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The First Ghetto by Alice Becker-Ho
The First Ghetto; or, Venetian Exemplariness
— Alice Becker-Ho
In 1516, the Venetian ghetto was established, and the city’s Jewish population was segregated into it. This move was to redefine city life and set a blueprint for a European urban capitalist future. In The First Ghetto, Situationist Alice Becker-Ho takes a long look at the history of Venice—and its importance to cities in general—arguing that it became the heir to ancient traditions that turned it into a model commercial city whose problems we still grapple with today.
Through its examination of the four major established theories of the etymology and implications of the word ‘ghetto’, Becker-Ho’s intervention has the potential not so much to add a fifth to these, but to reduce them to one, definitive account.
'After many admirable works of poetry and interpretation of the slang of the “dangerous classes” and stigmatized minorities, Alice Becker-Ho now analyzes the origins of the word “ghetto” and studies the history of the city that created it. Her sensitivity as a cosmopolitan rebel and a former situationist permeates the pages of this extraordinary journey from Antiquity to modern times, which reveals how the history of Venice was so deeply entangled with the history of the Jews. At the crossroads between Christian Europe and the Islamic world, and hosting Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, as well as Marranos, Venice was a privileged place for a minority forged by the cosmopolitan circulation of commodities and ideas, trade and writing, fidelity to an ancient belief and coexistence with other religions. Narrating this fascinating history, Becker-Ho displays an incredible erudition in a crystalline and enchanting language. This short book is a gem.'
— Enzo Traverso, Cornell University; author of Revolution: An Intellectual History (Verso, 2021).