Narrative, Object, Witness: The Story of the Holocaust as Told by the Imperial War Museum, London

  • Emily Stiles

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

On June 7, 2000, the Holocaust’s position as an official part of British history and memory became solidified with the opening of a permanent Holocaust exhibition within London’s Imperial War Museum. This important national museum embodies Britain's cultural memory of war, of which the Holocaust has become a central part. Situated within debates of museology and memory, this thesis offers a compelling case study on the performative role of the museum in the construction of an official Holocaust memory within Britain and its relationship to national identity. While the Holocaust has become a ‘moral touchstone’ of contemporary society it seems urgent we raise questions of not only why we remember the Holocaust, but what, exactly, it is we are remembering. The oft cited dictum to 'never forget' requires remembrance of the Holocaust to serve a purpose; so that events of Nazi Europe may never be repeated. This ambition has proven hollow, yet countries invest millions of pounds in official Holocaust remembrance, commemoration and education. What purpose does the Holocaust serve in twenty-first century Britain? Questions of Holocaust narrative, material culture and testimony dominate the study, underpinned through wider concepts of history, memory, identity and museology in a British context. Using the Imperial War Museum as a case study, this thesis presents a challenge to the place of the Holocaust within British memory of war and questions how this limiting framework affects the way the Holocaust is remembered and understood throughout British society more broadly. Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of the Holocaust exhibition and its display. A history of the exhibition provides detail on how and why the Holocaust became a central theme for the Imperial War Museum, while a study of the photographic, object and testimony displays in each dedicated chapter draws conclusions on how the Holocaust is shaped within this specific context. The relationship between the exhibition displays and Holocaust education more broadly throughout Britain is explored in detail in the final chapter of the thesis. Beyond the Imperial War Museum, this study points towards the future of Holocaust memory in Britain with an aim to highlight a limited understanding of the wider context of Britain and the Holocaust within popular narratives. How Britain connects to Holocaust history and memory remains central to this research, but it also considers how Britain could connect in more meaningful ways beyond learning the 'lessons' of the Holocaust.
Date of Award13 Jul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorEmiliano Perra (Supervisor), Tom Lawson (Supervisor), Ruth Gilbert (Supervisor) & Chris Aldous (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Holocaust
  • memory
  • Britain
  • museum
  • photographs
  • objects
  • testimony

Cite this

Narrative, Object, Witness: The Story of the Holocaust as Told by the Imperial War Museum, London
Stiles, E. (Author). 13 Jul 2016

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis