Creative Expression and the Material Culture of Italian POWs in the United States During World War II - new article from Material Culture Review

Laura E. Ruberto's picture

New article now out: "Creative Expression and the Material Culture of Italian POWs in the United States During World War II" by Laura E. Ruberto, in the Revue de la culture matérielle /Material Culture Review Volume 92-93 (Summer 2022). 

This study builds off of research in material culture, folklife, and ethnic studies in order to add to the growing body of what Gillian Carr and H.C. Mytum have called “POW cultural studies” (Carr and Mytum, 2012, p.1).  As a cultural studies scholar engaging with Italian transnational concerns, my approach emerges from an interdisciplinary interest in the use of space, place-making, and the ways value and meaning are ascribed to the material world. Influenced by a multitude of perspectives, including Michel de Certeau’s focus on the everyday and Arjun Appadurai’s narrativization of objects, I begin with the perspective that revealing creative acts and unpacking the relationships between individuals and objects can be a strategy for recovering stories otherwise not well documented (de Certeau 2011; Appadurai 1998). As such, through detailing and organizing the constructed material culture of Italian POWs, I consider how such examples demonstrate what Simone Bronner has described as the “human need for material means of capturing experience” (2004, p. 12). Bronner’s concern with the “symbolic dimensions of material life” (p. 15) helps highlight the way these prisoner-made structures become kinds of material culture synecdoches for the makers’ war experiences, including possible senses of displacement, loss, reinvention, and belonging. In so doing, my project pushes material culture studies to a more inclusive  perspective by broadening its application to expansive notions of internment as well as by furthering the discipline’s connection to Italian migration studies. Recognizing the POWs experiences as part of a larger diasporic process also pushes a re-evaluation of the concept of nation, home, and migrant and asks us to consider the role of creativity during wartime as central to the formation of a cultural ethos.