Why the Imperial War Museum is killing it on YouTube and other social media

Logan Nye Avatar
imperial war museum
Imperial War Museum, London, UK.

What does Imperial War Museum sound like to you?

Do you think:

a. A bunch of Star Wars nerds got way too into it. They started their own roadside stand with a few AT-ATs and a suit of Darth Vadar’s medical devices?
b. A potentially problematic collection of Germany’s attempts to start its own empire? With the first and second reichs being hopefully more celebrated than the third?
c. A bunch of history nerds in Britain are running both an amazing preservation initiative and a shockingly effective social media brand? And it includes YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and even TikTok?

Hopefully, from the title, you can guess it’s C. Yup, a British war museum is producing some of the best and most authoritative history content for social media.

What makes The Imperial War Museum impressive

Their videos and social media posts blend the academic work of their researchers, the artifacts and other items present in their collections, and a keen understanding of what works on each social media platform. Their TikToks are short, their YouTube videos have perfect thumbnails, and their Facebook posts would piss off your uncles. Each platform, perfectly played.

imperial war museum atrium
The atrium in August 2009. Ground floor exhibits include: “Devil” a Mark V tank; “Ole Bill” an LGOC B-type bus, V-2 and Polaris missiles, 800 mm shell from Schwerer Gustav, and (sand-coloured, extreme right) a Grant tank used by Bernard Montgomery. Suspended aircraft include a Sopwith Camel, Heinkel He 162 and (partially obscured).

So, take their exhibit War Games. It concentrates on the intersection of video game culture and military history. In it, they highlight mainstream titles like Sniper Elite 4 and compare them to real history. They also look at indie titles that capture lesser-discussed aspects of war, like Polish people surviving a siege or Syrian refugees escaping ISIS. And they use real items from their collections, like the equipment used by real World War II commandos, to illustrate these stories.

They even use their collection items to add context to events in the news, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The museum is split between locations in the U.K., and the location at Duxford is filled with important military vehicles from the 20th century. Shockingly, there’s a vehicle currently fighting in Ukraine that is also present at Duxford: the BMP-1.

Real artifacts, real news

When the BMP-1 entered combat in 2022, it was already over 60 years old and Duxford’s vehicle had been in their collection about 30 years. So their video highlighting the history of the BMP-1 combines archival footages, news footage, and historians showing highlights of the vehicle in Duxford.

One sort of funny detail of the video: The historians are used to discussing their vehicles in terms purely past tense terms. So they list the BMP-1’s stats that way, even though it’s still in service and in active combat. “It IS capable of doing 40 MPH.” Not “It was capable.”

Altogether, it’s a great job by a museum of making historical context more relevant to today. Something We Are The Mighty also does. So if you want to learn more, give them a follow on your favorite platform. Then maybe check out how one Canadian tank made it from D-Day to VE-Day, why Japan‘s highest-scoring ace became “The Richtofen of the Orient,” or when America fought its longest battle.