I chose to visit the Imperial War Museum on my first day of independent study. I have always been interested in history and the First and Second World Wars in particular. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to see these wars through a different frame and perhaps gain another perspective.
The museum was short, rainy, walk from the dorms on Stamford St. and very easy to find. Just outside the entrance to the building is displayed a fragment of the Berlin Wall, shown above. I was impressed at how well it was preserved and by the artwork displayed on the facade. The entrance hall to the museum is filled with artillery and aircraft from both of the World Wars. I was proud to see that one of our own Sherman tanks was displayed in the museum, attached with a favorable description.
The first exhibit I entered achieved my goal of gaining a different perspective of Britain and the Second World War. The exhibit was centered around London during Hitler's Blitz campaign of bombing. The focus was not just on general citizens of London but the children. As an American we sometimes forget that London was severely damaged during the war and thousands of civilians lost their lives. From the beginning, I noticed, the museum utilized sound recordings in the exhibits to underscore events or add depth to an item. This made me begin to think about recorded sound as an aid to exhibitions and its importance as historical record.
I was really impressed by two portions of the World War exhibits. Both contained artifacts from the wars such as uniforms and weapons but both made an attempt to put their observer into the environment. In the exhibit World War I, visitors were given the opportunity to walk through a trench on the Western front. There were life sized models dressed as soldiers occupying various foxholes and performing different duties. Meanwhile, the sound of mortars and gunfire echo overhead. It was a very effective way of illustrating life in the trenches. The World War II exhibit put the visitor inside a bomb shelter while the above surface was being shelled. The room actually shook and vibrated from the exploding shells overhead. This too was an effective interactive exhibit which put the visitor, as best it could, in the war.
The last exhibit I visited for the day was the most moving to view, the Holocaust exhibit. A difficult subject to cover, the museum did a great job of incorporating sound and film recordings in order to capture the atmosphere leading up to the actions taken by the Nazis. These historical documents were used to give depth to the exhibit and I found it to be very successful.