Francesco Spagnolo

Curator & Associate Adjunct Professor

Francesco Spagnolo is a multidisciplinary scholar focusing on Jewish studies, music, and digital media. At the University of California, Berkeley, he is the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life and an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Music. He is also an affiliated faculty with the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, the Institute of European Studies, the Religious Diversity Cluster of the Haas Institute, and serves on the Digital Humanities Council. Dr. Spagnolo is also a host for the cultural programs of Italian National Radio (RAI) in Rome. 

Intersecting textual, visual and musical cultures, he actively contributes to academic and cultural heritage institutions, as well as live and electronic media, in Europe, Israel, and the United States. He is frequently invited to present at academic institutions worldwide, publishes on topics ranging from music to philosophy, film, and literature, and curates exhibitions and digital programs. 

As a scholar, his research interests center on the intersections of music and synagogue life, particularly among Italian Jews, an arena in which Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgical and popular musical traditions have historically come together in unique ways. As a curator, his focus is on the performative aspects of Jewish material cultures and creative expressions across the global diaspora. Where his scholarly and curatorial work meet is in asking a variety of questions about the nature of (Jewish) cultural heritage, and the role of synagogues, archives, and museums (including their respective "rituals" and performative settings) as communal institutions in the modern period. 


  • PhD, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2007
  • Laurea, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy, 1994
  • B.A. Conservatorio di Musica "G. Verdi"di Milano, Italy, 1986

UC Berkeley Courses 

Other University Courses

  • Aesthetics in Islam and Judaism (HSHR 2780, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Spring 2019)
  • Jews, Italy, and Fascism (UC Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Spring 2018)
  • The Cultures of the Synagogue (HRHS 4320, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Spring 2017)
  • Studies in Musical Genres: Jewish Musics Series (MUS 343, Sonoma State University, Fall 2015)


  1. Memory Objects: Judaica Collections and Global Migrations | 2019
  2. Pièces de Résistance: Echoes of Judea Capta from Ancient Coins to Modern Art | 2018 
  3. The Karaite Canon: Manuscripts and Ritual Objects from Cairo | 2018
  4. High Holy Days at the Luna Park. Show-card posters from the Firschein Press | 2018
  5. The Invisible Museum. History & Memory of Morocco (Case Study No. 8) | 2017 
  6. Sketching "Fiddler": Set Designs by Mentor Huebner | 2017 
  7. The Power of Attention: Magic & Meditation in Hebrew shiviti Manuscripts | 2017 
  8. I-Tal-Yah, An Island of Divine Dew. Italian Crossroads in Jewish Culture (Case Study No. 7) | 2016 
  9. Ezekiel Schloss: By Design. American Jewish Education in the 'World Over' Cover Art | 2016 
  10. From Mendelssohn To Mendelssohn: German Jewish Encounters in Art, Music, and Material Culture | 2016 
  11. Stages of Identity: Theater Posters from The Magnes Collection (1903-1994) | 2016 
  12. Living by The Book: Jewish Identity and the Everyday Power of Text (Case Study No. 6) | 2015 
  13. Larger than Life: Jonah and the Fish | 2015 
  14. Mima'amaqim. In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art (David Wilson & Francesco Spagnolo) | 2015 (as Guest Curator at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco) 
  15. The Future of Memory: Jewish Culture in the Digital Age | 2015 
  16. The Secret Language of Flowers. Botanical Drawings from Israel, 1949-1950 | 2015
  17. Gourmet Ghettos. Modern Food Rituals (Case Study No. 5) | 2014 
  18. Literary Minds: Soviet Jewish Writers Portrayed by Matvey Vaisberg | 2014 
  19. Saved by The Bay: The Intellectual Migration from Fascist Europe to UC Berkeley | 2014 
  20. Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley (Case Study No. 4) | 2013 
  21. Holy Land, California. Prints by Albert Garvey | 2013 
  22. Sound Objects (Case Study No. 3) | 2013 
  23. Reborn: Posters from the European Jewish Cultural Renaissance | 2012 
  24. The Inventory Project (Case Study No. 2) | 2012 
  25. Dissolving Localities | Berkeley Jerusalem | 2012
  26. The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collecting | 2012
  27. Gained in Translation: Jews, Germany, California circa 1848 | 2011 

