Artwork Biographies & Institutional Memory


Works of art in museum collections are managed and shaped by institutional policies and personal beliefs. Oral History methodology can help to explore this socio-cultural perspective.

However, the tools to facilitate this in conservation research still lag behind. The project ‘Artwork Biographies and Institutional Memory’ (Art_Bios_In_Me) is set up along two lines of research that address this problem. One explores obstacles and pitfalls in archiving and unlocking interviews to improve museum workflow, while the other encourages technological advances in transcribing and unlocking this unique source material, preparing it for digital humanities research.

The Kröller-Müller Museum (KMM) and the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE) will provide case study material to assess the deposit infrastructure with Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), and conduct a feasibility study to adapt Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) for preservation with the Foundation for Open Speech Technology (FOST). Only time-stamped transcripts will make interviews searchable – opening up opportunities for text-mining, cross-referencing and other applications of artificial intelligence (AI). The intended methodological and technological advances in the use of Oral History methodology in conservation research will be of great benefit to technical art history, object diagnosis, conservation decision-making, and cultural heritage analysis in general.


Until 1956, the Civil Code stipulated that married women were ‘incapable of acting’ – a legal category that also applied to children and what they called ‘retarded persons’.


Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen

Legal historian and Fulbright PhD candidate at the City University of New York

Legal incapacity meant, among other things, that as a woman you could not open a bank account, take out a mortgage or insurance, and that you could only conclude an employment contract with the formal consent of your husband. Technically, you also had to pay your salary to your husband, because he was the owner of the community of property in which you were married.


In case of divorce – very unusual – the children automatically went to the husband. In the 1950s, an average of 95% of the women married and thus became ‘legally incapable’. This generation, they are the over-80s of today.

Corry Tendeloo, PvdA-politician in 1956

The gentlemen are apparently all afraid


The aim of this project is to collect as many first-hand experiences as possible, which tell something about the experiences with and consequences of legal incapacity of Dutch women before 1956.


The interviews will be accurately registered in a dataset, and subsequently processed in a widely accessible publication that maps the history of legal incapacity, and its abolishment, as well as reflecting on the role of this history in the labour position of women in the present.


The dataset will also be donated to Atria, knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history in Amsterdam, so that it can serve as source material for other, future research.

Narrated (In)justice


status: ongoing research

Narrated (In)justice is a research project (2014-2016) by historian Nicole L. Immler that depicts how historical injustice increasingly demands public attention through financial compensation claims. Worldwide, compensation payments for victims have become an important part of ‘recognition’ in recent years. In the Netherlands, recent payments to Jewish-Dutch victims have played a role in the claims of victims of the decolonisation war in Indonesia (the so-called Rawagede case) and are also a point of reference in the claims of descendants of former enslaved people from the former colonies of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles.


On the basis of three Dutch cases – relating to the Holocaust, colonialism and slavery – the project shows how the experience of injustice in families is passed on over generations, what the motivation behind compensation claims is, and what the perception and meaning of such measures is. The question is whether such compensation also meets people’s expectations of it.


The research Narrated (In)Justice was made possible by a Marie Curie Fellowship in the 7th European Community Framework Program, carried out within the research programme ‘Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice: Narratives in Historical Perspective’ of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.


Immler, Dr N.L. (NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies) (2017): Thematic collection: Narrated injustice. DANS.

Witnesses & Contemporaries

This project is being carried out by: Fridus Steijlen, Eveline Buchheim and Stephanie Welvaart.

getuigen en tijdgenoten

Within the research programme Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950, the project Witnesses & Contemporaries focuses on collecting the experiences of those involved in the Netherlands, Indonesia and other countries. The Witnesses & Contemporaries project wants to build a bridge between the people who experienced the period between 1945 and 1950 in Indonesia and the researchers.

Cerita Cisca – encounter with history

In 10 episodes, you will listen to moments from the life of Cisca Pattipilohy, who, as a 95-year-old, looks back on various periods in her life. Periods that were partly marked by the great line of history and the various cultural transitions she experienced.

She looks back on Apartheid in the colony of the Dutch East Indies, her student days, the Proklamation and the optimism and dynamism of the young Republic of Indonesia. She also talks about her family and the great importance of women’s emancipation.


Cisca was born in 1926 in Makasar as the only daughter of Moluccan Bandanese parents in a family with three brothers. She grew up within the hierarchical structure of the colonial society with an exceptional father who, as an ‘inlander’ – an inhabitant of the indigenous group that was on the lowest rung in his own country within the apartheid society – managed to acquire his own business and a position that allowed him to send his children to study in the Netherlands, where he had to pay triple the amount of a Dutch inhabitant. Studying in the Netherlands, Cisca saw that the Dutch did ordinary work here, something that was unthinkable in the class society of the Dutch East Indies colony.

