Whose Remembrance?

Communities and the Experiences of the Peoples of Britain’s Former Empire During the Two World Wars

A scoping study of the available research.

Our guide to researching the British Empire in the First World War

Whose Remembrance? was IWM’s first AHRC-supported research project. It sought to investigate the state of research into the experiences of the peoples of Britain’s former empire in the two world wars, and the understanding and availability of this research to audiences and communities today. The project was carried out by the Imperial War Museum Research team in consultation with an advisory group of academics and specialists. Researchers worked on the production of three databases: published works produced by academics and community historians over the last thirty years; exhibitions and resources developed by museums and cultural organisations; and cultural outputs such as films, documentaries, novels and plays. Two workshops were held at IWM London, the first with historians and the second with museum professionals and, community workers and representatives. The team also included three specialist researchers who assessed the accessibility and usefulness of IWM collections for understanding and interpreting historical topics which they chose. A specially commissioned film summarises the study’s findings.

The story of the experiences of the peoples of the British Empire during the two world wars provides rich territory and deserves to be more assiduously pursued and permanently included in mainstream narratives.  Areas of research ripe for investigation might include: an exploration of transnational migratory spaces, such as the Indian Ocean; the experiences of people from the British Empire on the Home Fronts; and the very strong potential of photographic collections for better understanding the sometimes exciting but also often traumatic nature of wartime military service.

Cultural organisations such as museums need to forge closer links with communities and with their ‘brokers’ in order to make these wartime narratives more representative of and relevant to the diverse communities they serve. There are many examples of engaging projects which have brought into prominence the wartime experiences of the peoples of the former British Empire.  The dissemination of these histories to the wider British public has the potential to greatly enrich everyone’s understanding of war and its effects on society.

The discussion paper, databases, poster and workshop programmes from the Whose Remembrance? project are all available to download below.

You can also read more about the project on the IWM Research blog