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PEN Teaching Guides

The PEN Teaching Guides contain materials for the use of instructors to support teaching on human rights, politics, literature, and cultural history. These materials include manuscripts, drafts, clippings, correspondence, official publications, books, posters, video recordings, and additional items from the PEN Digital Collections and related collections held at the Harry Ransom Center.

These guides are designed to allow students to engage not only with evolving conversations surrounding human rights and free speech in the twentieth century, but also with landmark events and broad historical trends, from the rise of fascism in the interwar years, through the intensification of the Cold War, and into the era following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and 1990s.

For further information on teaching or scheduling classes in the Harry Ransom Center, visit Classroom Experiences.

Teaching Guides Classroom Experiences

Produced with suppport from National Endowment for the Humanities.

These teaching guides were written by Reid Echols and Adrienne Sockwell with help from Jennifer Follen, Sarah Gutberlet, Christopher Mendez, and Chido Muchemwa.

International Human Rights Writers and Free Speech Writers in Exile / Global Refugees Writing the Cold War Writing World War II Digital Collections

Writing World War II

In an international war, military repercussions and the consequences of violence are inevitable. But world war takes a toll in many other ways, affecting not only military and strategic targets, but also cultural and creative leaders, thought leaders, artists, and ordinary citizens. As a relatively new international human rights organization, less than 20 years old by this time, and struggling against its charter to remain apolitical, PEN tried to intervene in a cultural struggle which grew as deadly as some military actions. From 1939 to 1945 as the war raged, PEN worked to secure asylum, to intervene on behalf of writers, to provide supplies and eventually to participate in government sponsored efforts to fight fascism and totalitarianism. As PEN tried to help writers across the globe, the organization was sometimes constrained by the legacies of imperialism that helped to create it.

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Letter from Isaac Lamdan of the Hebrew PEN Club in Palestine to the 11th International Congress of PEN Clubs, Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. May 19, 1933.

PEN Records 78.8

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Draft of letter from Hermon Ould to Joseph Goebbels regarding the imprisonment of Ludwig Renn. January 31, 1934.

PEN Records 20.1

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Letter from Ernst Toller and three other German writers addressed to the PEN International Secretary and Executive Committee. December 15, 1933.

PEN Records 70.1

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English PEN Executive Committee Minutes segment "PEN and the Crisis." September 28, 1938.

PEN Records 235.6

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Letter from Hermon Ould to Audrey Mildmay Christie. October 19, 1938.

PEN Records 10.5

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Two poems by Haitian writer and activist Jacques Roumain. 1935.

PEN Records 77.2

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List of PEN Centres in British Isles and Abroad. September 1944.

PEN Records 77.1

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List of Centres of the International PEN. May 1945.

PEN Records 77.1

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Speech delivered by Polish writer Kazimierz Wierzyński at the American PEN Center meeting. November 15, 1944.

PEN Records 77.2

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Speech delivered by American writer Robert Sherwood at the American PEN Center meeting. November 15, 1944.

PEN Records 77.2


PEN and the Turn to Politics

Throughout the war, PEN responded using the traditional methods of protest via correspondence and activism through speeches and public comments. But some members aligned themselves with organized government efforts to fight the cause. Some efforts, such as the Writers' War Board, actively engaged in the war by producing material in the form of scripts for productions to be screened in schools and colleges. Their goal, overtly stated in their first report, was to "create a liaison between writers and government agencies to obtain written work that will directly or indirectly help to win the war." Some writers heartily engaged in these efforts. But others were more reluctant, and believed that some of the writer-produced items of war propaganda were not sufficiently anti-Nazi. They feared they would be judged over time for half-hearted or politically insufficient efforts. PEN joined the effort of many writers and artists who tried to find a way to link their work and access to a public platform to the war effort.

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Speech delivered by English author W. Somerset Maugham at the American PEN Center meeting. November 15, 1944.

PEN Records 77.2

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Production budget summary for war bond short film titled Nurse's Aide Short #2 by Vanguard Films, Inc. October 4, 1944.

David O. Selznick Collection 3716

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Inter-Office Communication from E. L. Scanlon to David O. Selznick regarding U.S. War Savings Bonds. July 3, 1942.

David O. Selznick Collection 329

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Cover of exhibit catalog Norman Bel Geddes: War Maneuver Models Created for Life Magazine by the Museum of Modern Art. 1944.

Norman Bel Geddes Theater and Industrial Design Papers Box 35, Folder 499.4

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Homemaker's War Guide poster distributed by the U.S. Office of War Information. 1942.

