A lot of museum space has been dedicated to war. Libraries and bookshops contain countless volumes of military history. Most of us can think of multiple war films. There are well-established traditions of war reporting and conflict photography. Peace, on the other hand…
We talk a lot less about peace. We aspire to peace, we idealise it – but we don’t spend as much time exploring and reflecting on it as we do with war. As a result, our habits of visualising peace are often limited to simple clichés and well-worn tropes. To images of doves or UN peace-keepers, to metaphors of friendship or seed-sowing. These images and metaphors have value and power. But they can also limit our understanding of peace, which is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that is experienced and conceived very differently from one context to another. And if our understanding of ‘peace’ is limited, so is our ability to build or sustain it.
Over the past few months a team of students at the University of St Andrews – led by Dr Alice König – has been working on a project called ‘Visualising Peace’. This is an off-shoot of the very successful Visualising War project, whose podcast includes a number of episodes on representations of peace and peace-building. Their goal has been to research and stretch habits of imagining, understanding, describing and working towards peace, to generate more conversation and deepen understanding. As committed ‘citizen scholars’, they wanted to move beyond the narrow sphere of academia and curate a resource that was accessible to everyone. So they came up with the idea of a virtual Museum of Peace.
Together, they collected examples of many different ways of visualising peace, in lots of different contexts: inner peace, local peace, global peace, cyber peace, even peace in space. Each entry represents an individual visualisation of peace that transcends the symbols and assumptions we traditionally associate with it. Covering the whole spectrum from conflict-resolution to peace-building to peace-keeping and peace-beyond-conflict, they push us to rethink long-held views and to consider concepts that tend to be overlooked, such as what peace in outer space might involve.
Their aim is not to promote any one particular vision of peace. Rather, they want to encourage exploration of the diversity of ways in which it can be felt, understood, imagined, narrated, envisioned, embodied, created and sustained. Their emphasis on individual interpretations and actualisations of peace seeks to demonstrate that peace-building is not limited to governments, international forums, or large-scale non-governmental organizations; as many of the museum entries underline, even the smallest individual initiatives and actions can have profound impacts.
Above all, the goal of the museum is not only to prompt critical reflection on existing habits of conceptualising peace, their gaps and shortfalls, and their real-world impacts. It is also to spark broader conversations with the wider public about what peace ‘looks like’ to each of us; where it can be found, how it can be promoted, how it gets represented, and what sustainable and inclusive peace-making and peace-keeping actually involve. Talking about different manifestations of peace is an important step in empowering everyone to play a part in fostering it, no matter who they are or where they come from.
‘Peace’ is a seemingly simple concept. But how would you define it? The Visualising Peace team is keen to hear what you think. Once you have visited the museum, please consider filling in their feedback form. And if you have any suggestions for other visualisations of peace to include in the museum, do let them know.
About the Author
Dr Alice König is a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. She directs the Visualising War project (https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/visualising-war/) and hosts the Visualising War podcast (https://visualisingwar.buzzsprout.com). Her research focuses on the forces that shape our habits of visualising war and peace, and the impact they have on how people think, feel and behave.