Book Oral History on longlist of the first edition Prijs voor het Belangrijkste Boek

The book Oral History – The People and Their Stories by our steering committee member Selma Leydesdorff (historian and emeritus professor at the University of Amsterdam) is on the longlist of the most important (non-fiction) books of 2021! A beautiful and deserved nomination!


The longlist of the Prize for the Most Important Book, a new prize for the best Dutch-language non-fiction book, was announced on Tuesday. The jury chose fifteen titles from almost four hundred entries. The list is a collection of books that you have to read now to understand these times; they are relevant, influential and offer a new perspective.


The first jury of the Prize, financed by the Dutch Foundation for Literature and a number of private donors, includes besides Rasch also writer Saskia De Coster, political journalist Ivan De Vadder, historian Nadia Bouras and Karel Degraeve, deputy editor-in-chief of Knack, also media partner. The author of the winning book receives 15,000 euros.


You can read more about the nominations here.

Curious about Selma Leydesdorff’s book and the development of oral history? Take a look at this page

Unique oral history teaching materials in development

Erfgoed Gelderland is developing unique oral history teaching materials in collaboration with the Gelderland War Museums, the University of Applied Sciences Arnhem Nijmegen and various vocational schools in Gelderland. The teaching materials are part of the project ‘Freedom and Citizenship’ and consist of five short films intended for vocational schools. In the films, the basic principles of the oral history interview technique are explained in a narrative manner, so that students can then conduct their own interviews on the subject of freedom. The project is made possible by the province of Gelderland. Read more here.

Photo credit: Erfgoed Nederland


Bosnians and Iraqis on freedom and remembrance

In cooperation with the National Committee 4 and 5 May, the BMP Foundation conducted a study in 2020 on how Bosnians and Iraqis in the Netherlands experience freedom, unfreedom and commemoration. Forty Bosnians and Iraqis who fled to the Netherlands in the 1990s concluded that we must continue to work on freedom. A publication that is still relevant and urgent, also partly due to the war in Ukraine.


Great involvement in 4 May

Interviews with both Bosnians and Iraqis have shown that they find it extraordinary that all victims of the Second World War are remembered at the same time in the Netherlands.  The Bosnians in particular miss a national culture of commemoration and one day of remembrance to remember all the victims. Just like many Bosnians, the interviewed Iraqis feel involved in the 4th of May and at the same time they find it painful because it reminds them of all the suffering and victims in their own country. Many interviewees also indicated that Liberation Day (5 May) is difficult because you celebrate freedom, while you know that there are so many people living in unfreedom, both in Iraq and in other countries. 


The importance of personal story telling

The interviewees also say that their own stories can help make other people aware of the importance of freedom. The idea is also born to gradually broaden the commemoration and celebration and to look for stories that are more in line with the experiences of young people. Telling personal stories can help them understand what it means to be at war, but it can also be important for the people who tell it to come to terms with it. It also fits in nicely with this year’s theme ‘Freedom in Unity’. Another motive for telling these stories is that people should be aware that what happened in the Second World War could happen again.


Reason for research

The aim of the research was to gain insight, based on personal stories, into the meaning of the concepts of freedom and unfreedom for Bosnians and Iraqis, into their experiences with commemoration, and into their images of the future. The conclusions of the study are intended to contribute to thinking about the future of commemorating war victims and celebrating liberation and freedom in the Netherlands.



The full publication can be downloaded here or go directly to Issuu for a magazine version.

The Fifties

Oral history meets visual history

7,8 and 13 May 2022


By and from Amsterdam elderly people about the fifties in Amsterdam.

The Fifties is the final part of a trilogy. The first performance Brand in Mokum was made by Loes Hegger with Amsterdam elderly people in 2019. The second performance Alive en Kicking were performed via Zoom. 

With the third production, De Fifties, the actors return to the stage of the theatre, a community centre and care homes. Old-fashioned in real life, as theatre is meant to be. In a dance school, Amsterdammers tell stories about their parents, all young adults in 1950. The years of reconstruction in Amsterdam: mother was (mostly) a housewife, father a breadwinner. About the milkman, turning over every dime, darning socks and large families. The narrators venture into the foxtrot, cha cha cha and rock & roll, because on Saturday night you went out dancing! 


  • 7 & 8 May performance in Amsterdams Theaterhuis,
  • 13 May performance in De Eester, C. van Eesterenlaan 266, Amsterdam Oost


Impression second workshop Oral History and Heritage

On Friday 15 April, the Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Agency) in cooperation with ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’ organised the second workshop on ‘Oral History and Heritage’ in Amersfoort. The workshop was about the technical aspects of oral history and about dreamlike public presentations.


The workshop began with a brief review of the first workshop, which focused on examples of oral history projects and the art of interviewing. The participants had also suggested ideas for new oral history projects. The ideas that had not been discussed on 18 March were now presented. Saskia Moerbeek of “Sprekende geschiedenis” asked everyone to think of a project idea for the second half of the workshop. They would need this after the break when they started dreaming about their ideal public presentation.


Overview and cooperation

But first, using a PowerPoint, Saskia went deeper into the more technical aspects of oral history. These included things like recording images and/or sound, transcribing, permission forms, metadata and storing and preserving interviews. Saskia emphasised that it’s logical that the heritage sector often pays more attention to presenting stories than to storing and preserving interviews. This is understandable, but also often a missed opportunity. As a result, a lot of interview material that could be interesting for future generations is lost.

The participants noted that it all takes a lot of work. Therefore, the advice was to be aware of the workflow of an interview and an interview collection beforehand and to make agreements about this with partners (archives, oral historians, museums, etc.). Let everyone do what they are good at and work together!

The use of appropriate software can also reduce the amount of work. Practical tips can be found under the heading “Getting started” on the Speaking History website.


Dreams lead to beautiful plans

After the break, Frank von Meijenfeldt showed some examples of public presentations and asked the participants to think of the ideal presentation for their own project idea. For this purpose, he provided two questions. The participants got to work in small groups. Sometimes it took some effort to let go of the reality of financial and organisational constraints, but in the end there was a lot of dreaming. It was very special to see how people helped each other with questions and suggestions for possible partners in realising the dream.


The two workshop sessions covered many aspects of the relationship between heritage and oral history.

Who knows, there might soon be an audio tour with augmented reality based on oral histories in which a monument or a landscape acquires meaning from various perspectives.

Call for Flemish collections and oral history projects

The ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’ Hub does not only focus on the Netherlands, but also on collections and projects from Flanders. That’s the task of our colleague Sofie Heyens, a Flemish Open University cultural studies student who is doing an internship with the Oral History Hub. She’s mapping out which museums, libraries, archives, heritage cells or other heritage associations make use of oral history in current projects. She’s also trying to gain insight into interview collections that were taken in the past.


Sofie Heyens: “I am curious to see which heritage organisations in Flanders and Brussels are currently working on oral history. In addition, I would also like to draw more attention to the existing collections. Many organisations store interviews that contain wonderful information. But they are difficult to find, sometimes because they have not yet been digitised, with the result that they are rarely consulted in practice. It is my goal to put these oral history treasures more in the spotlight via the ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’ website.”


Are you a museum, archive, heritage library or heritage organisation committed to oral history and do you want to contribute to making these collections visible? Then register your collections and your current projects that make use of oral history. If you have any questions while filling in the form, or if you would like to know more about this research, please contact Sofie Heyens (


In the Netherlands, a Hub is being set up, but also in Flanders a lot is happening in the field of oral history. In the long term, FARO wants to develop a practice-oriented training programme around this topic, together with the Schafttijd project and other partners from the heritage field. Would you like to think along with us and share experiences? Then read on here.


Photo: CoWomen via Unsplash

‘Ooit zal ik iemand zijn’ by Jan Bleyen

For ‘One day I will be somebody’, historian Jan Bleyen listened to the experiences of Manso, his former student of Dutch: how he left Sierra Leone as a boy, became a man and has been living in Belgium for ten years, without papers.


