Visualising War

Framing War at the Imperial War Museum with Eleanor Head

May 26, 2021 The University of St Andrews Season 1 Episode 8
Visualising War
Framing War at the Imperial War Museum with Eleanor Head
Show Notes

In this week's episode, Alice and Nicolas interview Eleanor Head, the Head of the Imperial War Museum's Institute. The Imperial War Museum in London was founded during the First World War, and it is now part of a larger group of museums and historic attractions dotted around the UK: the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast in London, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, and the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. The IWM Institute was created just two years ago to reflect on how these different museums represent historical conflicts to visitors, and to experiment with creative new ways of deepening public understanding of contemporary war and conflict. 

In this podcast, Ellie explains that the Institute's work is informed by a vibrant research programme, looking at (e.g.) the role of gender-based violence in conflict, the aesthetics and impact of war photography, and social media as a new theatre of war. She talks about the ways in which their programming brings historic wars and contemporary conflict into dialogue: for example, how conversations between survivors of the WW2 Kindertransport and children forced to flee contemporary conflict in Syria can shine new light on both. She also explains how the pandemic has accelerated their digital programming, helping them think in fresh ways about the use they can make of physical exhibits to help people grapple with the complexity of individual conflicts and the many different aspects of war and its impacts.

Among other questions, we asked Ellie: 

  • What role can museums play (compared with news outlets, school curricula, historical documentaries, etc) in deepening public understanding of conflict?
  • What different aspects of war do the different Imperial War Museums highlight?
  • How has the focus of the Imperial War Museums' exhibitions changed over time? 
  • How does the Institute use history to contextualise and help people understand contemporary conflicts?
  • What role do the Imperial War Museums hope to play in the future, in shaping understanding of 21st century conflict?

We hope you enjoy the episode!

For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. You can find out more about the Imperial War Museums Institute here.

For more information about individuals and their projects, access to resources and more, please have a look on the University of St Andrews Visualising War website

Music composed by Jonathan Young
 Sound mixing by Zofia Guertin