The war from both sides: How Dutch and German visitors experience an exhibit of Second World War stories

Ondrej Mitas*, R. Cuenen, Marcel Bastiaansen, G. Chick, E. van den Dungen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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At the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, questions arise if contemporary audiences still find historical accounts relevant. Fundamental to understanding the relevance of stories from the war is assessing their emotional impact on leisure participants from various social groups. We used the social identity theory framework to assess differences in emotional reactions of Dutch and German visitors to stories of the Second World War presented at a Dutch museum exhibit. Emotional reactions were measured using physiological signals of heart rate and heart rate variability as well as self-report. Emotions experienced were mixed and often, but not always, different between Dutch and German participants. Patterns in the physiological and self-report data differed. Many of the significant differences were generally consistent with a collective guilt account of German social identity, but the findings as a whole were more complex than could be predicted by existing social identity accounts. Specifically, participants did not simply categorize themselves with either national or human identities of characters based on what their respective stories emphasized. We conclude that stories of the Second World War are still relevant, but touch on audiences’ nationalities in a complex way, beyond simple historical categories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277–303
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Leisure
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Second world war
  • WOII
  • experience
  • emotion
  • emotion measurement
  • heart rate
  • heart rate variability
  • social indentity


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