Uncovering the hidden histories: black and Asian people in the two world wars

Teaching History Article

By Rupert Gaze, published 31st August 2005

The stories we tell in history are often stories about ourselves. This can lead to tremendous distortion. Rupert Gaze was shocked when a young black student told him that there was no point in his studying the Second World War because it had nothing to do with him or his family. While Gaze has worked for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) North, it has built on its inclusive beginnings to develop displays, exhibitions, resources and educational programmes to combat the idea that the British contribution to the two world wars which so shaped the last century was entirely white. This inclusivity of approach has enabled greater access to history for pupils from all communities and of all backgrounds. It has enabled them to engage with serious questions about interpretation and the nature of historical accounts. It has opened up opportunities for oral history. It has also addressed an imbalance in our cultural perception of the role of black and Asian people in the two world wars. None of this, Gaze argues, is in any sense difficult. It merely requires an eye for diversity and a determination to strip away the whitewashing of the past.

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