Andrea Colella, our Research Assistant, writes about uncovering valuable material in the Roth Collection.

In the Brotherton Library at Leeds, there is a collection of remarkable significance which is about to be revealed: the Roth Collection. Cecil Bezalel Roth (1899-1970) was a British historian, who published admirable and fundamental works on Judaism which are still being translated.

The works of Cecil Roth are a milestone in the Jewish historiography, especially but not only, regarding Italian Jewry.  For this reason, I read some of his contributions when I began conceiving and writing my dissertation thesis on Jews in Southern Italy.  Yet I would have never imagined that I would have such a close tie to him.  In February 2019 I was appointed as Research Assistant in Special Collections. Thanks to my duties, I had the great opportunity to know Cecil Roth through his publications and his personal correspondence, jottings and even invitations to celebrations.

Roth bookplate
Cecil Roth’s bookplate. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Roth’s work has not received the attention which it deserves, although a growing number of scholars are recognising its importance.  Just a couple of studies have been made. A Festschrift was presented to him by his English colleagues in 1966, while Italian scholars commemorated him through a Festschrift after his death.

Particularly significant for Roth was Italian Judaism, as shown by the number of resources related to it in the collection and his scholarly activity. The passion that Cecil Roth had for Italy and for its essential contribution to the humanitas is not a mystery for those who know his work and his life. In his monograph on the History of the Jews in Italy, he stated: “I have received more from Italy than I can hope to repay, known more happiness there than in any other land”.

The Roth Collection contains old and modern material. The older material consists of manuscripts, legal documents and letters from 17th-20th century.  Roth also collected and received many pamphlets from their authors, on which I am currently working.  Besides them, there are numerous pieces of private correspondence and personal objects, like jottings, working papers and pictures.

Prayer book
Roth MS/32. Manuscript translation of the Jewish prayer book. Image credit Leeds University Library.

As a Research Assistant, I have sorted ephemera and miscellaneous items, in several languages including Hebrew, Italian, English, German, French and Dutch.  I have been identifying them as carefully as possible with the aim of drafting a list.  I have identified two ketuboth, marriage contracts and a get, bill of divorce, from Rome, two Papal documents and a document of the Roman Inquisition. I have ideas and suggestions about other items, which need more research. In the last phase of my appointment, I am identifying and checking the numerous pamphlets.

Besides the work in the library and with the collection, I have also supported Eva Frojmovic and Jay Prosser organising the seminar series “The Archive after Cecil Roth: Jewish studies, cultural history and the Cecil Roth Collection”.

Work on this valuable collection does not terminate with the end of my contract  in July. Others will be engaging with Roth’s significant heritage in the near future, including a project cataloguer. Stay tuned!