Pink life stories

Based on a number of conversations, volunteers take the time to write down their story in book form – supplemented with photos and other memorabilia – together with the homosexual older person.


In the end, the narrators themselves decide what will be in their book of life. Of course the narrator will receive a copy, as will IHLIA and De Rietvinck, which will add the book to its collection.


Special stories


The aim of the collection, however, is not only that current and future generations can get to know these extraordinary stories, but also that the storyteller can tell her or his life story – often for the first time – and get recognition for it. That is why the books were officially presented and handed over in several rounds.


With the help of various grants and many volunteers, IHLIA has now been able to turn 43 stories into a beautiful book.

The Dutch home birth culture


Only in the Netherlands is a pregnant woman asked whether she wants to give birth at home or in hospital.





The project is taking place under the umbrella of the Foundation Ziezo:



The life stories, the oral history, of the midwives, maternity nurses and gynaecologists give an insight into who and what formed them, how they came to choose their profession and what experiences they had in practising it. The story is told from the perspective of personal experience, allowing us to understand them both in their actions and in their emotional lives. The collected stories give an insight into our home birth culture.


Why this project?

  • Giving birth to your child at home, in your own familiar surroundings; in the Netherlands that is a real option for most women. And still is. Because the percentage of women who give birth at home has fallen dramatically in 30 years, from 35% in 1990 to 13% in 2020.
  • Birth care in the Netherlands is unique; care providers from all over the world come here to see how we do it – with those strong midwives and tough women.
  • 6 November 2021 The Dutch home birth culture was given official status as Intangible Heritage.
  • Inextricably linked to our history, it arose and is rooted in a culture of ‘just act normal’ and no fuss, and is based on the premise that women decide for themselves where and how they want to give birth.
  • Due to a wide range of causes and far-reaching reforms in birth care, home birth is under pressure. How do midwives, maternity nurses and gynaecologists see the future of home birth?

Interviews in Conservation Research

University of Amsterdam & NICAS
Sanneke Stigter


number of interviews: 28

(growing collection)


  • Conservator Interviews
  • Curator Interviews
  • Artist Interviews

Interviews in Conservation Research is a growing collection of oral history records that can inform the preservation, conservation and presentation of works of art and cultural heritage in the Netherlands. Many professionals in museums and heritage institutions conduct interviews with artists, artist assistants and conservators, as well as with other stakeholders, such as curators, directors and collectors to learn more about the works they have in their collections. These interviews are rarely sustainably archived nor easily accessible for other researchers, as their existence as primary sources is relatively unknown. This thematic collection helps to overcome these problems and is one of the main results of the NWO funded KIEM project Interviews in Conservation Research, a partner project of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation+Art+Science (NICAS) as part of the Conservation Oral History Initiative. This is an ongoing initiative and additions to the thematic collection Interviews in Conservation Research are welcome to build a rich collection of unique source material that allows for cross-referencing and provides a unique view on the behind the scenes of the lives of works of art and cultural heritage in the Netherlands.

OH-SMArt – Oral History Stories at the Museum around Artworks

Funded by:




More information:



dr. Sanneke Stigter

Oral History – Stories at the Museum around Artworks’ (OH-SMArt) is a long term initiative to significantly improve the digital research chain around using Oral History and spoken narratives, with research into artworks and museums as a use case.


Museums have to contend with a serious shortage of digital tools. Additionally, the procedures applied to make recordings of spoken stories about art available are very time-consuming. This is partly due to a lack of applicability and compatibility of technical tools, and to the sometimes highly sensitive information involved. As a result, a considerable backlog has arisen in the processing of this archive material, which is, in fact, a familiar problem within Oral History research.


The OH-SMArt project aims to significantly improve the digital research chain around Oral History. For example, recordings will be directly connected to an automatic time-coded speech transcription service, which will facilitate the unlocking and archiving of spoken stories about art, as well as automatic searching and linking. In addition to improving the workflow, new tools will be developed that are aimed at promoting reflection: user interpretations will be saved with the source material,  as a result of which the viewpoint of the researcher will be put into perspective. OH-SMArt will provide access behind the scenes at museums in a smart and accessible manner and contribute to the improvement of research within Oral History in general.


OH-SMArt is a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam, University of Twente, DANS-KNAW, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Stichting Open Spraaktechnologie (Open Speech Technology Foundation), and participating museums and institutions. The project will be financed until the end of 2024 via the Platform for Digital Infrastructure for Social Sciences and Humanities (Platform Digitale Infrastructuur voor Sociale en Geesteswetenschappen, PDI-SSH)



OH-SMArt curator interview Foto: © Marjon Gemmeke