A letter to the Imperial War Museums

The following post contains links to a pay-walled site, for which I apologise, but I hope the gist will be clear. On 24th February, 2015, The Times published a brief report on plans by the Imperial War Museums to introduce reduced hours and daily charges of £14 a day for use of their London reading room, the only place scholars and researchers can access the unique collection of documents and books relating to modern warfare which form the basis of the Museums’ collection. This plan is modification of an original plan to close the library and Explore History facilities. It has, however, caused great concern among scholars, myself among them. I was one of over seventy academics and historians to sign a letter to The Times, written by Dr Clare Makepeace of University College London and published on 26th February, expressing our belief that these plans will negatively impact on future scholarship, impair understanding of modern conflict, and silence the voices of veterans of two world wars who are no longer with us, voices that continue to need to be heard in our society. There was not space in the letter to give voice to the huge range of concerns about specific impacts that these plans may have, but one that was voiced by many involved was the impact on post-graduate and early career scholars, those whose work has the potential to be most original but who are often shortest of discretionary funds for research. I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to host the publication of an open letter to the Imperial War Museums, written by Christopher Phillips of the University of Leeds and signed by seventeen other postgraduate students, which clearly articulates these concerns. If you are a postgraduate and would like your name added to the list of signatories, please contact Chris at C.Phillips@leeds.ac.uk with your name and institution.

Dear Ms Lees,

Having read the letter to The Times by Dr Clare Makepeace and seventy-six academic colleagues (published 27 February), we would like to place on record the reservations of the postgraduate and undergraduate communities over the proposed changes to IWM’s research provision.

The decision to charge £14 per day for researchers to access IWM’s collections will have a disproportionately negative effect on the student population and will materially alter the manner in which researchers approach IWM as an institution. At best, the £14 per day charge will lead undergraduate and postgraduate researchers to rely upon material which has already been highly cited in academic and popular works, leading to a narrowing of focus upon a relatively small number of the collection’s holdings and a commensurate reduction in the development of original, ground-breaking research based upon the exploration of previously under-used material. At worst, IWM’s decision to charge researchers £14 per day will result in a significant number of students choosing to forego any engagement with the collections whatsoever. As the letter signed by our academic colleagues makes clear, such actions will serve only to impair our understanding of modern warfare.

Primary research at undergraduate and postgraduate level is a significant aspect of academic learning. The writing of dissertations and theses plays a fundamental role in introducing new material to the historical conversation and in testing, challenging, and improving the work of established academics, many of whom have already registered their concern and discomfort at the proposed changes to IWM’s services.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Phillips, PhD student and Postgraduate Tutor, University of Leeds
Christina Andrew, President of the War Studies Society, King’s College London
Aimée Fox-Godden, PhD student, University of Birmingham
Alina Enzensberger, PhD student, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin
Carlos Alves Lopes, PhD student and integrated researcher, Instituto de História Contemporânea, Lisbon
Linda Maynard, PhD student, Birkbeck, University of London
Meighen McCrae, DPhil candidate, Linacre College, University of Oxford
Margarida Portela, PhD student and integrated researcher, Instituto de História Contemporânea, Lisbon
Adam Prime, PhD student and Postgraduate Tutor, University of Leicester
Philippa Read, PhD student and Postgraduate Tutor, University of Leeds
Claire Rennie, PhD student and Postgraduate Tutor, University of Leeds
Olivia Tidswell, MA student, University of Leeds
Michael Reeve, MA student, University of Leeds
Melyssa Dawson, MA student, University of Leeds
Patrick Watt, PhD candidate and Postgraduate Tutor, University of Edinburgh
Vicky Davis, PhD student, Institute of Historical Research, London
Ashleigh Gilbertson, PhD student, University of Adelaide
Caitriona McCartney, PhD student, University of Birmingham