As Project Manager of the AHRC sponsored Whose remembrance? project, I was responsible for drawing up the programme for the two workshops we held in the summer of 2012 - to enable both historians and museum professionals who have been researching aspects of this history to share their work.
Searching for academics in this area was one of my first tasks. Our library has a good stock of published works, and projects undertaken by our education and exhibition staff also provided a number of useful contacts and our advisory group were able to recommend academics they had come across. It was gratifying to find that most people working in this field – if approached – gladly gave up a day or even two – to come to IWM and share their work.
The first workshop was devoted to historians working in the field, Dr Jan-Georg Deutsch, a historian of modern African history at Oxford, Professor David Killingray, author of a major work on African troops in the Second World War, and Dr Santanu Das, an English literature academic who has used IWM’s collections extensively combined to provide a thought-provoking opening to the day. They made plain how relatively under-researched colonial service is and highlighted some of the emerging studies. A memorable moment was hearing a recording of a First World War captured Indian soldier singing a song remembering the garden he had left back home – one of the extraordinary recordings made in 1915 by German anthropologists and today held by the Humboldt University in Berlin. We then heard from Stephen Bourne who movingly told us how his interest in the Caribbean experience of the Second World War had grown from his own research into his adoptive aunt’s story – and how this led him to further work and three books. The lack of written and oral history accounts was a constant theme and we discussed the different ways of remedying this and the difficulties of writing history when the official, coloniser’s voice is so dominant. The full programme will be available soon on our website.
Our second workshop brought together museum curators and professionals working on the theme. Presentations were given by several community ‘brokers’, researchers with their own areas of special interest and expertise, who looked at how they had worked with museums – both local and national – in order to disseminate different histories, whilst attempting to bridge divides between museums and institutions on the one hand, and the communities they serve. We discussed ways of collecting and documentation, and looked at co-curation. The need for trust, longevity and community-led initiatives were key themes to arise from this workshop.
An important additional bonus from the two workshops was the many suggestions of books, plays, films, museum exhibitions and other projects which we have now been able to record in the two databases which support the project - these will be available online soon.
These were two very full and enlightening days providing many useful links and research and project ideas for the future.