The Center for Jewish History and Blavatnik Archive Unveil New Exhibition: The Dreyfus Affair in Postcards: Going Viral at the End of the 19th Century

New York, NY (June 20, 2024)

The Center for Jewish History (CJH) and the Blavatnik Archive are pleased to announce the opening of their latest collaborative exhibition, The Dreyfus Affair in Postcards: Going Viral at the End of the 19th Century. Officially opening on Thursday, June 20, at the Center for Jewish History, the exhibit offers a unique perspective on the infamous Dreyfus Affair through the lens of “Dreyfusard” and “anti-Dreyfusard” postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894 with the false accusation and unjust conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army. The events not only rocked France but also divided it deeply, bringing the nation nearly to the brink of civil war. This political scandal drew international attention, with prominent figures such as Émile Zola, Marcel Proust, and Claude Monet supporting Dreyfus, while others, including Jules Verne and Edgar Degas, opposed him. The Affair tested the impartiality and fairness of the French justice system and served as a pivotal moment for reevaluating societal attitudes toward religious and ethnic minorities.

Julie Chervinsky, Director of the Blavatnik Archive, shared her thoughts on the exhibit:

“By focusing on a vibrant popular medium—the picture postcard—we hope to bring to life the key events, stakes, and impact of the Dreyfus Affair. Despite being more than 100 years old, these postcards carry imagery and messaging with acute contemporary relevance, and remind us of the dangers posed by nationalism and antisemitism to justice and personal rights.

Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld, President of the Center for Jewish History, expressed his enthusiasm for this collaboration:

"Our partnership with the Blavatnik Archive has allowed us to present a compelling narrative of the Dreyfus Affair through a unique visual medium. These postcards offer an early form of social commentary and provide valuable insights into the power of the era’s media to shape the perception of historical events."

Made possible by the generous support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the exhibition features expert commentary from Professor Maurice Samuels (Yale University), who sheds light on how picture postcards—an innovative and widely popular medium of the time—documented the controversy and allowed supporters and opponents of Dreyfus to communicate their views in what can be seen as an early form of social media.

Professor Samuels, author of Alfred Dreyfus: The Man at the Center of the Affair, highlighted the significance of the postcards:

"These postcards from the Dreyfus Affair provide a picture of a nation torn in two by antisemitism, much like our current moment. Many of them also happen to be fascinating works of art. Seeing how political divisions manifested themselves through images gives us a new perspective on an important historical event and sheds light on the way that popular culture infiltrated new realms of experience at the end of the nineteenth century in France."