James Wallis

Department: Geography
Discipline: Geography

Project Summary

The aim of this PhD is to trace the successive phases of permanent and temporary First World War exhibitions that have taken place within the London branch of the Imperial War Museum (IWM). This will start with the 1964 50th Anniversary exhibitions and culminate in the Museum's 'Regeneration' programme for the War’s centenary, beginning in 2014. Through a critical lens, I will be providing a rigorous and contextual analysis of the past, present and future programme of exhibitions, whilst also focusing upon both the evolving practices and politics of display.

In doing this, I will be tracing the recent history of public engagement with the First World War and its commemoration within a national institution. This will produce a written record of how memory and commemorative practices have changed, at the same time as examining the future direction and meaning of the landscape of remembrance.

The PhD will be undertaken using humanities-based methodologies conducted at the IWM site. I will be applying visual and textual analysis to closed archival sources connected to particular exhibitions. I am observing the on-going processes of the 2014 'Regeneration' through the attendance of meetings between the 'Regeneration' Team and Casson Mann, the designers for the new galleries. This will enable me to complete an ethnographic documentation of the creative exhibition-making process. A further strand of this PhD will be in collecting the oral histories of museum staff involved in curating past, present and future exhibitions.

The PhD is located amidst the transition point of two monumental events; the extinguishing of the ‘living memory’ thread within Britain with the death of Harry Patch in July 2009 and that of witnessing the centenary of the conflict. My wider interest in the passing of living memory and the next phase of the conflict’s cultural memory will thus allow me to engage with wider debates within historical geography and museum studies.

Supervisory Team

  • Principal Supervisor – Dr David Harvey
  • Secondary Supervisor – Dr Nicola Thomas
  • IWM Supervisor - James Taylor (Head of First World War Galleries Content Team/Head of Research and Information, IWM London)

Wider Research Interests

  • Work on the cultural memory, remembrance, memorialisation and commemoration of the First World War
  • Museum studies and the politics of representation/display
  • The role of battlefield space and commemorative landscapes