The Imperial War Museum: as much a relic as its Spitfires and doodlebugs?

After a £40m revamp and the acquisition of a range of new exhibits, the IWM is looking to the future as well as the past

In the line of fire … the Imperial War Museum. Photograph: Getty Images

Imperial, war and museum – the three worst words in the English language.” Imperial War Museum director Diane Lees is quoting one of her predecessors, Alan Borg, who reckoned he ran the museum with the most forbidding title in the world. I had asked her why, since she is overseeing the biggest overhaul at the museum for a generation, she didn’t drop the word “imperial”; maybe even “war”. Anyone for the Museum of Global Conflict? Or maybe Battle Space?

“We’ve had that conversation several times,” she admits, “and I’m fascinated by the archive of the trustee discussions on that very matter.” The museum’s peculiar title has, it seems, long been up for debate, but all three words have survived the latest Big Think. “War,” says Lees by way of explanation, “is always going to be fascinating to a certain section of the audience, and our job is to broaden that audience. The imperial bit is accepted as a historical fact as opposed to a political agenda. And museums have changed their image – more people now visit museums than attend football matches. The Imperial War Museum is an internationally recognised brand, and any brand consultant will say, ‘Throw that out at your peril.'” Battle Space will have to wait.

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