Most TeleRead readers should need no reminding that this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914. Unfortunately, the UK government’s memory of that fact seems highly selective – not least when it comes to one of the UK’s most significant repositories of national memory concerning that conflict and war in general. For the library of the UK Imperial War Museum (IWM), itself refurbished this year at a cost of £40 million ($63.5 million), as well as other important research and educational services, are now threatened thanks to government cuts of up to £4 million ($6.35 million) in its operating grant.
Prospect, one of the main unions with members put at risk by the cuts, has launched a Change.org petition calling on George Osborne, the UK Lord Chancellor, to “urgently reverse current and future cuts to the UK Imperial War Museum’s annual operating grant in aid so that it can maintain services and preserve its standing as an international centre for study, research and education.” The petition claims that the IWM has drafted proposals to “close its unique library and dispose of the majority of its collection; cut important education services; cut 60-80 jobs; [and] close the widely emulated ‘Explore History’ facility in London.”
Despite its name, with its flavor of Victorian imperialism, the IWM has built itself a position both nationally and internationally as a major study center and research resource, not least for the social history of warfare. The union origins of the petition may not endear it to the current Conservative-led UK government, but a report from The Bookseller has confirmed that the petition’s claims are accurate, and the UK’s more conservative press also seems to be supporting the campaign against the government decisions.
Typical of the kind of initiatives the IWM is a focus for, the current “Let’s Remember Together” commemoration has assembled 6,888,850 “Lives of the First World War,” with an open invitation to the public to submit more. This and dozens of other projects would be lost if the proposed cuts went through.
At the relaunch of the IWM in July, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “When I launched our plans for the First World War centenary, I said the renovated IWM London would be the centrepiece of our commemorations – and what a fitting centrepiece it is. This wonderful museum succeeds in making this war relevant 100 years on – a national focal point in which we can all take pride and which connects the past with the present to ensure we never forget those who lost their lives to secure our freedom.”
Maybe it’s time for him to live up to that rhetoric.