Elissa Sampson



Elissa Sampson, Lecturer in Cornell's Jewish Studies program, is an urban geographer who studies how the past is actively used to create new spaces of migration, memory, heritage and activism. Her life-long interest in Jewish migration, re-diasporization and culture has been pursued in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Paris and elsewhere prior to realizing Ithaca’s centrality to that map.

Research Focus

Recent publications touch upon Jewish life today in the Lower East Side, contemporary Yiddish theater, Triangle Fire commemoration, the Jewish Yiddish Left, the academic use of the term "Ghetto" in relation to East European Jews in the U.S., ethnicity, and museums. Her dissertation documented how the acquisition of a Lower East Side building shaped the Lower East Side Tenement Museum's stories of immigrant history. She has given academic and public tours and lectures on the Lower East Side’s built environment and communities for many years, and was a featured consultant for the documentary, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream and for PBS' Triangle Fire anniversary program, The Fire of a Movement.

Her recent work Fellow Travelers: From Popular Front to Cold War. Selections from the ILR School Catherwood Library Archives of the Yiddish Immigrant Left was funded by a Cornell Digital Humanities DCAPS Digital Consulting & Production Award. The project curates, conserves, and digitizes an important section of the International Workers’ Order (IWO) confiscated archives most especially those of its Jewish division, known as the Jewish People's Fraternal Order (JPFO). These archives were mainly donated by New York State which shut down the IWO at the height of the “Red Scare” and are held at Cornell’s Kheel Center in the Industrial and Labor Relations School.

The left-wing IWO was founded in 1930 and disbanded in 1953. The JPFO was the largest of its many “national” sections; the archives directly record its activities in English as well as Yiddish. The digitized documents support research and teaching in a range of disciplines (gender studies, Black Studies, Jewish Studies, immigration, left-wing movements) as well as preserve a unique scholarly resource that serves as a teaching tool.


Awards and Honors

Eighth Acker Annual Award, December 2022, Lower East Side

Lower East Side Hero Award, May 2017


"Yiddish Leftists as Early Inter-Ethniks," In American Jews and Comparative Ethnicity, editor Jonathan Karp. Series "The Jewish Role in American Life." Purdue University Press. Casden Center at USC.  December, 2023.

"Jewish People’s Fraternal Order," article. Jewish Americans, article in Encyclopedia of the American Left, edited by Paul Buhle, Mari Jo Buhle. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming, Winter 2024.

“Revisiting Their Words: An Archive of the Jewish Immigrant Left,” in Cultura Judeo-progresista en las Américas, edited by Nerina Visacovsky. Imago Mundi Publishing House and its Archives Collection (CEHTI), August 2022.

"Critical introduction for catalogue and exhibit: Tikkun Olam, Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim, Neuenhaus, Germany. 2021. Online-Ausstellung: Tikkun Olam auf Ruth Sergels Website https://streetpictures.org/tikkunolam/

“Grunge Authenticity: The Tenement as Upscale Tourist Destination,” in Tourism Gentrification in Contemporary Metropolises, International Perspectives, Taylor & Francis, Fall 2017.

“Yosl Rakover Speaks to God,” in Imagining the Jewish God, edited by Leonard Kaplan and Ken Koltun‑Fromm. Rowan & Littlefield, Lexington Books, Summer 2016.

“Riding Memory,” final essay in See You in the Streets: Art, Action & Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, public history series, edited by Ruth Sergel. University of Iowa Press, Spring 2016.

"Louis Wirth and the American Image of the Frankfurt Ghetto” (with Jonathan Boyarin) in Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge, No. 40: 2015, Frankfurt’s ‘Jewish Notabilia’ (‘Jüdische Merckwürdigkeiten’): Ethnographic Views of Urban Jewry in Central Europe around 1700.

Review of Michael Meng, Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Germany and Poland. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. November 20, 2015. East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 45, 2-3, special issue: New Jewish Museums in post-Communist Europe.

“Moral Lessons from a Storied Past,” Moral Encounters in Tourism, Ashgate Current Developments in the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism series edited by Mary Mostafanezhad and Kevin Hannam on behalf of the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). August 2014.

“Lower East Side Landings,” AJS Perspectives, The Land Issue, Spring 2014 (with Dr. Jonathan Boyarin). All accompanying photographs by E. Sampson.

Contributing researcher and writer. Synagogues of the Lower East Side, Gerard Wolfe, Fordham University Press, 2012.

Film and Podcasts, Consultancy

·       Featured Onscreen Interviewee, Podcast series, Fire!, An American Burning, Belt Magazine, November 10, 2023

·       Featured Onscreen Interviewee, “The Future of America’s Past.” Lance Warren, Co-Director (Fall 2019) 

·       Featured Onscreen Interviewee, “Luckiest Guys in the Lower East Side.” Anthony Amatullo, Director (Spring 2019) 

·       Featured Onscreen Interviewee, “Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream.” Michael Levine, Director (Spring 2016) 


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