‘Every time someone helps you, it is difficult. You are dependent on other people, and I don’t want that.’


Listening to understand

By giving Manso the floor in peace and quiet, Jan Bleyen tries to understand him without judgement: how his friend gives meaning to his world by doing and not doing things.

‘Sometimes you can trust an animal more than a human being. I see that here in Belgium, and I saw that in Africa.’


ooit zal ik iemand zijn

Review of the “Sprekende geschiedenis” kick-off meeting


On 28 January, the Kick-off meeting of the Oral History Hub ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’ took place at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Experts from various disciplines discussed the current state of oral history in the Netherlands, their future expectations and desirable developments in this area.


The BMP Foundation, together with various partners, organised this meeting to:

  • Mark the start of the Hub
  • Announce the programme of the Hub
  • Hear from the oral history community in the Netherlands about their expectations of the Hub.


You can download a report of the kick-off meeting here. You can watch the broadcast here.


Review of first Oral History and Heritage workshop


On Friday 18 March, the Cultural Heritage Agency in cooperation with the “Sprekende geschiedenis” Hub organised the first workshop on ‘Oral History and Heritage’ in Amersfoort. The workshop provided great examples and valuable insights.


Oral history and heritage

A group of about 25 people first received a short presentation by Saskia Moerbeek of the Centre about oral history as a discipline and the relationship between oral history and heritage. The special thing about this relationship is that oral history can not only contribute to a deeper meaning of, for example, material heritage, but that it is also, of course, in itself intangible heritage. And it is also a good way of involving people and groups in heritage. People often like to tell stories about the meaning that objects, buildings, movable property, landscapes and cultural traditions have for them. Based on this, they also like to think about the design of public presentations.


The workshop participants were able to name a whole range of examples of heritage projects in which oral history plays a role. Think of different perspectives on the outbreak of swine fever 25 years ago. Or the stories of sisters of a certain monastic order in Limburg. Many great ideas for new projects were also generated. These examples will soon be posted on the Speaking History website as ongoing projects.


The art of interviewing

After the break, the topic was the art of interviewing. The essence of an oral history interview is that you get people to talk, that you yourself are mainly a listener and that you pay attention to the life story of the interviewee, because that provides the context from which someone tells their story.  After a brief introduction by Frank von Meijenfeldt of the Hub, the participants went to work in threes to interview each other about a cherished object or building. One of the three acted as observer.


Pitfalls of the oral history interview

The discussion afterwards revealed that there are a few pitfalls to an oral history interview. It can happen that you get more caught up in a conversation than in letting the interviewee really tell his or her story. There may also be sensitive subjects that are difficult to deal with neutrally as an interviewer.



All in all, it was an instructive afternoon, which will be continued on 15 April with a programme covering transcribing techniques, metadata and making presentations to the public. We will also zoom in on the question of how to involve interviewees and their communities in presentations. 

Oral history research for the Smuggling Museum

Are you looking for a volunteer job in your neighbourhood or can you use some help finding new volunteers? is the place for volunteers and volunteer organizations in the heritage sector.


On the website there are several vacancies for volunteers, by province or type of work. For example, they are currently looking for volunteers for Oral History research for the Smuggling Museum.


Smuggling is of all times, just think of the First and Second World War. European unification has changed the character of smuggling though. Stories from the past and present are displayed in the Smuggling Museum. With your research and oral history interviews, you will contribute to collecting the stories of (ex-)smugglers and customs officers.

Because the museum is going through a process of privatization, they are looking for several volunteers to help them expand, professionalize and increase the number of visitors. Would you like to add new stories to the collection of Smuggling Museum Cranendonck? More information and the vacancy can be found here. is a collaboration between Erfgoed Gelderland, Erfgoed Brabant and Erfgoedhuis Zuid-Holland. With the website the heritage houses contribute to a future-proof heritage sector.