The best military history websites, online exhibitions, and digital courses
With many museums and galleries still closed, Military History Matters has compiled a guide to some interesting websites you can check out from the safety of your own home. Click on the links below to find out more.
Royal Armouries Museum
Held in June 1520, the Field of Cloth of Gold was a sporting event with a political edge: an attempt to cement the recent peace between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. Years of diplomacy and preparation went into planning the fortnight-long event, with the two powers wary of outshining the other and reigniting conflict.
This online exhibition from the Royal Armouries Museum marks the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold. The carefully crafted website allows the reader to explore the development of Henry’s armoury, the challenges of transporting the English court to France, the spectacle of the tournament, and the political power-play at the heart of the event.
Canadian War Museum
Whether it was landing on the Normandy beaches alongside the British and Americans, or helping to liberate southern sections of the Netherlands and the vital port of Antwerp, the Canadians played an important role in ridding France and the Low Countries of Nazi occupation.
In this sleek online exhibition, replete with clear maps and striking visuals, the focus is on the Netherlands in particular, the liberation of which established a lasting friendship between the Canadians and Dutch that continues to this day. The museum’s website hosts an array of similar exhibitions on the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the First World War, and much more.
Until 7 March 2021, $18
National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City
After the end of the First World War, the founders of the National WWI Museum and Memorial began collecting objects and documents from the conflict to be preserved for posterity.
Their outreach was vast, obtaining artefacts from not just the United States and Canada, but also Britain, France, Germany, and a number of regimes – such as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires – that have now vanished.
This exhibition showcases the full extent of the collection. Highlights include a formal court frock-coat and waistcoat worn by the household staff of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, as well as century-old soldier’s Hartack (‘hard bread’) that has been remarkably well preserved.
18 – 20 September 2020, £36
In 1940, the United Kingdom experienced great hardship, as the RAF took to the skies to defend the country against Nazi invasion.
This three-day event commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain will undoubtedly be a little different this year, but staff at IMW Duxford are working hard to prepare a safe air show that complies with current medical regulations.
There is even a new inclusion to the itinerary this year: a Battle of Britain Proms will open the weekend of commemoration on the Friday evening. Tickets for the air show are strictly limited, so book as soon as possible.
The American Civil War Museum
The American Civil War Museum is a great place to find fresh and vibrant information about one of the most tumultuous episodes in American history. Although currently closed, the museum has an equally informative website, filled with in-depth videos for viewers who are looking for more-detailed discussions on the conflict.
Highlights include talks on the ways in which soldiers prepared for the war and how their expectations matched reality; and the grim challenges faced by field surgeons and nurses who had to care for the hundreds of thousands wounded – not for the faint-hearted, that one.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
Ohio’s National Museum of the United States Air Force is the oldest and largest of its kind in the world, with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display. In its collection are legendary planes such as the Bockscar, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, as well as several presidential aircraft from the Cold War era.
Although the museum is undoubtedly more impressive in real life, its virtual tour – launched in 2010 – is one of the best on offer, allowing viewers to explore the entire museum in great detail. The site’s many podcasts and videos are also worth checking out.
National Army Museum via Crowdcast
Despite having been closed for the past several months, the National Army Museum in London has been regularly updating its websites with upcoming online talks.
You can tune into them live, or, if you miss them, catch up whenever you have the time. There is now a small bank of them on Crowdcast, including discussions on Waterloo, Florence Nightingale, and Lawrence of Arabia’s war experiences.
Bovington Tank Museum
With more than 300 vehicles on its site, Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset has one of the most-impressive tank collections in the world. Although closed at present, it has been boosting its YouTube channel with lectures, video diaries, film and book reviews, and Q&As with directors and curators, in which they explore the history of the museum’s many artefacts.
FutureLearn provides some excellent online courses for those who want to brush up on their history. Discover the ways in which the heroism of the First World War was portrayed in culture, from recruitment posters to paintings and contemporary films and television. The course is free and requires two hours of study for two weeks, with no prior experience necessary.
The National Archives
Among the wide-ranging blogs on the National Archives website is a series of interesting articles on the Dunkirk Evacuation of 80 years ago. They tackle everything from a discussion of the myths and miracles of the evacuation to a look behind the scenes with the Home Guard, interspersed with fascinating documents from the institution’s vast collection.
This article was published in the August/September 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.