One of the most rewarding aspects of my work since I joined the Research Department has been cataloguing IWM’s medical collections. This was part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust to expand our understanding and online coverage of the experiences and participation of medical personnel and their patients in various conflicts since 1900. Working my way through boxes of diaries and letters, I wrote synopses for each of a large number of our collections which has now made it easier for researchers to locate material relevant to the history of medicine.
The collective noun for a gathering of film archivists? A vault? A screening? The more cynical might say a confusion. Certainly, at the annual congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) held in Beijing in May, in addition to a certain amount of confusion surrounding voting procedures (something of a tradition at FIAF congresses), archivists were understandably confused by the sheer scale and rapidity of the changes to their world brought about by digital technology. And so a good deal of the proceedings set about addressing some of these concerns, not least the workshop organised jointly by the Technical Commission (of which I am the head) and the Programming and Access Commission, where we looked at the digital world from different perspectives and tried to offer some guidance on acquisition, management, preservation and access. (Some of the guidance we offered is now available in a few handy documents on the FIAF website).
Britain at War, filmmaker Rosie Newman’s film of Britain during the Second World War, is one of the most important amateur films in our collection, notable for its content and the fact that it was shot, almost entirely, in colour. This film has interested and intrigued many researchers. Who was Rosie Newman? How did she manage to film in places considered as 'off-limits' to amateur filmmakers? How and where did she show her films? In order to answer such questions I did some research and discovered a most remarkable filmmaker.
The Special Operations Executive was a secret British organization set up in 1940 to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage in enemy-occupied territory. As the seventh of SOE’s official historians, I have the task of researching and writing the history of SOE’s cloak-and-dagger work against Fascist Italy between 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, and 1943, when Italy reached an armistice with the Allies.
Our guest blogger, Angela Weight, was formerly Keeper of Art at Imperial War Museums from 1981 to 2005. Angela curated the exhibition War at Sea currently showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 31 October 2012. The exhibition consists of paintings by Sir John Lavery, an official war artist during the First World War, and all but one of the paintings are from the art collection of Imperial War Museums.
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.
For a large part of the last year I worked on the exhibition Ori Gersht: This Storm is What We Call Progress which has now been on display at IWM London for three months. One of the most interesting things about the process of putting the exhibition together was how my own understanding of the work developed throughout our logistical, and significantly less poetic, planning discussions. Before working on this show I knew many of Ori’s works well: the cityscapes from Sarajevo which are part of IWM’s collections; his intriguing 2005 film, The Forest, where trees fall without explanation in a Ukrainian forest, and his best-known work, Big Bang, in which a Dutch still life shatters in spectacular slow-motion across the screen. I had also seen some of his Evaders photographs at his gallery show in 2009. This is the work that explores the fated flight of writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin from Vichy France, following a path through the Pyrenees. I hadn’t seen the film of the same name until a much later studio visit, but this was one of the works that became part of the show.
My PhD involves researching into how the Soviet Union portrayed the 1980 Moscow Olympic boycott to the world, via the medium of shortwave radio. In doing this I spend a lot of time examining Radio Moscow broadcasts recorded and transcribed by the BBC Monitoring Service, an archive in iWM Collections, which is stored in the old NAFFI building at Duxford airfield. The archive provides a fascinating insight into the world of 1980, the politics of the cold war, and the uses of media outlets for pushing propaganda lines to different groups of people.
As a Collaborative Doctoral Award student working on IWM’s depiction of the First World War, I had the opportunity to attend a one-off collaborative research symposium, hosted by the IWM, on 10 February 2012. Titled 'Fromelles and Beyond: History, Heritage, Archaeology and Memory of the Great War’, it was organised by Dr Keir Reeves (Monash University, Australia & Kings College, London) and Professor Carl Bridge (Director of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, KCL). It brought together some of Australia’s leading First World War historians with leading academics and historians from France and the UK – a thought-provoking forum for new research on current understanding of the War.
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.