UCLA » College » Social Sciences » History

Jessica Goldberg


Contact Information

Email    goldberg@history.ucla.edu
Office  6254 Bunche Hall
Phone  310-267-5942
Jessica Goldberg studies the medieval history of the Mediterranean basin, Christian Europe, and the Islamic world, specializing in economic and legal institutions and culture.

After earning an A.B. in Social Studies from Harvard University, Professor Goldberg spent several years teaching high school math, then completed a Ph.D. in the History Department at Columbia University in 2006. Before joining the UCLA faculty in 2013, Professor Goldberg taught at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Goldberg’s research interests include the history of medieval trade, business, and industry, definitions of regions and regional identity in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, epistolographic culture, and the idea and practice of law in medieval societies. She also maintains a strong interest in digital humanities, which has been methodologically important to much of her research. Her first book, Trade and Institutions in the Medieval Mediterranean: The Geniza Merchants and their Business World (Cambridge University Press, Studies in Economic History, 2012) explores the nature and geography of the medieval Islamic economy, the ways a group of merchants engaged with local and long-distance infrastructures and institutions of trade, and how notions of identity—religious, political, and geographic—affected the practices of business. Professor Goldberg has also written articles on the nature and use of merchant letters, on the economic activities of Jews under Islam, on contracts and contract enforcement regimes among medieval merchants, and on the legal persona of children in medieval canon law.

Professor Goldberg is currently pursuing work in a number of directions. She is working on a monograph on the emergence of Genoa in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a major player in the Mediterranean world, and re-examining the bases of the city’s economic and political growth and centrality within the context of both European and Mediterranean institutional development. As part of this project, she is working with several collaborators to explore the possibilities of training computers to analyze relationships within thousands of medieval contracts using natural language processing.

She is also continuing work with sources from the Cairo Geniza: organizing and co-editing a guide to the use of the documentary materials from the Geniza; preparing a typological study of commercial letter; working with Avrom Udovitch on a volume of annotated translations of merchant materials. The documentary sources of the Cairo Geniza have been an important source for Professor Goldberg’s historical work. These materials, thousands of examples of ‘everyday writing’ from c. 950-1250, are part of the more than 380,000 pieces of paper discarded into the ‘sacred trash dump’ inside the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cario. The documentary materials are one of the most important extant sources for medieval Islamic social and economic history, as well as for medieval Jewish communal and cultural history. Professor Goldberg is currently leading a multi-institutional working group to develop research website to make these sources more accessible to scholars, teachers, and interested publics.


Ph.D. Medieval History, Columbia University, 2005


2012 Charles V. Ryskamp Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. 2012-2015 

Theme Member, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ 2012-2013. Theme: “Economy and Politics”

Mellon Foundation Member, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, 2009-2010 

Charles Ludwig Distinguished Teaching Award, 2009, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Fellow, Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, 2006-2007.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford Humanities Fellows Program, Stanford University, 2005-2006

Selected Publications

Trade and Institutions in the Medieval Mediterranean: The Geniza Merchants and their Business World (Cambridge Studies in Economic History, Cambridge University Press, August 2012).

“Choosing and Enforcing Business relationships in the Eleventh-century Mediterranean: re-examining the ‘Maghribī traders’,” Past & Present, 215 no. 2 (August 2012): 3-40

“The Use and Abuse of the Geniza Mercantile Letter,” Journal of Medieval History 38 no. 2 (2012): 127-154.

“On reading Goitein’s A Mediterranean Society: a view from economic history,” Mediterranean Historical Review 26 no. 2 (2011): 171-186. (16 pages)*

“The Legal Persona of the Child in Gratian’s Decretum,” Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law 24 (2000): 10-53.

“Economic Activities,” in Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 5: Jews in the Medieval Islamic World, Chazan and Rustow, eds. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming

Co-editor with Eve Krakowski, Special volume of Jewish History, “Documentary Geniza research in the twenty-first century.” Commissioned for 2014.

Digital Humanities
“The Digital Documentary Geniza.” Multi-institutional project to integrate images and transcriptions of documents from the ‘historical’ Geniza, develop guides and typologies to catalogue and describe unique kinds of material, develop publicly accessible and editable databases for personal names, place names, word lists, interpersonal networks, etc. Head of working group which includes Mark Cohen (Princeton), Marina Rustow (Johns Hopkins), Ben Outhwaite (Cambridge University), Miriam Frenkel (Hebrew University), and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman (Vanderbilt), to develop miulti-year, multi-institutional grant.