Italian Studies | Seminar – Bounded spaces: stories of transformations and cultural production in confinement during WWII – School of Languages and Cultures Italian Studies | Seminar – Bounded spaces: stories of transformations and cultural production in confinement during WWII – School of Languages and Cultures

Stone heads in rusted wire cage

Italian Studies | Seminar – Bounded spaces: stories of transformations and cultural production in confinement during WWII

Italian Studies seminar

Bounded spaces: stories of transformations and cultural production in confinement during WWII

Wednesday 16 August 2023, 5pm AEST
In-person: SLC Common Room 536, Level 5, Brennan MacCallum Building A18, The University of Sydney
Join online via Zoom ID: 88433586938

This seminar will explore the intriguing narratives of confinement, surveillance, displacement, and creativity during World War II. From the walled movie studio of Cinecittà in Italy to the POW camps in Africa and Australia, three esteemed scholars will delve into the overlapping uses and meanings of bounded spaces, the transformative power of cultural expression, the complexities of control and isolation, and the profound yearning for a sense of home and belonging in captivity.

Emplaced/Displaced in Cinecittà

Noa Steimatsky

A walled and gated miniature city, Cinecittà is, by virtue of being a movie studio, designed to manufacture controlled environments, to invent worlds in the measure of our dreams – while effacing itself in the process. Yet this dream factory became embroiled in the Second World War in unexpected ways, and with real-life consequences. Invaded, occupied, liberated, re-occupied and retrofitted, the studio served as Wehrmacht military camp, as prisoners of war camp for Allied then for Axis soldiers, including top-brass SS officers, and as British intelligence headquarters specially equipped for surveillance. The studio was then morphed into a different kind of enclosure, set apart from the world outside: a displaced persons camp for thousands of both local survivors and refugees from over 40 nationalities. Drawing in broad outline the studio topography, with some emphasis on its walls and gates, I will take this occasion to cut across key moments from my research on Cinecittà at war, to juxtapose the eclectic uses of its bounded space during the tumultuous 1940s, and to reflect on the continuities and discontinuities between these wartime uses and Cinecittà’s intended functions as movie studio.

Noa Steimatsky’s scholarship braids questions of film theory and aesthetics with historical research on postwar cinemas. She was faculty member at Yale University’s Department of the History of Art, tenured at Cinema and Media Studies in the University of Chicago, and visiting faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley. Her 2008 book Italian Locations: Reinhabiting the Past in Postwar Cinema was published by the University of Minnesota Press. The Face on Film, published by Oxford University Press, won the Limina Prize for Best International Book in Film Studies of 2017 and an Honorable Mention by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. She was recipient of a Fulbright Award, a Getty Research Grant, the American Academy in Rome Prize, and an American Council of Learned Societies senior Fellowship. She has lectured widely on the displaced-persons’ camp in Cinecittà – a project that also inspired a documentary film. A National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship and, more recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship made possible new archival discoveries in light of which she is now expanding the Cinecittà project into a book.

Italian POWs in African Camps: Transforming Bounding Spaces of Captivity in WWII

Elena Bellina

By the end of 1940, the Allied forces captured almost 200,000 Italian soldiers in North and East Africa. This overwhelming number of prisoners of war (POWs) destined to reach approximately 600,000 units by the fall of 1943, forced the Allies to organize temporary and permanent detention sites all over Africa that went from improvised tent camps in desertic regions to bamboo barracks rows in the equator forest. Many POWs seized in 1940 were kept there until the end of 1946 or the beginning of 1947. In the early days of WWII, prisoners contributed to the construction of those sites while they were moved across Africa. Italian POWs often turned those improvised camps into livable ‘cities for prisoners’ (città del prigioniero) by building churches, theatres, monuments, gardens, sport facilities, shops, postal offices, and spaces where they showcased their artistic and creative production in confinement. Cultural and material production played a crucial role in helping Italian prisoners cope with the trauma of war captivity in these camps. This presentation will discuss the different types of POW camps organized by the British forces in Northern, Eastern and South Africa between 1940 and 1947. It will investigate how they changed through the years and were transformed into productive bounding spaces of captivity as documented by official records, press coverage, pictures, postcards, and prisoners’ written and oral accounts.

Elena Bellina teaches in the Department of Italian Studies at New York University. Her research and publications focus on war and captivity studies, cultural memory, autobiographical writing, gender studies, and migration studies. She is currently working on Creativity on Stage behind Barbed Wire: Italian Prisoners of War in Africa, a book manuscript investigating how WWII Italian Prisoners of War in East Africa escaped the trauma of captivity through the performing arts and the sciences. She is also completing African Adventures: Palmiro Forzini in East Africa (1936-1946), a critical edition and English translation of a two-volume unpublished memoir about WWII captivity. With Giorgia Alù, she is co-editing the volume Captivity and Creativity: The Cultural and Material Production of Italian Prisoners in Western Allied Countries in WWII (1940-1947). She has investigated the connections between violence and artistic production in the co-edited volumes About Face: Depicting the Self in the Written and Visual Arts (2009) and State of Exception: Cultural Responses to the Rhetoric of Fear (2006), as well as translated Iraqi American poet Sinan Antoon’s war poetry in Italian (2010). In 2019, she was a Lauro De Bosis Fellow in the History of Modern Italy at Harvard University. She has recently worked as a co-host of the third season  of Migrations: A World on the Move devoted to crossing language, memory, and culture, Cornell University’s Migrations Initiative podcast created by Eleanor Paynter.

Making Home: How Italian PoWs shaped Camp environments in Australia

Flavia Marcello

This talk draws on a broader project that deals with the complex relations between creativity and captivity and the role played by creative expression in managing displacement, trauma and memory during wartime. It will focus on how Italian PoWs shaped their interior and exterior environments whilst in captivity. As well as building their own huts under the direction of the Australian Army, Italian PoWs and internees also built structures of their own initiative: theatres; fountains, garden beds, bridges and other landscaping; bocce courts, chapels and monuments to honour their dead.

Through a selection of case studies, this talk will illustrate how Italian PoWs did their best to shape a sense of home and belonging by recreating the environments of their homeland and these vestiges, not considered significant enough for heritage protection, have either been demolished or lie in ruins. These straddle the boundary between tangible and intangible cultural heritage, marking the connection between local community and the camp. Through the way they shaped their environments Italian POWs negotiated the mechanisms of control and isolation in imprisonment that challenges conventional narratives of Italian WWII Prisoner of War history in Australia.

Flavia Marcello is Professor of Architectural History at Swinburne University of Technology’s School of Design. She is a world expert on the architecture and urban planning of Rome, in particular of the Italian Fascist period. Her research also delves into the politics of monuments and public space, the legacy of Fascism in contemporary society, Classical reception studies and Italian prisoners of war in Australia during World War II. She has published in Modern Italy and Rethinking Histories. Her monograph on Giuseppe Pagano-Pogatschnig came out with Intellect Press in 2020 and her next book charting the many aspects of the Fascist legacy in Rome is due out with Bloomsbury in 2024.

For more information, contact: Associate Professor Giorgia Alu (


Social media

Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Listen to talks on SoundCloud
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

The event is finished.


Aug 16 2023


5:00 PM


Hybrid (online and in-person)


Italian Studies

Comments are closed.