Liberating Lens: Jewish Photographers



This project introduces students to transmedia storytelling—telling a single story across multiple platforms to create synchronized content—on Jewish photographers and their transformative visions of American society. It incorporates new media production-based learning into an interactive, experiential and thematically driven course: The Liberating Lens: Jewish Photographers Picture the Modern World.


The enormous impact of Jewish photographers in changing how Americans came to see their world has only recently been recognized, but the liberating power of their cameras, both in the past and today, has eluded scholars. The Liberating Lens course initiative invites students to learn as scholars, photographers, and producers of media, and situates the University of Michigan at the forefront of the visual turn in contemporary Judaic Studies scholarship. Building upon an earlier course, Jewish Photographers: Pictures of the Modern World, this new course connects academic interpretation with experiential learning—specifically, a series of digital storytelling and photography assignments—and a weekly media lab. An assistant trains and assists students in photography, video editing and web design, and students work collaboratively to create multimedia web pages integrating their own iPhone photos, instagrams, short videos, blog posts and slide-show plug-ins, etc. The class culminates in a joint multimedia exhibition co-curated by all students and launched at a party.


This course grows out of a fellowship that U-M Professor Deborah Dash Moore received to participate in the New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative (NMJSC), a program launched by the digital storytelling nonprofit Citizen Film and the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University with seed funding committed in 2013-2014 by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Covenant Foundation to enable eight distinguished Jewish Studies professors in eight Jewish Studies programs around the country to receive training and consultation from professional digital storytellers to deepen their new-media teaching practice and expand their roles as public intellectuals. “The Quick Wins grant from the Third Century Initiative has allowed me to apply the new media practices I have been learning, and incorporate them into my teaching practice in close consultation with digital storytellers and tech pedagogues throughout the year,” explains Professor Dash Moore, who is also the director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at U-M. The NMJSC provides extensive training and consultation in new media techniques, but it is up to the fellows to secure resources on their own campuses in order to incorporate new media into their teaching practices in a sustainable way. Since interdisciplinary collaboration is central to the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies’ activities as well the Liberating Lens, Professor Dash Moore’s first foray into collaborative new media production is taking advantage of multiple synergies.

The Liberating Lens course not only benefits from the NMJSC’s creative and pedagogical guidance, it also benefits from funds earmarked for dissemination to professors nationwide, via presentations at conferences and workshops, and partnerships with Jewish cultural exhibitors. Cultural institutions engaged by NMJSC include the Contemporary Jewish Museum San Francisco (CJM), which exhibited work resulting from Citizen Film’s collaboration with Dr. Moore on The Liberating Lens on iPads in one of its galleries and through CJM’s website and social media profiles. (Visit to view a suite of Liberating Lens multimedia pages exploring Alfred Stieglitz’ Equivalents, for the CJM and SFMoMA joint exhibition Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art.”

The NMJSC is collaborating with CJM and others to disseminate new media-based experiential learning activities not only to Jewish Studies professors, but also to informal Jewish Studies educators at museums, community centers and other cultural institutions nationwide.

Professor Dash Moore explains, “Examples of visual, academically serious new media are still rare in Jewish Studies, so one of the benefits of collaborating with the NMJSC is that we are able to model examples of activities in consultation with digital storytelling instructors and museum new-media curators, and get feedback from Jewish educators, who are, like me, developing a digital storytelling practice of their own.”

The primary NMJSC consultant working on this project is digital storyteller Sam Ball, who has a national reputation for creating documentary films and multimedia works that interpret Jewish historical and literary sources. He has extensive experience training young adults in digital storytelling and new media. The portfolio of new-media based collaborative-learning techniques Ball, Citizen Film, Columbia and the NMJSC cohort have developed with resources from their institutions will be applied to the Liberating Lens and other college courses. Because the field of Jewish Studies is relatively small, the NMJSC is a laboratory that will have enormous impact on the field. The Liberating Lens will contribute significantly to the development of new-media based experiential learning and position U-M as a leader in this area.

“Because my students are collaboratively creating their own digital work about and inspired by the visions of 20th century Jewish photographers, I’m convinced that history, culture and ideas will become more meaningful to them. By studying Jewish photographers, and working together to design a coherent multimedia presentation, students in the Liberating Lens seminar will learn to look at and see their world differently. With knowledge gained from The Liberating Lens, we will also continue exploring ways of integrating new media techniques into other Frankel Center courses,” adds Professor Dash Moore.

The Liberating Lens course was taught in Fall 2013. Students created blog posts for assignments as well as completed portfolio projects that focused on a particular photobook by a Jewish American photographer. The projects can be seen at

Next steps for the Liberating Lens include a review of the course, especially its media component; discussion of ways to improve integration of media projects through regularly scheduled lab sessions; and the design of an advanced-level (300) version of the course to be taught in Winter 2015.

Project Team:

Deborah Dash Moore, Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies

Samuel Ball, Co-director of the New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative, a program of Columbia University and Citizen Film