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Indiana University Bloomington
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Sarah Ifft Decker

Visiting Lecturer, Borns Jewish Studies Program, 2017-18

I am a social and economic historian of medieval Europe, with a particular focus on the Western Mediterranean. My research explores how gender and religious identity shaped the legal, social, and economic options available to medieval women. I am especially interested in medieval Iberia, which was home to thriving Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.

In my current book project, I compare how Jewish and Christian women negotiated economic life in medieval Catalonia, with a particular focus on three cities—Barcelona, Girona, and Vic—between 1250 and 1350. This project stems from my doctoral dissertation, “Gender, Religious Difference, and the Notarial Economy in Medieval Catalonia, 1250-1350.” I employ an expanded definition of women’s work, which encompasses the management of resources as well as wage labor and the artisanal crafts, to argue that families relied on women’s labor to ensure the solvency of the household. However, Jewish women played a much more marginal role, due to marriage and inheritance practices that limited women’s authority over financial resources.

My next research project will explore how Jews in medieval Iberia used the notaries, Christian public officials and legal professionals, to record contracts related to inheritance, marriage, and divorce, as well as the limits of these intersections between Jewish and Christian legal culture. Both projects address how and why the spheres of gender and the family proved essential for Jewish communities actively working to maintain boundaries between themselves and their Christian neighbors.

Education

  • B.A. Swarthmore College, 2009
  • M.A. The Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011
  • Ph.D. Yale University, 2017

Research Interests

  • Jews in medieval Iberia
  • Medieval European history
  • Mediterranean history
  • Cross-cultural and interreligious interaction
  • Women and gender
  • Economic history
  • Urban history

Courses

  • Introduction to Jewish History: From the Bible to the Spanish Expulsion

Selected Publications

  • “Conversion, Marriage, and Creative Manipulation of Law in Thirteenth-Century Responsa Literature.” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 6:1 (2014): 42-53.
  •  “Jewish Women, Christian Women, and Credit in Thirteenth-Century Catalonia.” The Haskins
    Society Journal 27 (2016): 161-178.