Voices. Linguistic Research in Times of War, 1917-1918

30 March – 9 July 2023 | Freiraum Forum Wissen

Our new special exhibition focuses on science and research in times of war – an exhibition and theatre project of Forum Wissen in co-operation with boat people projekt.

From April 1917 to the end of 1918, five prisoners from what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan were interned in the Göttingen POW camp. Sunab Gul, Abdul Aziz Khan, Hazrat Shah, Beidullah Khan and Shahdad Khan were deployed by England as so-called colonial soldiers in the European theatre of war during the First World War. In 1914, they fell into German captivity. Three years later, the professor of West Asian languages Friedrich Carl Andreas had them transferred to Göttingen where he was living with his wife, the author and psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé.

The exhibition “Voices. Linguistic Research in Times of War, 1917-1918” takes the research on the five prisoners as an opportunity to reflect on the connection of war and scientific research. For Andreas, the war created favourable research conditions; Andreas used the situation of the prisoners of war for his research interests. As an expert in Iranian languages, he compiled detailed word lists together with the prisoners in daily sessions. The linguist noted down their narratives, stories and songs and asked them about the political and geographical conditions in their home regions. Only a fraction of these documents were translated directly into German by Andreas. Most of them are now resting in the archives of the Göttingen State and University Library in the form of phonetic transcriptions. In the special exhibition they will be presented to a larger audience for the first time.

“Voices” attempts a first approach to these special research documents: How can Andreas’ research be evaluated from today’s perspective, which originated in the violent context of the Göttingen prisoner-of-war camp? Under what conditions was the research carried out, and what role did the prisoners themselves play in the production of knowledge? What was the relationship between Andreas and the prisoners like? And above all: what do the documents tell us today and whose voice is it that can be heard?

The exhibition is the result of a joint exhibition and theatre project funded by third parties (Lower Saxony Foundation, AKB Foundation, Landschaftsverband), which was applied for and implemented by the Central Custody together with the independent Göttingen theatre boat people project. Parallel to the exhibition, performances will take place at Forum Wissen. The play takes up the subject of the exhibition and refers to the present time using theatrical means.

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