I\’m Too Sexy for My Master\’s Thesis

the final countdown

Posted in history,jewish legion,thesis by Rae on 8 November 2006

Well, I electronically submitted my thesis last week. The deed is done, and I may not look at my thesis again for a few years. If past events are any indication (I’ve been married for over five years and still won’t watch my wedding video), it may be many years.


I didn’t make all of the changes I had hoped, thanks to an international move and a new job, but I was told it was good as it stood. So, that’s that. Now it’s just a matter of time until they send me my diploma and the thesis on CD.


Review: The Jewish Legion and the First World War by Martin Watts

Posted in history,jewish legion,scholarship by Rae on 5 June 2006

There are very few books written on my area of research, the Jewish Legion. Those that have been published generally fall into two categories: books written by Revisionist Zionists and books written by amateur historians. I'm not trying to make any statements, just pointing out the facts.

Anyway, here's a review I wrote of a book written by an author who more or less fits into the latter category.
MARTIN WATTS, The Jewish Legion and the First World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Pp. xviii + 256. $65.00 cloth.

Martin Watts’ The Jewish Legion and the First World War offers a history and analysis of Britain’s Jewish Legion. He provides detailed and carefully researched information on a topic that has been largely ignored by historians for nearly 90 years since the Palestine Campaign. Although Jewish self-defense is a common concept in contemporary society, from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 until the formation of Britain’s Zion Mule Corps in 1915, Jewish military forces were practically non-existent. For centuries Jews formed insular communities within the Ashkenazi Diaspora, having contact with non-Jews only as business required. Non-Jews viewed them as passive “people of the book.” Even in response to pogroms in the Tsarist Empire in the latter 1800s, Jews organized politically, not militarily. But in 1914, Vladimir Jabotinsky, an outspoken, controversial Zionist, began promoting a militaristic brand of Zionism.

Watts begins his study with the development of the Legion idea, which was “a Jewish army to fight on the Allied side, which would secure a seat at the peace conference and so obtain a Jewish state in Palestine” (p. 4). Jabotinsky was unsuccessful in promoting this idea in Italy and France and so traveled to Alexandria, where he and Joseph Trumpeldor petitioned the British authorities to form a Jewish military unit to fight in Palestine. The British responded that they could not form a fighting unit but could serve as a volunteer transport and supply group on an unspecified Turkish front. Trumpeldor accepted, but Jabotinsky was unhappy with the results and traveled to London to petition the government. As it turned out, the transport group was sent to Gallipoli and there served with distinction in the doomed campaign.

For several years, Jabotinsky and his allies (including Chaim Weizmann) persisted in their efforts in London to form a Jewish Legion to fight in Palestine. Through the bulk of the book, Watts successfully portrays the myriad obstacles they faced: anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and non-responsive bureaucracy, among others. After nearly three years of few successes and many failures, the diligence of Jabotinsky and a few other key characters paid off and the Jewish Legion was approved. But as Watts makes clear, it was not simply Jabotinsky’s doggedness that led to his desired outcome. Unpredictable and unplanned events enabled the formation of the unique Jewish force.

The magnitude of the war led the British government to allow Russian Jews and other foreign residents to serve in the British military. The Russian Jews refused to serve, however, because Russia and England were allied and they would not fight on Russia’s behalf. Once Russia dropped out and the United States joined the war, Russian Jews began to enlist and requested to join the rumored Jewish regiment. Nearly 2,000 U.S. and Canadian troops also volunteered to serve with the Legion. With the United States government backing the Jewish Legion and the British government attempting to gain the support of pro-German Jews at home and abroad, the formation of a Jewish regiment suddenly made sense. The influence of several prominent, pro-Zionist politicians also played a significant role in the creation of the Jewish Legion, which comprised three battalions of the Royal Fusiliers in the successful Palestine Campaign at the end of World War I. As Watts states in his conclusion, “The contribution of the Legion to Zionism, however, should not be underestimated, for its existence opened Palestine to the founders of Israel” (p. 243).

According to the introduction, Martin Watts first learned of the Jewish Legion in 1986 while he was still pursuing his commercial career as a repairer of traditional water- and wind-powered machinery. His love of history and research led him back to school and he obtained his Ph.D. in 2003; his dissertation was on the Jewish Legion. This book actually reads more like a dissertation: the literature review is extensive, the author references other authors a bit too much, and the narrative is bogged down by too many narrow details. Though Watts’ research is quite thorough, there are at least two important primary sources not included in his bibliography. Regardless, Watts situates the history of the Jewish Legion within both Jewish and British historical contexts quite well. Though Watts certainly leaves room for additional scholarship on the Jewish Legion, his book is an important and far too long overdue contribution to the field.

updated schedule

Posted in jewish legion,progress,thesis by Rae on 1 June 2006

I’m now in the 4th week of this blog and my thesis. Naturally, I created a schedule early on that I’ve since needed to adjust. As I near completion of my first chapter, this is what my schedule looks like:

WEEK 4 – 28 (Jesse’s wedding)

WEEK 5 – June 4 (Sarah’s move)
Zion Mule Corps (10)

WEEK 6 – 11
Social (10)

WEEK 7 – 18
Social (10)

WEEK 8 – 25
Social (10)

WEEK 9 – July 2
Social (10)

WEEK 10 – 9
Write conclusion (10) and intro (5)

WEEK 11 – 16 (trip to Montana)

WEEK 12 – 23

My brother’s wedding was this past weekend, which I had planned for in my scheduling. But, there’s always unexpected stuff that comes along. An example would be getting home 4.5 hours later than intended due to my plane’s faulty weather radar.

