Materialising the Cold War

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Collaboration with National Museums Scotland.

Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in a climate of international tension, the Cold War is more relevant than ever. And yet a generation now has no experience of it, and its public history is uneven. The Cold War's character as an 'imaginary war' in the global north poses special challenges for public engagement, especially for exhibiting material objects in museums. Synthesising approaches from material culture studies and Cold War history, critical heritage studies and museum practice, our project - a partnership between National Museums Scolandf and the University of Stirling's Division of History, Heritage and Politics - analyses these challenges and proposes a new framework for a Cold War museology. We focus on the process we call 'materialising the Cold War': the transformation of artefacts from the immaterial context of the Cold War to material objects in museums. National Museums Scotland and the University of Stirling will apply these multi-disciplinary methods to co-produce a major exhibition and schools programming, and we will generate innovative resources and outputs for museum users, heritage professionals and academics. In addition, our project partners - Royal Air Force Museums, Imperial War Museums, the Norwegian Luftfartmuseum in Bodø, and the Allied Museum in Berlin - will benefit significantly from our findings.

Framed by this international context, Materialising the Cold War will ask of UK museum objects:

1) Why have they been collected? 2) How are they displayed? How have people responded to this 'fearsome heritage' - those who remember the Cold War and those who don't, whether family museum visitors, school groups, or dedicated enthusiasts?

Throughout, we emphasise the fundamentally unstable and contested nature of the ways in which Cold War objects are made to mean something, and the breadth of the emotional register they stimulate.

Our project will therefore:

  • be the first critically to take stock of how different institutions in the UK have addressed the fundamental challenge of materialising the Cold War in the context of a museum;
  • build on this original knowledge to develop an analytical framework for materialising the Cold War
  • develop new approaches to collecting and display;
  • and thus offer a timely conceptual and practical foundation for a developing field.

Total award value £352,040.00

People (2)


Professor Holger Nehring

Professor Holger Nehring

Chair in Contemporary European History, History

Dr Jessica Douthwaite

Dr Jessica Douthwaite

Post Doctoral Research Fellow, History

Outputs (7)


Website Content

Douthwaite J (2022) H-Diplo Article Review 1113- "Pre-enacting the Next War". [Blog post] 01.06.2022.

Newspaper Article

Douthwaite J (2022) New world order. New Statesman. 20.04.2022, p. 17.