War Posters Art Collection Call No. 85.170.96

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Letter from Henry de La Falaise to Gloria Swanson. October 21, 1940.

Gloria Swanson Papers 36.7

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War correspondent identification card issued by the U.S. Adjutant-General's Office for American writer John Steinbeck. June 8, 1943.

John Steinbeck Collection 11.4

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Photograph of American troops landing on Omaha Beach at Normandy, France by Robert Capa. June 6, 1944.

Magnum Photos, Inc. Photography Collection OV Box 1079, Folder 13

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Photograph of pre-dawn launching of U.S. Navy maneuvers during World War II by Edward Steichen. 1943.

Edward Steichen Photography Collection Call No. 974:0255:0051


Contributions to Hollywood – Film Industry Efforts during World War II

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Cover of World War II publication Dispatch from Disney's, "published for employees in the services by employees at Walt Disney Productions." 1943.

David O. Selznick Collection 3452.2

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Pages from Writers' War Board First Annual Report. December 9, 1942.

PEN Records 77.2

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Photograph of wartime street scene in London by Carl Mydans. 1939.

Carl Mydans Photography Collection Call No. 2005:0025:0016


PEN in South Africa

The effort to include South Africa within the activities of PEN was a move toward geographic diversity, and to resituate some of their activism on behalf of writers outside Europe. But because the South African centre was Afrikaans-speaking, the only writers included were white, and their work reflected the same Eurocentric influences of writers already included under the PEN umbrella. This reflected the societal structures and racial hierarchies of the 1940s, but it can also be interpreted as a lost opportunity for inclusion that PEN could have initiated.

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Letter from Hermon Ould to C. Louis Leipoldt, Cape Town, South Africa. September 15, 1937.

PEN Records 54.2

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"Mrs. Paul Robeson Looks at South Africa," book review clipping from South Africa magazine. July 27, 1946.

PEN Records 79.10

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"Book exhibition at South Africa House," news clipping from South Africa magazine. December 28, 1946.

PEN Records 79.10


Legacies of the War

While the fight with Germany, Japan, and the other Axis powers against the rise of tyranny seems necessary to end the threat of fascism, the legacy of the war also prompted certain beginnings. PEN would take up new questions sparked by some resolved as well as unresolved issues after the war. As countries took sides in what became Cold War disputes, new questions emerged in eastern Europe, east versus west Germany, and in the Middle East.


Aftermath of Exile

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Curriculum vitae of Otto von Habsburg. October 1963.

PEN Records 155.3

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"End of the Hapsburg Exile?," clipping of article by Annelise Schultz from the Weekend Telegraph. April 9, 1965.

PEN Records 155.3

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Two letters from Paul Holborow of the Anti Nazi League to the English PEN Centre. July 17 and 24, 1978.

PEN Records 210.1


Postwar Reconstruction

In the effort to both reorganize after World War II and to continue the work of advocating on behalf of writers around the world, PEN opened centres in Cuba and Egypt, and rebuilt the PEN Japan Centre.

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PEN Japanese Centre brochure. 1950.

PEN Records 79.1


New Conflicts: Israel

Among other conflicts that PEN had to negotiate, new disputes erupted after the post-World War II organization of the globe. One example can be found in the division of geography in the Middle East, including the political questions surrounding the establishment of Israel and Palestine. In addition to conflicts that existed before and during the war, new post-war geopolitical actors introduced new situations that threatened the free expression of PEN writers. Using a combination of advocacy and diplomacy, PEN leaders waded into the complexity which became the protracted dispute about the state of Israel.

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"PEN won't debate anti-Israel motion," news clipping from the Jerusalem Post. June 19, 1971.

PEN Records 143.1

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Telegram from the President of Israel PEN to David Carver. May 3, 1971.

PEN Records 143.1


We have attempted to minimize harm or adverse impact by selecting primary sources that we believe will not place people at risk. Please notify us at reference@hrc.utexas.edu if you believe we need to remove any materials from this digital collection.

Takedown Notice: This material is made available for education and research purposes. The Harry Ransom Center does not own the rights for these items; it cannot grant or deny permission to use this material. Copyright law protects unpublished as well as published materials. Rights holders for these materials may be listed in the WATCH file. It is your responsibility to determine the rights status and secure whatever permission may be needed for the use of any item. Due to the nature of archival collections, rights information may be incomplete or out of date. We welcome updates or corrections. Upon request, we'll remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.