On another note, I’ve had a major breakthrough in my primary source material (which I mentioned in an earlier post). I was originally going to travel to another nearby university to scritinize a newspaper on microfilm. That particular university didn’t have an index for all the years I need to research, so it wasn’t going to be easy. Plus, their library is undergoing all kinds of construction and the microfilm is therefore located off-campus. Instead of dealing with all that, I can now access the newspaper’s archive via the internet. It’s pricey, but considering this particular newspaper is the #1 source of information for my thesis, it’s totally worth it.

I’ve also focused my research a bit more. Someone I know suggested that my original thesis idea might be a bit ambitious for a Master’s thesis, so I’ve focused my topic in two ways. First, I eliminated the Recruitment section of my research. I was initially going to research the establishment of the Jewish Legion and then recruitment efforts, but why give myself so much work when the recruitment efforts aren’t nearly as interesting as the establishment, anyway? Second, I thought about what aspects of my research were really stressing me out. What areas of my thesis are based upon knowledge I already have, and in what areas am I (almost) starting from scratch? Because British politics during WWI were terribly complicated and it’s already been written about, I decided to nix that (to an extent) from my thesis. My focus now is the turmoil, discussion, views within the Jewish community in Britain as related to the Jewish Legion. Everyone had an opinion, and many of those opinions were expressed in the pages of The Jewish Chronicle. General British politics will come up only if their was an obvious affect on discussion within the Jewish community.

My thanks to the two people who helped me refine my topic. You know who you are.

thesis outline

Posted in jewish legion,progress,thesis by Rae on 9 May 2006

This outline lays out my thesis topic. All titles are tentative, but accurately represent the subject matter.

The Finest Idea: Formation and Recruitment of the Jewish Legion in World War I


1. Zionism (Jewish and non-Jewish) and its Proponents





2. Zion Mule Corps

Palestine and Egypt


3. Establishing the Jewish Legion

a. Political





b. Social

Steed/The Times

Scott/Manchester Guardian

Greenberg/London Jewish Chronicle


4. Recruitment





I'm still formulating my thesis question, but I know it will pertain to the recruitment efforts. So, most of the paper will be the background and build up to recruitment: Zionism, the Zion Mule Corps at Gallipoli, politics, and social issues. Then I'll cover the actual recruitment efforts in the various countries.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with the professor I mentioned last week. We'll discuss my thesis topic in general and the section on Zionism specifically. I'll need to revamp my Zionism bibliography today, plus gather together everything I've written on Zionism in the past.

I'm hoping to start yoga next week.

thesis topic

Posted in jewish legion,thesis by Rae on 2 May 2006

I might be too sexy for my Master's thesis, but I still have to write the darn thing. Which is not to say that I'm not interested in my topic, because I am. Totally. Let's just say that there are things that I'm more interested in lately. Getting paid for my work is one of those things, but writing my thesis is not work that I get paid for.

Money aside, my topic is so interesting that I'm having a difficult time settling the exact focus. Some of that has to do with research (I can't write about it if there aren't primary documents out there to support it), but mostly I'm just scared to pick something and stick with it. Enough dilly-dallying, you say? Fine, my topic is the Jewish Legion.

Soldiers of the Jewish Legion

The Jewish Legion was the unofficial name of three Jewish regiments that served in the British army from 1917-1918. But not just any Jewish regiments. These were regiments comprised of British and non-British Jews (Russians, Palestinians, Americans, Canadians, etc.). I had initially hoped to write my thesis on the Zion Mule Corps, which was a transport unit of Palestinian and Russian Jews that served on the British side of the disasterous Gallipoli campaign (also during WWI), but there just wasn't enough info on that to produce a 100-page thesis. So, I expanded the topic to include the Jewish Legion (many of the Muleteers later served in the Legion). At first I wanted to focus on recruitment, and then I thought about focusing on the Christian Zionist motivations of the non-Jews who were crucial to the creation of the Jewish Legion. Now I'm thinking about focusing on the life and role of Col. J. H. Patterson, the Irish Protestant commander of the Zion Mule Corps and Jewish Legion. All of these sub-topics are equally interesting to me, so it's really a matter of finding enough material to produce the aforementioned 100 pages.

How'd you figure out your thesis/dissertation topic?