Select Publications 

Books, Journals, and CDs

  • Editor, The Musical Traditions of the Jews in Corfu, Greece, “Anthology of Musical Traditions in Israel,” The Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (in preparation)
  • Editor (with Judah Cohen and Klára Móricz), Journal of Jewish Identities. Special Issue on Jewish Music, 10/1 (January 2017), The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Author (with Alla Efimova), The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture, New York, Skirà Rizzoli 2014
  • Editor, Italian Jewish Musical Traditions from the Leo Levi Collection (1954–1962), “Anthology of Musical Traditions in Israel” no. 14, The Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & Archivi di Etnomusicologia, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome-Jerusalem 2001 (reissued 2006)
  • Editor, Estetica delle situazioni estreme [An Aesthetics of Extreme Situations], Cuem, Milan 2000, 200 p. [Italian] 
  • Author, Il ballo del camaleonte. Citazione, strategie del testo e sopravvivenza intorno a Zelig di W. Allen [The Chameleon’s Dance. Quotation, Textual Strategies and Survival Around W. Allen’s Zelig], Cuem, Milan 1999, 115 p. [Italian] 
  • Editor, Imre Toth, No! Libertà e verità, creazione e negazione [No! Freedom and Truth, Creation and Negation. A Palimpsest of Words and Images by Imre Toth], Rusconi, Milano 1998, 487 p. (reissued: Bompiani, Milan 2003) [Italian] 

Recent Articles (in books, journals, and encyclopedias)

  • "Layers of Song. Migrations, Identities, and Synagogue Music in Corfu, Greece," in Music in the Mediterranean Diaspora,  Ed. Kate van Orden, I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History, Cambridge, Harvard University Press (forthcoming in 2019)
  • "Sounds of Emancipation: Politics, Identity, and Music in 19th-century Italian Synagogues," The New Italy and the Jews from Massimo D'Azeglio to Primo Levi. Ed. Jonathan Druker and L. Scott Lerner. Spec. issue of Annali d'Italianistica 36/2018: 115-140
  • Il suono della Melting Pot. I canti sinagogali di Venezia e le registrazioni di Leo Levi (1954-1959), in Musiche della tradizione ebraica a Venezia. Le registrazioni di Leo Levi (1954-1959), Ed. Piergabriele Mancuso, Roma, Squilibri, 2018: 46-60 [Italian]
  • "The Bimah & The Stage: Synagogue Music and Cultural Production in the Italian Ghettos" in Venice, The Jews, and Europe 1516-2016, Ed. Donatella Calabi, Venice, Marsilio 2016: 264-269 
  • "Italian Jewish Cultural Identity: A Regional Perspective" in Musiche della tradizione ebraica in Piemonte, Ed. Franco Segre, Roma, Squilibri 2015: 11-44
  • "Unsettling Encounters: Missing Links of European Jewish Experience and Discourse" in Samuel Bronner ed. Framing Jewish Culture: Boundaries and Representations. Jewish Cultural Studies 4/2013: 357-363
  • "Back to Life, Twice. The Revivals of Ladino Song in 20th-century Italy," Journal of Synagogue Music 38/Fall 2013: 109-120
  • "Music and Synagogue Life" in Italy, Ed. Roni Weinstein, Jerusalem, Ben Zvi Institute 2012: 143-150 [Hebrew]
  • “'Those Note in Minor Tones...' Oriental Themes, Liturgical Debates and Musical Icons in 19th-Century Jewish Italy" in Garment and Core. Jews and their Musical Experiences, Ed. E. Avitsur, M. Ritzarev and E. Seroussi, Ramat Gan, Bar-Ilan University Press 2012: 83-100
  • "Scritto in italiano, ascoltato in ebraico. A proposito delle fonti scritte della musica ebraica in Italia" in Ebraismo in Musica. Da Mantova all’Europa e ritorno, Ed. Stefano Patuzzi, Mantova, Di Pellegrini 2011: 87-101 [Italian] 
  • "Cultural Content and Digital Form, or The Other Way Around? Jewish Collections, Research and the Digital Renaissance" in Testimonianze della cultura ebraica: ricerca, valorizzazione, digitale. Il progetto Judaica Europeana, Proceedings of the international conference, Fermo, Oct. 6-7, Ed. Giuseppe Capriotti and Pierluigi Feliciati, Macerata, EUM Edizioni Università di Macerata 2011: 249-274

