IWM has been collecting for over 100 years, and we first opened our displays in summer 1920 at the Crystal Palace. Our founders had an ambition to represent the stories of men and women around the globe. Looking back at what we have collected in that period, we’ve only been partially successful. White male narratives are over-represented. Our collections are geographically weighted towards the south of England. Collections of non-English perspectives are almost non-existent, except for a strong collection of oral history interviews. Our curators know this about our collections and they are working to change it.
Whenever we acquire, conserve, use or in any way interact with that object, we gather more information in our collections management database. Records in that database feed through to this website for you to use.
These records are challenging to make available for our audiences today, in different ways:
- For some parts of our collections, especially official wartime photographs and films, we have the original captions, contemporary soundtrack or other contemporary sources of information. For us, these are a key part of the historic record of that item, but they contain language and assumptions that represent the views and attitudes of the time. Today, we consider many of these perspectives to be prejudiced or discriminatory. We are working on ways to make it clearer to you when we are showing the original captions, or when we are using our own words.
- Objects in our collections were created with specific political agendas – they are not neutral witnesses to history. For example, official photographs were given captions for press and publicity use to show the British public a particular view of ongoing conflict, and the international collection of wartime posters we hold show clearly the ways in which governments wanted to influence the public.
- Our collection supports the powerful stories we tell, and some of our objects and the records for them are distressing. Through our collections we reveal people at their best and their worst. For example, because we present and interpret the Holocaust and antisemitism in its historical context, we hold books, posters and other material that is antisemitic. It’s important that we can use these in research, make them available to the public, and include them in our displays. Usually, our records contain the official title of the item and by looking at the record details you can see information on where, when and by whom it was created so you can place it in its historical context.
- Some records are very technical, especially for our firearms, ammunition and similar objects. You will find specialist terms and abbreviations, though we try to add information for non-specialists too.
- Our records are never finished. Sometimes we discover new information that changes what we know about an object, such as who made it or used it. Sometimes we change how an object is interpreted. We sometimes make mistakes in our spelling, transcription or categorisation, or miss information out of our records. We recognise our records may never be ‘complete’, but we want to share as many records as we can while we carry on working.
If you have concerns about the language you have seen in our records, or you have information which can make our records better-reflect the experiences of everyone affected by conflict, please bring this to our attention by filling in our form and this will be reviewed by our staff.