by Jess Marvin
Dr. Peter La Chapelle, an associate professor of history at Nevada State College, was recently awarded a research grant by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA). His research project, Antisemitism and Henry Ford’s Old Time Music and Dance Revival: A Study of Audience Responses to Culture and Hate Discourse in the 1920s, was selected from an international field of applicants.
Professor La Chapelle’s research focuses on anti-Semitism in American culture in the 1920s, and how one of the most prominent and powerful figures of that time period, Henry Ford, fueled anti-Semitism in America through his newspaper and cultural programs.
This research seeks to provide insight into how cultural traditions may be used to support an anti-Semitic program, said La Chapelle. Anti-Semitism found in Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, sometimes intersected with Ford’s other pursuits, including his efforts to support the arts.
Established in 1982, SICSA is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to an independent, non-political approach to the accumulation and dissemination of the knowledge essential for understanding anti-Semitism. SICSA researches anti-Semitism throughout history and focuses specifically on relations between Jews and non-Jews in conflict or crisis situations.
The grant funding will allow Dr. La Chapelle to continue his research project over the next year, at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford complex in Detroit, Mich.
Ford was a promoter of old-time music, especially fiddling, and of certain 19th century dance styles, added La Chapelle. Examining fan mail to Ford will help us better understand whether his promotion of culture was an effective form of fomenting hate and the extent to which audiences made connections between Ford’s anti-Semitism and his efforts at cultural revival.
Dr. La Chapelle’s past scholarship has included Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California (University of California Press, 2007), which went on to receive an honorable mention for the Urban History Association’s Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in Urban History. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Dr. La Chapelle is creating an undergraduate oral history project at NSC, which will explore the abundant community history of the city of Henderson.