Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BU’s Dr. Roberta Micallef presents “Facing the Skeletons: Trauma and Narrative for Turkish Women in Prison”

Dr. Roberta Micallef presented a chapter of her ongoing exploration of women’s autobiographical works in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, on 22 October 2014 as part of the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies’ lunch discussion series. The chapter she shared concerned prison narratives by political prisoners. Micallef’s study of Turkish women’s autobiographical works starts with late nineteenth century first person narratives by Ottoman royal women and women in the employ of the Ottoman household as well as important figures of the Turkish War of Independence such as Halide Edib Adivar. Women intellectuals, poets and writers of the Republic of Turkey and their changing notions of self over time and their changing notions of what should be included in life writing are covered in the intervening two chapters. 

Following a chapter on “Dutiful daughter of the Republic,” that on prison narratives on which the lunch talk was based explores the limits of autobiography and women’s autobiographical writings. Micallef examined when and under what circumstances language fell apart or what particular stories were simply too overwhelming to be narrated by the subject but were supplied later by other interlocutors. Micallef explored the effects of incarceration on the prisoners and their families, notably the impact of daughters’ imprisonment on their mothers. 

Based on the texts she analyzed, Micallef’s preliminary conclusions are that women in their daily lives face trauma simply because they are women, whether it is in the form of domestic violence or sexual harassment; that women who engage in political activism gain a new more independent and confident voice; that women who face sexual violence are able to overcome it if they can contextualize in terms of a larger pattern of violence; and that writing or speaking about their experience helps them to overcome the trauma.

Watch this space for news of her next publication!

Introduction of the speaker by Professor Deborah Belle, BU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and former Director, WGS:

“Roberta Micallef is Associate Professor of the Practice, Head of the Turkish Language Program, and Master Lecturer in Turkic Languages and Literatures at Boston University. She is also a deeply valued member of the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program. Roberta earned her doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas in Austin. She then gained considerable cross-cultural experience when she taught at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and then at the University of Utah, coming to Boston University in 2005, where she has been a valued teacher and colleague ever since. 

In recent years, among many honors and activities, Roberta has been:
- participated in a Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies Distinguished Lecture and Research Workshop;
- invited by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to serve on the Critical Languages Scholarship Turkish Language Advisory Board; and
- invited to join a network of 17 international scholars examining Muslim women’s autobiographical writings, which was sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom.

She is co-editor (with Sunil Sharma) of On the Wonders of Land and Sea, a collection of essays on Muslim travel narratives.”