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Tag "History of IWM"
IWM London - Side View New Atrium © Foster+Partners

Side view of the atrium at IWM London © Foster+Partners

‘The description ‘permanent exhibitions’ is perhaps misleading for our main displays, since it is not the exhibitions which we regard as permanent but rather their themes and content’

Initial Brief for Redevelopment of Main Building of Imperial War Museum, November 1980 (IWM EN4/41/CF/1/1/4/8)

Making an exhibition about the First World War at IWM (Imperial War Museums) is no mean feat. Although IWM has been doing this for 97 years (and 78 years at the museum’s Lambeth Road site) as part of its remit, various factors during this period have influenced what is said, and how and even why it is said. My Collaborative Doctoral Award research focuses on these factors, through examining some of the permanent and temporary IWM First World War exhibitions between 1964 and 2014.

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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.

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Image of German Historical Museum

The German Historical Museum in Berlin. Photograph courtesy of Angelika Schoder.

Our guest blogger, Angelika Schoder, conducted her recent PhD research into the representation of National Socialist crimes at IWM London, and the German Historical Museum, Berlin. Here she outlines the findings of her thesis, which will be published in Germany in spring 2014.

It’s not easy to explain the meaning of the term “Erinnerungskultur” – the German “culture of remembrance”. The struggle to come to terms with the National Socialist past has been a pervasive issue in German society since the 1950s. In Great Britain, on the other hand, a “commemorative culture” of the National Socialist period and its victims has developed slowly since the early 1990s – and has only gained prominence in national consciousness in recent years. Yet today, in Great Britain as well as in Germany, the Holocaust takes a central position in the national commemorative cultures.

The history museums of both countries put great store by showing the historical background of the National Socialist era and its crimes. In my PhD, I compared the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London and the German Historical Museum (GHM) in Berlin, with the goal of showing which museum-specific, pedagogical methods were used to accurately represent the National Socialist crimes in British and German exhibitions. My PhD analysed in detail the “Holocaust Exhibition” which opened in June 2000 at the IWM, and the exhibition “Holocaust. The National Socialist Genocide and the Motives of its Remembrance” (Holocaust. Der nationalsozialistische Völkermord und die Motive seiner Erinnerung), which was on display from January to April 2002 at the GHM.

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Image from the history of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

The History of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

Steeped as they are in stories of the past, it is not often that museums get to step back and take a look at their own history. The History of IWM Workshop, held at IWM London on 2 May 2012, brought together IWM staff, external researchers and several of IWM’s AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) students to review the current state of research into IWM and discuss avenues for further investigation.

Roger Smither, Research Associate, began with a look at the pioneering work of IWM’s Film Archive. Thanks to forward-thinking individuals such as Edward Foxen Cooper and IWM’s first Curator, Charles ffoulkes, the museum had been a leader in the field of film collecting. Next came Dr Toby Haggith who looked at memory within the museum – arguing that IWM has always been, through its collections and its displays, and the thousands of interactions between staff and the public, a site of both personal and collective remembering. Dr Catherine Moriarty of the University of Brighton, ended the first panel by describing IWM’s programme of art commissions between 1981 and 2007. Her conversations with former IWM Keeper of the Department of Art, Angela Weight, revealed how this creative programme allowed artists to draw inspiration from IWM’s unparalleled collections and added an extra dimension to the museum’s displays. Dr. Moriarty ended by urging future researchers to explore the lesser known stories within IWM’s history.

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Image of the cover image of William Boyd's An Ice Cream War

William Boyd, An Ice Cream War, 1982

How do we ‘get’ history?  If not at first hand, then where do the people we get it from find it themselves?  I have been exploring the ways in which other people’s research into IWM Collections gets shared with a wider public.  Formal works of written history and biography provide some obvious examples, which I will look at in a later post, but works of fiction offer a rather more left-field starting point.

Then there are writers who have included scenes at IWM buildings in their plots – the protagonists of both W G Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001) and Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung (2007) view film at the All Saints Annexe, a First World War veteran gives talks to schoolchildren in the London galleries in Pat Barker’s Another World (2001), a woman commissioned to write the biography of a First World War flying ace turned politician begins her researches here in Isabel Colegate’s Deceits of Time (1988), and the whole final chapter of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) concerns a visit to the Reading Room by the central character.

Many writers of historical novels have acknowledged the help they received when researching here – examples include Len Deighton (Bomber, 1970), William Boyd (An Ice Cream War, 1982), Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger, 1987), Pat Barker (Regeneration, 1991), Elizabeth Buchan (The Light of the Moon, 1991), Leslie Thomas (Other Times, 1999), Jody Shields (The Crimson Portrait, 2006) and Sarah Waters (The Night Watch, 2006).

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