PERSIAN MATERIAL CULTURE &
AUSTRALIAN WAR CAMP LIFE
In our project we (the “children” and I) are studying their family material culture collected by their parents back in their childhood as mediums to open their memory to the past. These could be the real objects that they have in their possession from the past, especially from Iran, embedded as images in their family photographs, or simply exist in their virtual memory of the past. I have encouraged them to write about their family material culture and see how they can connect it to their past, to their childhood, and to their family and surrounding culture with the aim of the reconstruction of their memories.
While in Iran, the experiences of the families could be quite similar; but with the outbreak of war, leaving Iran, and living during the war, they will certainly differ massively. The children of most families recount incredible memories; in particular, what the children of the Girschik family narrate of life in the war camp and their memories has special importance for our project.
Since she was detained and held in Iran and then sent to the war prisons, Elfriede Girschik (R36356), the mother of the family, was able to keep many of the objects and material culture of her family’s life with her and bring them to Australia.
Here, we are entering into a new phase of our research, which is the anthropological study and the importance of material culture in coping with the war camp life and the situation behind barbed wire.
Material culture is often claimed to have been used in stressful conditions as a way of defining identity, articulating resistance, and preventing boredom, and these have been identified in conflict (Saunders 2009) and interment situations (Carr 2011). Generally speaking, this will help not only to understand how adult internees experienced and negotiated space and territory inside the war camps on a variety of levels (ibid: 189), but at the same time it will show how material culture in the form of personal possessions and items plays a fundamental role in enabling survival (Mytum 2011).
In our case, I am trying to work with the children of the Girschik family to better understand together the usage of their family material culture from Persia as a coping strategy by their mother in the stressful context of their imprisonment inside the Australian war camp (Mytum 2012). It is incredible to learn why and how, by the help of Persian material culture, their family territory was perceived and divided inside the camp by their mother.
We are also interested in learning how power structures were enacted and subverted, and how these can be recognized through space created by family objects and material culture. For example, how was their privacy created with the help of Persian carpets? Did their mother try to help her children to perceive the war camp space in a different way to adults with the help of objects and material culture from Persia? Was it possible, with the help of Persian family objects and material culture, to help her children to pass beyond the barbed wire from time to time, either metaphorically in the imagination or in their dreams?
By the examination of the ways of usages of family objects and Persian material culture inside the Australian war camp during the captivity, we would like to better understand their important role in the creation of networks of meanings and also actions that allowed a wide variety of coping strategies to be undertaken during their imprisonment.
Inside the hut. Loveday war internment camp. Linoleum print on paper by internee Carl von Brandenstein (R36413), 1943. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
An antique prayer rug (votive object dedicated to the shrine of Saint Masoumeh) from Qom used as a wall decoration inside the Girschik house, Tehran, 1938. Photograph: Rudolf Girschik (R36358). Girschik Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
Saunders, N. J. (2009). People in objects: Individuality and the quotidian in the material culture of war. In C. L. White (Ed.), The Materiality of individuality: Archaeological studies of individual lives (pp. 37-55). New York: Springer.
Carr, G. (2011). Engraving and embroidering motions upon the material culture of interment. In A. Myers and G. Moshenska (Eds.), Archaeologies of Interment (pp. 129-154). New York: Springer.
Mytum, H. (2011). A tale of two treatments: The materiality of interment on the Isle of Man in World Wars I and II. In A. Myers and G. Moshenska (Eds.), Archaeologies of Interment (pp. 33-52). New York: Springer.
Mytum, H. (2012). Materiality Matters: The Role of Things in Coping Strategies at Cunningham’s Camp, Douglas During World War I. In Mytum H., Carr G. (Eds.), Prisoners of War. Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology, vol 1., (pp. 169-187). New York: Springer.
© 2020-2023 Designed by P. KHOSRONEJAD
Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor
Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University
Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University