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Tag "Oral History"

War generates unique and unexpected experiences in civilians’ ordinary lives. But war can also exist as a surprisingly uneventful setting for everyday working lives. At the European Social Sciences and History Conference three talks encouraged me to consider ways in which war work impacted civilians’ ordinary lives through memories that reclaim, forget and negotiate popular experiences of the Second World War.

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As we look forward to the New Year and begin to plan the various projects which will keep us busy over 2016, it is always useful to take a step back and consider the progress already made.  For over forty years, IWM has preserved one of the most important sound archives of its kind in the world.  Established in 1972, the Department of Sound Records, as it was then called, was an offspring of the museum’s Library which at that point included a handful of gramophone records.  The following decades saw the collection grow in size until, following a major restructuring in 2010, it was merged with the Department of Documents to form the Documents and Sound Section, with myself appointed as the new Section Head.

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East German construction workers, supervised by border guards, building the Berlin Wall, 1961. © IWM HU 73012.

The official history of the Cold War holds that the military and political divide between Eastern and Western blocs was cemented in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War as allied relationships cooled.

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The Cold War launched a new series of threats on Britain – from invasion by communists to atomic warfare. The military and moral implications of this ideological battle meant that fear was ever-present in the public sphere.

My Collaborative Partnership PhD asks whether fear really was the most widely held emotion in 1950s Britain. At the British Social and Cultural History conference, held from 31 March to 2 April, I will be presenting my initial thoughts on this topic, using evidence gained through oral history interviews.

Interviewing ‘ordinary’ people who carried on with their lives beneath the increasing Cold War threat offers the opportunity to delve deeper into what society understood by ‘fear’, ‘threat’ and ‘survival’. In the interviews I have done so far, emotion is ever-present; it is the point at which personal experience and collective historical experience overlap.

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Collaborative Doctoral Award student, Rebecca Coll, writes about the IWM’s historic commitment to progressive methods of research and collecting.

“…a remarkable thing about the war museum is that, despite the nineteenth century type name…right from the beginnings, which were at the end of the First World War, they collected material relating to say women and empire people and so on. Not just the male white generals that you might expect that, that kind of place might do, they, they always wanted to show how the war affected everybody.”

Margaret Brooks, Research Assistant 1973-1983, IWM and Keeper of the Department of Sound Records 1983-2010, IWM (Interview with Margaret Brooks by Robert Wilkinson, February-September 2013, Oral history of oral history in the UK, track 01, Sound & Moving Image catalogue (http://sami.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/49/) reference C1149/30, © The British Library). 

With the recent opening of the new First World War galleries at IWM London, it is important to recognise the museum’s past and present commitment to new and progressive forms of research. The 1960s and 1970s are considered to have been a period of reinvention for the IWM, and the development of the Department of Sound Records was a prime example of this.

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