The Cold War in European museums - filling the 'empty battlefield'



Alberti SJMM & Nehring H (2022) The Cold War in European museums - filling the 'empty battlefield'. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 28 (2), pp. 180-199.

Recent historical research has analysed the Cold War as an ‘imaginary war’, an interpretation that poses specific challenges for displaying the conflict in museums. In contrast to well-established representations of the First and Second World Wars in exhibitions, we find that the nature of the Cold War in Europe and the North Atlantic has made it difficult to tell stories of victimhood, heroism and military valour. Moreover, the memory and heritage of the Cold War have often been presented as monolithic and lacking specific chronologies, adding to the difficulty of telling stories through objects. This article explores how selected museums and exhibitions in the UK and Germany have addressed this double challenge. We examine how the conflict is portrayed, how buildings, images, text and artefacts interact in selected museums and exhibitions, and how they generate specific interpretations. We show these interpretations to be diverse and fractured: each museum chose different paths to staging the Cold War. From their comparison, in the context of heritage studies, we make the case for a distinct museology of the Cold War. We argue for a reflective approach that encourages the engagement of museum and heritage professionals with diverse material culture, filling the ‘empty battlefield’.

Cold War; exhibitions; museums; material culture

International Journal of Heritage Studies: Volume 28, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online02/08/2021
Date accepted by journal07/07/2021

People (2)


Dr Samuel Alberti
Dr Samuel Alberti

Honorary Professor, History

Professor Holger Nehring
Professor Holger Nehring

Chair in Contemporary European History, History