Good, but not quite as good as the original

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by TianjinPaul on February 23, 2013

As you may have ascertained if you have read any of my other blogs, I have a keen interest in history. When I choose a destination for a vacation, I focus far less on the weather or on beaches or shopping and much more on places to see. This philosophy has stood me in good stead for many years and has taken me to some fantastic places. However, at no point would I define myself as a 'historian' - my degree in American History notwithstanding. My interest in most historical sights tends to be rather general and somewhat sweeping. Only rarely do I find myself enraptured by the minutae of a place. My father, on the other hand, is an avid amateur military historian and is interested in the tiniest details of the wartime experience. Therefore, we had rather differing takes on the Imperial War Museum North.

Unlike its older and more established sibling in London (The Imperial War Museum), the northern version of the museum focuses more on the experiences of those affected by war rather than the intimate details of battles. The scope of the museum is to focus on civilians as well as soldiers when discussing conflicts. Therefore, you do not see too many mannequins bedecked in battle dress and tactical disections of major battles are few and far between. Instead, there are some slightly more artistic displays and a lot more focus on non-military aspects of warfare. Because of this, my father and I had rather disparate views on our visit. I very much enjoyed it, whilst he felt it was short on details. He was disappointed at the lack of old uniforms and spent ordanance, things I had no problem doing without.

I was very much impressed by the design and visual aspects of the IPW. These worked fantastically well - in several different ways - to convey the images of war as it impacted upon normal people. There were two large exhibits that worked fantastically well in doing this. The first was a large arch made up of battered old suitcases that once belonged to refugees displaced by war. It was visually arresting and its imagery really forced home the point that over the past century millions have people have been forced from their homes in various global conflicts. The second image was that of a girder taken from the ruins of the Twin Towers. The huge steel beams are bent grotesquely out of shape. It was an exhibit that scarcely needed to be captioned.

I also trememndously enjoyed the display that dealt with the Cold War. The highlight of this was a beuatifully restored Trabant. There were also some fantastic pieces of art workq These included propaganda from both sides of the Berlin Wall as well as recreations of the pro-democracy movements that sprung up in Eastern Europe in 1989. There was also a fantastic video display that included a safety video from the 1970s that dealt with procedures for evacuation in the event of a nuclear attack. There was not too much about the geo-political aspect of the Cold War - Reagan, Stalin, Gorbachev et al - scarcely get a mention. However, the museum does well in highlighting the ominous sense of danger the period spawned.

As great as I thought the museum was, I did have one or two small quibbles. The first was that it was extremely dark. This made photographing exhibits very difficult and, at times, even made reading some of the captions a chore. It was also rather disconcerting to find that a lot of the audio-visual displays were broadcast across the whole museum, which meant you had no choice but to listen and watch the images that were projected across the walls - whether the topic interested you or not. My one final negative thoguht is on the layout. As the museum focuses more on themes than on a chronological discussion of warfare, the museum lacks a certain logic or flow in its layout, which creates a rather piecemeal effect and can leave the visitor pondering in which direction to walk.

I genuinely found the IPW North to be very interetsing and visually stunning. However, I can relate to my father's criticisms regarding the lack of detail. Considering, though, that admission is free, it is well worth a visit.
Imperial War Museum North
Salford Quays
Manchester, England, M17 1TZ
0161 836 4000

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