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Memory, Conflict and Space

Leanne Green, James Wallis and Alys Cundy at the Memory, Conflict and Space Conference at Liverpool Hope University. Photograph courtesy of The Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies.

Sunny Liverpool played host to the Memory, Conflict and Space conference that gave three of the Collaborative Doctoral Award students at IWM the chance to present together as part of a panel on aspects of representation and memory in the museum’s  collections.The conference addressed the real, virtual, imaginary and lived spaces in which conflict unfolds and the role memorialisation has played in interpreting conflict. Papers were diverse, with subjects that ranged from Lee Miller’s haunting photographs of concentration camp inmates in Dachau, to sites of memory in post-conflict Belfast, to the varied ways in which football fans remember disasters such as Heysel and Hillsborough.

On the IWM panel, Alys Cundy was up first with a paper on the memorial spaces that existed in the museum between 1920 and 1960. From bays laden with symbolism at Crystal Palace, to a ‘Hall of Honour’ at South Kensington, to enclaves of remembrance at Lambeth Road, in three different London buildings the IWM created commemorative spaces.  In these spaces the display of exhibits such as the top section of the original Cenotaph and wild flowers picked from the battlefields of the First World War meant that as well as collecting the historical records of conflict the museum also represented the urge to remember. The spaces chosen for these memorial exhibits were significant. Entrances, corridors and stairways were used as these areas framed the principal galleries, ensuring that visitors would have to pass through spaces of memory in order to learn more about the historical narrative of the war.

Leanne Green was the second presenter, delivering a paper that explored the depiction of conflict in First World War posters and pictorial publicity. Through analysing imagery drawn from official, charitable and commercial concerns, Leanne concluded that visual propaganda from the First World War avoided the explicit depiction of fighting and instead drew on a stock of values that the British public were already familiar with, such as gendered roles and familial relationships. Leanne argued that through domesticating zones of conflict, British advertisers were able to create an alternate universe that relieved the consumer of the realities of war. This process of trivialising the war normalised the conflict and allowed it to become a part of daily life for those involved.

Last to present was James Wallis whose paper looked at the production and development of IWM London’s former First World War galleries. These opened in June 1990 and were removed twenty-two years later, as part of IWM’s Regeneration Programme. James was able to provide a ‘behind the scenes’ account of the making of these displays, as he discussed his findings from archival research and interviews conducted with members of museum staff and with the designers who had created the galleries. He then considered the influence of some cultural portrayals of the First World War at this time, including the 1989 televised BBC series ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’.  James concluded that, as part of the IWM’s remit, these galleries were designed to provide a narrative of the First World War that would be relevant to an audience that was becoming increasingly distant to the conflict. IWM London will be returning to this approach in its new First World War galleries, which will open next summer.

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1 comment
  1. Stuart Burchell says: November 7, 20131:11 pm

    A A MILNE (otherwise famous for Winnie the Pooh etc) reflecting in 1923:

    I know a Captain of Industry,
    Who made big bombs for the R.F.C.,
    And collared a lot of £ s. d.–
    And he–thank God!–has the O.B.E.

    I know a Lady of Pedigree,
    Who asked some soldiers out to tea,
    And said “Dear me!” and “Yes, I see”–
    And she–thank God!–has the O.B.E.

    I know a fellow of twenty-three,
    Who got a job with a fat M.P.–
    (Not caring much for the Infantry.)
    And he–thank God!–has the O.B.E.

    I had a friend; a friend, and he
    Just held the line for you and me,
    And kept the Germans from the sea,
    And died–without the O.B.E.
    Thank God!

    He died without the O.B.E.

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