Women and War: New Directions in Research

October 3, 2016
Opening of the World War Women exhibition at the War Museum

Opening of the World War Women exhibition at the Canadian War Museum.

“I didn’t expect to see this in a war museum.”

This kind of visitor comment signals success to Peter MacLeod, the new Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum, which is embarking on a multi-year research initiative dedicated to examining, collecting and showcasing the roles and experiences of women during times of conflict.

The Women and War research initiative will mine existing collections with an eye to women’s stories. Researchers will look at female war artists and veterans, extensive archival resources and other potential caches of women’s history.

In some ways, the work has already begun: exhibitions such as the recent World War Women grew from oral histories. Using these personal stories, MacLeod explains that exhibition developers “re-examined artifacts in a new way, specifically to tell the often-overlooked stories and contributions of women during wartime.”

This approach is opening doors. Visitors see themselves in the exhibitions, MacLeod says, and it encourages them to start telling stories the Museum hasn’t heard yet. “People become aware that we care about their experiences, that we’re open to what they have to say. They start sharing their stories and artifacts. The result is a stronger collection and a broader research base.”

The Women and War research initiative builds on these relationships and will lead to greater diversity in the collection and in the stories exhibitions can explore. “Our aim is to use history to explain 21st century issues to 21st century audiences,” MacLeod explains.

Fundraising for the initiative is ongoing and we are happy to report that funds raised have contributed to making exhibitions like World War Women possible. “Without donors, there are certain artifacts we can’t obtain, conservation and research projects we can’t undertake, and exhibitions that are less effective than they could be,” says MacLeod. “Donors help the Museum every day, and thereby help Canadians understand their military history.”