The Value of Human Interaction: Talks at IWM London

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IWM expert guide talk on WW1 Nery Artillery Gun

In the absence of the availability of audio guides, visitors seeking supporting context and more detailed narrative at IWM London have relied on a series of excellent daily talks by the Museum’s expert guides. They might be brief and focusing on particular displays but the talks provide informative and meaningful human interaction at  the Museum.

To add to these talks, IWM London has just announced a new £10-a-ticket introductory tour, “From Bedlam to Baghdad” which, in approximately 40 minutes, provides an overview of the origins of the building as Bethlem Hospital  – known as ‘Bedlam’ – through to the displays on three floors of the Museum. These tours will occur on selected days at 12 pm and  2 pm.

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Free daily talks

The provision of the evolving series of free, public 20/30 minute talks provided by expert staff has been a highly effective development at IWM London since the £40 million redevelopment in 2014. The talks tend to focus on a particular display or exhibit and provide useful context and background for visitors who can drop-in to the talks – and, even, take a seat on a folding stool.

Most recently, the range of free daily talks have covered:

(i) Baghdad Car – destroyed in a suspected suicide bomb in Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. Toured around the US by artist Jeremy Deller before being donated to IWM.

(ii) Little Boy atomic bomb casing, one of which was dropped on Hiroshima – providing information on the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from both military and human perspectives.

(iii) Berlin Wall segment

(iv) John Singer Sargent painting, Gassed (Currently, this exhibit is being loaned to institutions in North America)

(v) Jacqmar scarves – propaganda scarves celebrating achievements of Winston Churchill

(vi) Midget X-7 submarine assigned to attack German battleship, Tirpitz on 22 September 1943.

(vii) Falkland Islands conflict display

(viii) Nery Artillery Gun (QF 13 pdr Mk 1 ) – deployed during WW1 from August 1914 by British forces as part of Cavalry Division.

(ix) V2 and V1 (doodlebug) German rockets and impact of London blitz.

Human Interaction

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The newly launched introductory paid tour to IWM London is likely to be a very useful addition to the talks available at the Museum. The history of the building’s use as ‘Bedlam’, the mental patient hospital, is not currently presented in any exhibit in the Museum, so will be of particular interest to many visitors.

It is essential that IWM London retains its roster of engaging free daily talks, alongside this new paid tour initiative. The value of the talks in bringing to life objects and exhibitions and placing them in historical context is great.

There has been a deskilling of IWM staff since the 2014 privatisation of Visitor Services and Security staff in favour of security personnel on short-term precarious contracts. Expert staff guidance and context is less available as a result, making the availability of free talks of particular importance to visitors.

Moreover, as more and more Museum transactions occur online, from buying tickets to ascertaining information, the real human interaction with an expert guide is increasingly an invaluable offering and a major draw for visitors.

New daily talks are regularly developed by the IWM team to address important aspects of the collection and exhibitions. Talks occur at regular intervals during the day. It is advisable to contact the Museum in advance to find out if a particular talk is occurring on a given day.