What is a peace museum?

When you first hear about a ‘peace museum’ you might feel confused. It’s easy to imagine what goes into a war museum, but what can you put in a peace museum?

There are about 100 peace museums around the world and some of the themes they explore are: nuclear disarmament, pacifism and war resistance, peace movements and the lives of peacemakers, nonviolence, human rights and ecology and peace.

One of the earliest peace museums was established in Berlin in the 1920s but then closed down by the Nazi regime, and reopened many years later by the founder’s grandson. There are many peace museums in Japan, including the one at Hiroshima which is dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In the UK there is a peace museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire which mainly depicts the history, art and artefacts of peace movements over time. In Coventry there is a Peace and Reconciliation Gallery in the Herbert museum which tells the story of the blitz of the city and Coventry’s links with other cities that suffered from the destruction of war.

While the content of war museums is very different from that of peace museums, there are a number of war museums that also have collections and galleries dedicated to peace. The Imperial War Museum in London for example has extensive archives on conscientious objectors and galleries about the Holocaust and Crimes Against Humanity, as well as a peace garden in its grounds.

Another example of a war museum with galleries dedicated to peace is the Caen Museum and War Memorial in Normandy, France. It mainly depicts the battles of WWII in Normandy, including the D-Day landings, but it also has a gallery about Nobel Peace Prize winners and a gallery focusing on the Cold War and the Search for Peace. In fact the Caen Museum is sometimes described as a peace museum.

Peace museums display a range of materials including paintings, drawings, photographs, posters, banners, books, films and videos, memorabilia and historical artefacts. They are active places that bring peace to life through sight and sound, using art, film, drama and storytelling. Through exhibitions and educational activities, peace museums, and some war museums, are helping to build a ‘culture of peace’.