Explore History at Imperial War Museum London

This May the Imperial War Museum London launches Explore History, an innovative project which will see visitors get up close and personal with the past thanks to improved access to the Museum’s Collections.

The Museum’s chief new feature will be the Explore History Centre, a specially-designed public space where anyone can drop in for free and immediately access parts of the Museum’s vast collection of digitised photos, film, sound recordings, documents, art, ephemera and books.

Visitors young and old will be encouraged to take advantage of an easy-to-search web catalogue, interactive multimedia displays, and the expertise of staff, to discover hidden treasures from the Museum’s archives as well as the personal stories behind them.

Individuals can even pre-book appointments with Museum experts to learn more about objects they’ve uncovered at home, or to suggest items they wish to donate. There will also be a new Research Room where up to 35 students, academics and amateur historians can carry out quiet, formal study at desks and computer terminals.

To whet the appetite of history buffs and beginners alike, a special display will open alongside the new space. Explore History 1940 marks the 70th anniversary of a year whose momentous events determined the eventual outcome of the Second World War. The introduction of rationing, Churchill’s rise to power, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and the Blitz, are all chronicled in this new display which showcases the breadth, depth and diversity of the Museum’s Collections.

Among the items on display will be icons like the Spitfire, ‘hero’ of the Battle of Britain, and the Tamzine, one of the famous ‘little ships’ which played such a significant role in Operation Dynamo at Dunkirk. Joining these symbolic objects will be a series of smaller pieces from the Museum’s archives which reveal the untold stories behind the well-documented events of 1940.

For example, the family of Pilot Officer Frederick Cecil Harrold, who was killed when his Hurricane was shot down on 28 September 1940, carefully preserved a remarkable collection of personal belongings found on him including his pilot ‘wings’, a dented cigarette case and even a bent house-key. Next to that visitors will find Sapper Alexander Graham King’s accordion which he played on the beaches of Dunkirk in a bid to boost morale during the evacuation which followed the fall of France.

The display of numerous films, photographs, documents, exhibits and ephemera is accompanied by a number of multimedia touch-screens where people can delve even further into the human stories behind each exhibit and event of 1940. Explore History 1940 is designed to show visitors the kind of hidden ‘gems’ they could uncover themselves in the nearby Explore History Centre.

Di Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum, says:
“The Imperial War Museum tells the story of war and conflict involving Britain and the Commonwealth since 1900, and our collections within this remit are unrivalled. We’ve always wanted to show the public more of our archives than is physically possible, so by taking advantage of digital technologies Explore History puts a huge proportion of our Collections at people’s fingertips. Whether it’s in the Explore History Centre, the Research Room or Explore History 1940, we hope the new improved enhanced access to intriguing items and individual stories will enrich people’s understanding of the causes, course and consequences of modern war.”

Explore History 1940 is open during normal opening hours (Mon-Sun, 10am-6pm) and admission is free. The Explore History Centre is open Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm and admission is free. The Research Room is open to the public Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm and admission is free.