This working group discusses research on cultural and material production by people who experienced different forms of detention during modern military conflicts. It focuses on life writing, literary and poetry works, photography and visual artworks by civilian internees, prisoners of war and refugees between 1940 and the present.

Captivity and Creativity in Wartime

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    Elena Bellina

    This working group aims to expand, in a comparative and transnational direction, the project on Italian POWs’ intellectual production started with the 2022 MLA Convention roundtable Multilingual Encounters in Captivity: Italians in POW Camps. The roundtable has resulted in a proposal for a collection of essays on captivity and creativity that the working group will discuss at the 2023 convention by broadening its focus and comparing the Italian case to the Australian, American, British, and Canadian ones during WWII, as well as to cases – as the Kurdish captives’ creative production – in more recent conflicts. Participants will discuss different cultural works crafted in civilian, refugee, and military camps by looking at various writings (novels, letters, diaries), publications (newsletters and newspapers), music works, artworks, and photographs. The group’s scope is to move past the historiographical approach and engage scholars from diverse backgrounds in an interdisciplinary discussion around the theme of creativity behind barbed wire considering seminal work on war prisoners’ production (Carr and Mytum 2012).

    The working group consists of eight participants who will share their ongoing research.

    1) Anthony White, Italian Internees and Prisoners of War in Australia 1940-1945: Carceral Aesthetics investigates art produced by Italian internees and POWs held in Australian detention camps in New South Wales during in comparison to German internees.

    2) Giorgia Alù, Captured: Life and Creativity in Photographs of Imprisonment, looks at photographs of and by Italian internees and POWs taken in Australia and Great Britain.

    3) Laura Ruberto, “Fascism, Art, and Aloha: The Legacies of Italian Prisoners of War in Hawaii considers the art and architecture created by Italian POWs detained in Hawaii that are still located in active U.S. military bases.

    4) Elena Bellina, Musical and Scientific Production in British East Africa Internment Camps, 1941-1947 focuses on the musical and scientific activity with which the Italians interned in in East escaped the trauma of captivity.

    5) Angela Princiotto, “Love and Censorship in Letters from Ethiopia,” analyzes the themes and linguistic contaminations between Sicilian, Italian and English in a corpus of letters written by Italian detainees in Ethiopia in 1940-1947.

    6) Marius Hentea, “Wodehouse’s War: Writing Internment in Money in the Bank,” considers how P.G. Wodehouse’s internment in Camp Ilag VIII Tost (Poland), in 1940-1941 influenced the depiction of Shipley Hall into a structure akin to an internment camp.

    7) Matteo Brera, “The Making of Ethnic Prisoners in Canada: History, Fiction and Political Opportunism in Mario Duliani’s The City without Women” analyzes Duliani’s book not only as a precursor to key post-war literary works on internment such as Primo Levi, but also as a successful attempt to create and convey a fictional and highly politicized ethnic imagery of Italian Canadian internees during WWII.

    8) Megan Butler, “Unbound, Unhidden:  Reconstituting Personhood through Narrative Naming in Behrouz Boochani’s No Friends but the Mountains,” investigates Kurdish journalist Boochani’s prison narrative written using Facebook and WhatsApp messaging on hidden phones while detained in a refugee camp on Manus Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea as an act of resistance. With Butler’s paper we want to start to look at new multimedia creative writing processes that we plan to showcase in relation to digital humanities projects.

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