Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
Desiring the Captive Mind: The YMCA and Early Cinema in WWI Prison Camps

Histories of captivity have often understood prisoners as passive objects waiting to be reformed, remade, and rethought. Drawing on the artistic productions, correspondence, and writings of Austro-Hungarian prisoners held in Siberia during the First World War—in camps such as Nikolsk-Ussuriysk and Tomsk—my dissertation complicates this unidirectional understanding of captivity. It does so by connecting the social liminality of the camps with an emerging state and institutional understanding of visual media such as film, which were used as a way of seducing the prisoners' "captive minds" toward predetermined goals. However, in looking at how prisoners understood this media and how they themselves created media such as lantern slide shows and motion pictures, I recover a prisoner resistance to (or reformulation of) these camp media initiatives. Here, my project complicates the discussion of World War I's technologies of death (i.e., automatic, biological, and airborne weapons), arguing that a history of the conflict must also include technologies of life, of pleasure, or of distraction. Through this, I show that the masses of bodies subjected to the horrors of trench warfare in Europe were mirrored by another mass of bodies subjected to the psychological warfare waged in prison camps.