London: A City of History

Campbell Atkins is a student at Western Illinois University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in London, England.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

London has perhaps more history than any other single city in the whole world. As the capital of England, it has always housed the royal family and been a hub for one of the world’s most powerful countries. From the early days of the monarchy to the narrow triumphs of the World Wars, England and its capital city have always played a major role in the way the world operates. This will never change. As I am a passionate observer of history and a fan of big cities, London was an obvious choice for my study abroad destination, and I couldn’t wait to see what it had to offer. I quickly learned that one could get a healthy dose of history by simply spending an afternoon exploring the city. After visiting Big Ben, the London Bridge and countless other points of interest, I set my sites on a more formal historical setting: The Imperial War Museums. The Imperial War Museums of London boasts three top of the line locations throughout the city that include their actual museum, Winston Churchill’s War Rooms, and the HMS Belfast. While I have been fortunate enough to visit the museum and the war rooms, I have yet to visit the ship. It is, however, high on my list.

The Statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square
The Statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square

Churchill War Rooms 

When I entered the Churchill War Rooms, I immediately felt the hardships of the Second World War. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his war cabinet utilized them during the air strikes by the Nazis known as “The Blitz”. The rooms where some of the most important war decisions were made are roughly the same as they were 70 years ago. These rooms include bedrooms, meeting rooms, communication rooms, a map room and much more. I was especially blown away by how much these men accomplished with the lack of modern technology. The rooms cost about 18 pounds to enter, but it is well worth it as you are literally walking through history. In addition to the rooms, there is an exhibit dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill included in the museum.

IWM London

The Imperial War Museum of London, located on Lambeth Road, houses some of the most intense exhibits I have ever encountered, beginning with a chilling portrayal of the First World War that hits home by focusing on its effect on citizens of England and around the world. While showing the English perspective throughout, the exhibit also shifts through the other major players of the war. The exhibit sets the tone at the beginning by putting the world they lived in prior to the war in perspective, then slowly breaking down the conflict as it grew into the political hysteria that caused the Great War. The exhibit also delivered the action, as it demonstrated the war tactics of those days and gives you a view from inside a war bunker.

While the museum boasted enthralling monuments of history on all five floors, perhaps the most chilling display was saved for last. My day at IWM ended with the Holocaust exhibit. While we were asked not to take pictures, what you see will stick with you for quite some time. Most people know about this particular historical atrocity, but the exhibit delivers the timeline of information in a manner that is disturbing as well as unbelievable. I found myself questioning how a world just 70 years our junior could’ve gone so astray. You enter the exhibit with the background of the ordeal: the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his policies being implemented throughout the European mainland as the Nazis gained control. It shows the attitude towards Jews grow from dislike to full on hatred with the help of Hitler’s regime. Through televisions on the walls, we hear first hand accounts from Jews who grew up in Nazi controlled areas and had a front row seat to this torment and segregation. Some also spoke of the day they were taken to a concentration camp. On top of explaining life at the camps, the exhibit offers a miniature model of one of the most infamous locations, Auschwitz. They also displayed a telephone with the exact message received by the free world informing them of Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish race. While offering individual encounters and chilling retrospectives, this exhibit is a must see look at history’s most horrid blemish.

Want to discover the history of the world up close? Here’s the place to start!