Skip to main content

Exhibitions and displays

Bringing history to life

People are fascinated by history. Whether through non-fiction books, novels, films, TV dramas, documentaries, or biographies, people want to be immersed in stories of the past. Despite this, the vast majority of the population will never visit an archive. Those who do are usually researchers, including academics, authors and family historians.

This is, in part, due to the nature of visiting an archive – they have traditionally been designed for research, rather than as a cultural experience. You usually need to arrive with a broad understanding of what you want to see, and work at a desk in a reading room. This isn’t for everyone, no matter how interested they may be in Henry VIII or the Suffrage movement.

The National Archives’ exhibition programme is designed to connect with wider audiences. Recent displays include:

  • The 1920s: Beyond the Roar, which used the 1921 Census of England and Wales to bring the world of the 1920s to life
  • Treason: People, Power & Plot, which revealed the history of treason through iconic documents such as the Treason Act
  • Great Escapes: Remarkable Second World War Captives, which shared the stories of Prisoners of War and civilian internees during the Second World War.

The Trust aims to help enable future exhibitions – both at Kew and with touring displays across the country – which grow and diversify audiences, create moments of public reflection and provide exciting spaces for people to find themselves in archives. Outside London, exhibitions will partner with regional archives to give voice to local perspectives on national history.