During the First World War, nearly 250,000 Ottoman soldiers became prisoners of war. The British held over 150,000 of them in Egypt. Russians interned 90,000 other Ottomans throughout their empire. With much time on their hands, especially the officer prisoners turned to cultural activities, including theater, to bring some semblance of normality to their lives. This talk examines those theaters the Ottoman prisoners of war organized in captivity. More than just a way to pass the tedium of captivity life, theater became a survival strategy. It was a therapeutic activity which allowed the prisoners to survive emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. In the homosocial environment of the prison camps, officers-turned-actors dressed in drag to perform women’s roles in dramas and comedies. Because the plays represented the home life and idealized traditional gender roles, female impersonation helped prisoners define, heal and reassert their masculinity in relation to women.
Yücel Yanıkdağ is an Associate Professor of History and International Studies at the University of Richmond. His first book, Healing the Nation: Prisoners of War, Medicine and Nationalism in Turkey, 1914-1939, was published by the Edinburgh University Press in 2013. He is currently working on a new book, which will be a cultural and social history of the Ottomans in the First World War.
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This event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), the Center for European Studies, and Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies Research.
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