Francesco has taught at the University of Milan (Philosophy dept.) and at UC Santa Cruz (Music and Literature depts.), and has lectured and participated in national and international conferences on music, Jewish studies and digital media at academic institutions worldwide, including the universities of Milan, Rome, Padua, the EHESS in Paris, the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, Harvard University, Yale, the University of Virgina, Indiana University, the University of California at Davis, Santa Cruz, UCLA, Ohio State University, San Francisco State University, Sonoma State University, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), NYU, the National Library of Israel, as well as the Jewish Culture Festival (Krakow, Poland), the Internet Archive and Creative Commons. 

In 1995-1997, Francesco coordinated the activities of Yuval France, a center for the study of Jewish Music at the Alliance Israèlite Universelle in Paris. Upon returning to Italy in 1997, he established "Yuval Italia," the first Jewish music archives in Italy: initially housed at the Rabbinical School of Milan, the archives were recently transferred to the Italian Center of Jewish Documentation (CDEC).  Between 1998 and 2002, he was responsible for the preservation and publication of Italian Jewish sound recordings at the Ethnomusicology Archives of the National Music Academy in Rome and the National Sound Archives in Jerusalem. 

As a radio producer and host, Francesco first produced a weekly program on Jewish music and culture at Radiopopolare, Milan (1997-2002), and later became an anchor for the daily cultural program, Radiotre Suite, broadcast live by RAI (Italian National Radio) from Rome (2001-2003, and again since 2012). In 2002-2003, he reported weekly from Jerusalem for RAI Radiotre. Francesco has also produced and appeared in concerts at music and theater festivals in Italy and the United States. 

Francesco's Dissertation work, The Musical Traditions of the Jews in Piedmont (Italy) (Hebrew University, 2007), based on a multi-disciplinary methodology that combines history, musicology, and ethnographic fieldwork, provided a vivid portrait of synagogue life in Italy during the 18th-20th centuries by intersecting written, oral and archival sources, as well as countless news items from the Italian Jewish press. Through musical lenses, this work addressed synagogue life in all its multifaceted components: liturgy and text, social, intergenerational dynamics and gender roles, aesthetics and architecture, and the politics of identity.

Francesco's publications include the Italian edition of Imre Toth's Palimpsest (1998 and 2003), the audio-anthology Italian Jewish Musical Traditions (Hebrew University, 2001 and 2006), three books (Il ballo del camaleonte, 1999; Estetica delle situazioni estreme, 2000; The Jewish World, 2014), and a host of articles and essays on philosophy, music, film and literature in academic journals, books and encyclopedias, including Rivista Italiana di Musicologia, the Encyclopedia Judaica, and the Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. He maintains Bella e perduta, a bi-lingual weblog on Italian Jewish music and culture.  

In 2007, Francesco became the Director of Research and Collections at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California, where he created an online integrated (Archive-Library-Museum) database, and several innovative digital programs, including Jewish Digital Narratives, a project involving the online dissemination of cultural heritage collections, storytelling and archiving that combines website and database approaches with social media tools. This work was instrumental in the creation of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, at the University of California, Berkeley, where since 2010 he is Curator of Collections. In this position, he stewarded the development of staff, collection resources, research and teaching programs leveraging the holdings of The Magnes. Under his curatorship, The Magnes acquired, among others, the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection (2017). 

Francesco received a BA (equivalent) in Music from the Conservatory of Milan (1986), a Laurea cum laude in Philosophy from the University of Milan with a dissertation on the narrative uses of quotations (1994), and a PhD in Musicology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a dissertation on the music and synagogue life of the Jews in Italy (2007). In 1995-1997, he conducted post-doctoral research at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris), under Jacques Derrida.