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Last Updated: 2021-08-23

Materialising the Cold War

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Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in a climate of international tension, the Cold War is more relevant than ever. And yet a generation now has no experience of it, and its public history is uneven. The Cold War's character as an 'imaginary war' in the global north poses special challenges for public engagement, especially for exhibiting material objects in museums. Synthesising approaches from material culture studies and Cold War history,
critical heritage studies and museum practice, our project analyses these challenges and proposes a new framework for a Cold War museology.

We focus on the process we call 'materialising the Cold War': the transformation of artefacts from the immaterial context of the Cold War to material objects in museums. National Museums Scotland and the University of Stirling will appoint two Research Fellows to apply these multi-disciplinary methods to co-produce a major exhibition and schools programming, and we will generate innovative resources and outputs for museum users, heritage professionals and academics.

In addition, our project partners – Royal Air Force Museums, Imperial War Museums, the Norwegian Luftfartmuseum in Bodø, and the Allied Museum in Berlin – will benefit significantly from our findings and collaboration as they each develop major new galleries within the next decade (one motive in their participation); a powerful legacy for the project. Framed by this international context, Materialising the Cold War will ask of UK museum objects: why have they been collected? How are they displayed? How have people responded to this ‘fearsome heritage’ – those who remember the Cold War and those who
don't, whether family museum visitors, school groups, or dedicated enthusiasts?

Throughout, we emphasise the fundamentally unstable and contested nature of the ways in which Cold War objects are made to mean something, and the breadth of the emotional register they stimulate.

The project has support from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, 1 October 2021 to 30 September 2024 and benefits from an international expert advisory board.

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