Kasia Tomasiewicz is currently a final year PhD researcher at the University of Brighton and the Imperial War Museum. Her research traces the changing landscapes of Second World War memory and commemoration at the Museum’s flagship London site. She uses archival, ethnographic and oral history research methods, and is particularly interested in methodological approaches to museum spaces. Her research reflects on issues of interpersonal subjectivity, ‘fitting in to the museum space’, and the complex relations between past, present and future in conducting research in museums.
Methods in the Museum – reflections on positionality in the Imperial War Museum
Critical approaches to museums are changing. No longer is it acceptable, although still frustratingly common, for researchers to ‘read’ exhibitions without reflecting on such an interpretation as being part of a positioned act. Practice-based considerations that Museum staff must navigate to produce narratives of the past for visitors are however still marginalized by historians.
As an antidote to a limited historiography, the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme has brought PhD students directly into the Museum environment. Not employees of the Museum, they instead occupy a precarious liminal space in between internal employee and external researcher status. The Imperial War Museum has welcomed multiple CDP students into different levels of its ranks. Their positionality helps to shed invaluable insight into the internal workings of the Nation’s leading pedagogic site on the impact of war.
Using on-going archival and ethnographic research, this paper will explore the freedoms and limitations of occupying this liminal space. In reflecting on this position, it will provoke a serious questioning of some of the assumptions made about and the theoretical frameworks used in relation to war museums in established historiography.