Vanderbilt has recently acquired part of the library of the late Hebrew scholar David Patterson. Patterson spent virtually his entire career at Oxford, where he established the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He was honored with the title of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2003 “for services to Jewish Studies”, the first time that such an award has been made. He passed away in 2005.
Patterson assembled his library over many years, beginning even before his formal university studies, when he was living on a kibbutz shortly after the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. The range of his collection was broad, reflecting his manifold interests and multilingual reading skills, but the principal concentration was in modern Hebrew literature.
Vanderbilt’s David Wasserstein, the Eugene Greener Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies and professor of history, studied under Patterson and was familiar with his collection. Wasserstein brought Vanderbilt together with José Patterson, David’s widow, resulting in the acquisition.
“As a teacher Patterson was quietly inspiring—he lectured entirely without notes, always turning out a perfectly structured talk that lasted exactly the allotted length of time,” Wasserstein said. “Reading Hebrew poetry with him was like the slow taking apart of a Russian doll—layer after layer of meaning coming into view. Jewish Studies at Oxford owes its survival and its flourishing existence there today to Patterson, and it is to be hoped that the arrival of parts of his library in Vanderbilt will have similar knock-on effects here.”
The Patterson acquisition fills key gaps in the Vanderbilt collection, increasing holdings of modern Jewish writers of Hebrew both before and after the foundation of Israel. Patterson had a special interest and expertise in the emergent Hebrew literature of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment of the 19th century. His holdings for that area in particular will deepen the ability of scholars at Vanderbilt to study the development of Hebrew literature in some of its most exciting and important decades.
“Reading Hebrew poetry with him was like the slow taking apart of
a Russian doll—layer after layer of meaning coming into view.”