Memory in the Museum
: Representing the Second World War in the Imperial War Museum, London 1960 – 2020

  • Kasia Tomasiewicz

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis explores representations of the Second World War in the Imperial War Museum,
    London (IWM) from 1960 until 2020. It maps a developing history of the cultural memory of
    the Second World War in Britain alongside a critical analysis of the institutional history of the
    Imperial War Museum, both historically and in the present. It argues that in order to understand
    the complex and contradictory ways in which representations of the war developed, we must
    be mindful of the interrelations between three broad, and often overlapping, histories. The first
    is an institutional history that situates IWM, both in terms of museum practice and internal
    dynamics, within the field of museum studies. The second broad history is the development of
    a particular British cultural memory of the Second World War, that has evolved over time due
    to a range of changing temporal, cultural, social, economic and political contexts. These changes,
    as well as being positioned in dialogue with each other, must be mapped alongside a third
    history; a socio-political history that charts key changes in both Britain and elsewhere, as despite
    public misconceptions, museums always operate ‘within-the-world’.

    In order to critically interrogate these three histories, this thesis has been split into chapters on
    the ‘historical’ and ‘contemporary’. The first three quarters of the analytical content of this thesis
    are concentrated within four decade-based historical chapters that explore the intersections
    between a key theme and the cultural memory of the Second World War. The 1960s chapter
    explores empire, the 1970s explores gender, the 1980s explores national identity, and the 1990s
    explores the Holocaust. The final quarter of the analytical content of this thesis explores
    these historical themes within their contemporary context through an ‘embedded’
    investigation of the curating process of the IWM’s upcoming 2021 permanent Second World
    War galleries. In doing so, this thesis puts forward a rare case for positioning contemporary
    galleries and museum practice within much longer historical trajectories of exhibition and
    institutional histories. Ultimately, this thesis argues that only through an appreciation of
    historical changes in the Museum, the cultural memory of the Second World War, and broader
    socio-political histories can we begin to understand the complex ways in which the Second
    World War has been and is remembered, curated and represented within the IWM and Britain
    more generally.

    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorGraham Dawson (Supervisor), Lucy Noakes (Supervisor) & James Taylor (Supervisor)


    • Imperial War Museum
    • Second World War
    • Cultural Memory
    • museum studies

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