global nationhood before and after 1948. I have written a number of articles on this topic, two of which can be found here and here. Eventually I intend to write a new intepretitive history of Zionism based on this work. 

My first bookThe Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010), examines the role of music in the formation of modern Jewish national identity in nineteenth and twentieth-century Russia. Related articles include studies of antisemitism's impact on modern Jewish  culture and the place of music in Zionist and Israeli culture.

I also have published extensively in the field of Jewish musical studies, with a specialization in the history of Jewish folk and art music traditions in Eastern Europe. Much of this research has informed my current non-academic writing about contemporary Holocaust memory and Jewish cultural identity in American society, including recent articles on "The Death of Jewish Culture" in Mosaic Magazine and "Richard Wagner's Antisemitism," in The New Republic. Together with Professor Edwin Seroussi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I am currently at work on a biographical study of Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, the pioneering scholar of Jewish music, Zionist cultural activist, and composer of "Hava Nagila."

Through my work on Jewish politics and international human rights, I became interested in the forgotten pre-Holocaust life and post-Holocaust self-reinvention of Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, the man who pioneered the UN Genocide Convention. A first intervention into the contemporary scholarly debates about Holocaust and Genocide Studies, based on new archival research on Lemkin's early years, can be found here. I am (slowly) at work on a book about Lemkin's life and afterlives, that also examines the complicated memory politics and uses of the Holocaust and genocide in contemporary debates about antisemitism, racism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Awards & Honors

Robert A. Savitt Fellow, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Spring 2015.

Kluge Fellow, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Fall 2014.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Faculty Fellow, 2013-2014.

Association for Jewish Studies, Board Member, 2013-2016

Association for Jewish Studies, C0-Chair, Conference Division on Modern Jewish History in Europe, Asia, Israel and Other Communities, 2014-2015

Academic Advisory Council, Center for Jewish History, 2011-2014

Scholar-in-Residence, Pro Musica Hebraica Foundation, Washington, DC

Non-Resident Research Fellow, Jewish Music Research Centre, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Academic Vice-Chair, The Jewish Music Forum, American Society for Jewish Music, 2006-present

University of Virginia Buckner W. Clay Endowment Faculty Award, 2011-2012

American Council for Learned Societies/National Endowment for the Humanities/Social Science Research Council Combined Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research on Eastern Europe and Eurasia, 2009-2010

University of Virginia Mead Honored Professors Teaching Award, 2009-2010

Irene Fromer Fellow in Jewish Studies, Columbia University, 2005-2006

Hays-Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Research Award to Russia and Ukraine, 2003-2004

National Foundation for Jewish Culture Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2003-2004

Center for Jewish History Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2002-2003

Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1998-2002