Current Research Priorities

IWM is currently engaged in four major research areas.

Empire and War

The experiences of the peoples of the British Empire during the two world wars is an emerging area of study in the UK academic field, with emphasis now being given to ‘reversing the gaze’ - trying to bring to the surface the often barely recoverable voices of those troops and civilians from former British colonies who were involved in these conflicts.

As a subject it has been unfairly neglected for various reasons, perhaps most prominently because until recently this history was written using a ‘top-down’ approach.

IWM collections have a strong role to play in furthering understanding of this subject, through photographs, film, testimonies and personal papers. Very importantly by learning more about this subject, we hope to reflect the histories and interests of Britain’s diverse population today.

In 2013, IWM concluded Whose Remembrance? an AHRC-funded scoping study on the available research into communities and the experience of war in Britain’s former colonies during the two world wars.

IWM was also a partner in a major AHRC-funded cataloguing project focused on Colonial Film, in collaboration with the British Film Institute, Birkbeck and University College London.

The Colonial Film website now holds detailed information on over 6,000 films showing images of life in the British colonies, and over 150 films can be viewed online.

Reappraising the First World War

IWM is playing a key role in the First World War Centenary. Research activities supporting this have included:

  • the successful Reappraising the First World War  seminar series organised between IWM, King’s College London and Queen Mary, University of London, you can view the programme, including summaries of papers given here;
  • the European Film Gateway project which has seen the digitisation of film from the First World War held by IWM;
  • the conference London and the First World War held in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research

This theme includes the study of the history of the Imperial War Museum which was founded in 1917 to document the war then still being fought – three AHRC sponsored Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD students have been dedicated to aspects of this history.

Scars of war: How Armies and Individuals Cope with Wounds, Trauma and Disease

An increasing proportion of the scholarship using IWM collections engages with the physical and emotional impact of war on the individual, and IWM curators are working to facilitate and enrich this research through cataloguing and research projects. Their work ranges over several areas, including, for example, how Far East prisoners of war and civilian internees survived the deprivation and cruelty of Japanese-run camps; the film and photographic record of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; and Frontline Medicine (the subject of a recent exhibition at IWM North). 

The Wellcome Trust supported one of our researchers in cataloguing a large proportion of the Documents and Sound Section’s collections of diaries and letters relating to medical aspects of the two world wars.

Contemporary Art, Photography and Conflict

IWM curators are currently engaging with contemporary artists, photographers, historians, researchers and critics to examine how and why contemporary art, photography and the moving image interprets conflict and the impact of war, and how audiences may respond differently to these issues in a creative context.

Contemporary practitioners recently shown at IWM include Jeremy Deller, Ori Gersht, Roderick Buchanan, Francesc Torres, Albert Adams, Don McCullin, John Keane and Seamus Murphy. IWM Contemporary offers a regular programme of contemporary art and photography, providing the opportunity for our curators to promote further discussion and exploration of this subject.

Areas of particular research focus include art relating to the Israel/Palestine conflict, in support of a joint acquisition programme with Wolverhampton Art Gallery funded through the Art Fund RENEW scheme, and photographers’ responses to conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arab Spring.

The following collections-focused research areas are also being investigated:

  • Radio at war: 1939-1945
  • The material culture of the experience of Nazi  persecution
  • The creation of the film and photographic record of the two world wars
  • The preservation of digital heritage
  • War publicity

The following are emerging subject areas where we are building expertise:

  • Aspects of conflicts since 1945
  • Ireland: 1914 to the present
  • Understanding the meaning of objects

For more information about research at IWM and any of these research areas, read our Research Strategy.