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5 question for Lysette Jansen

In our ‘5 questions for’ column, we talk with interesting people and dive deeper into the field of oral history. Lysette Jansen is director of the recently renovated Volksbuurtmuseum in Utrecht.


1/ Can you (briefly) introduce yourself?

“As a born and bred Utrechtian, working at the Volksbuurtmuseum is a joy! Also because two worlds actually come together here. It is a heritage museum that tells the stories of ordinary people. With my background in both the culture and welfare sectors, this totally suits my interests”.

2/ Can you tell us something about the museum’s collection and its changing exhibitions?

“In 1974, residents from Wijk C founded the Wijk C Komitee, dedicated to preserving and restoring the neighbourhood. To support actions for this struggle and the preservation of the neighbourhood, the Wijk C Komitee collected photographs. In 1983, the community centre opened its doors and the archive of the Wijk C Komitee was housed there. The community centre continued collecting and occasionally longer-term photo exhibitions were made. In 1993, the Volksbuurtmuseum Wijk C Foundation was established and the photo collection became the property of the museum.

The museum’s collection thus started as a photo collection, and grew into a diverse museum collection consisting of objects, documents, photographs and audio fragments, mainly from the 1st and 2nd half of the 20th century. Together, they form a comprehensive and unique documentation of daily life in a working-class neighbourhood. This is one aspect that makes it so valuable, because all too often the value of preserving the ordinary, the everyday is still not realised.

The museum has changing temporary exhibitions about three times a year. These exhibitions regularly feature working-class neighbourhoods from Utrecht, but themes such as marriage, markets, healthcare are also highlighted from the perspective of working-class neighbourhood residents.”


3/ The Volksbuurt Museum archives contain a special oral history project about life in a working-class neighbourhood in the 1920s-50s. Can you tell a bit more about it?

“In the 1990s, the museum conducted 250 interviews with people who lived or worked in District C. The interviews, which were recorded on cassette tapes by volunteers at the time, have been carefully documented and digitised. In terms of content, these interviews mainly deal with the period before World War II. Because people were explicitly asked about the lives of their parents and grandparents, these stories of everyday life go back to even well into the 19th century.


In 2020, this interview project had a follow-up. One hundred working-class neighbourhood residents were interviewed, this time also from other working-class neighbourhoods in Utrecht, about the post-war period until around 1990. They tell about their childhood, their parents, school, going out, sexuality, work, the neighbourhood, the city, their own families. Stories about poverty and working hard to get ahead. About togetherness in family and neighbourhood, but also about drunkenness and domestic violence. How were migrants received and how did they find a place in society?


The interviews from the first interview project led to the book “The Past Told.” Published by the Volksbuurt Museum. A small selection of the second series of interviews can be listened to in a Podcasts series and a book entitled “Life in the People’s Neighbourhood has been published.”

The Volksbuurtmuseum collaborates with the Utrecht Archive. The photo collection is being digitised and made available to the public via the Utrecht Archive’s image bank. In time, the interview collection will also be made available via HUA’s image database”.


4/ How were the oral history interviews translated into a presentation at the museum?

“After the second interview project, a podcast series and book were released, both titled ‘Life in the working-class neighbourhood’. A selection of the interviews (from both the 1990s and 2020s) can be heard in the Story Room in the revamped museum.

The oral history collection forms the basis of the revamped museum, in which you follow a fictional family living in a working-class neighbourhood 100 years ago. You step, as it were, into the life of this family, where you discover big and small stories from ordinary life in a working-class Utrecht neighbourhood. The stories these fictional family members tell you about their lives come from the interview collection. The interviews are also used as sources of information for thematic exhibitions.”


5/ Finally, what exhibitions are currently running, and what are the future plans?

“At the moment, we have a temporary exhibition ‘Life stories about the power of opportunities’. An exhibition with personal stories of Utrecht families about the opportunities you get in life. From mid-May there will be a new temporary exhibition on ‘Holidays’ in which we look back at the start and development of holiday celebrations.

Now that we have the renovation behind us, there will be more space to focus on public programming. We are thinking of lectures and talks, small-scale encounters in which we can exchange stories.”




*This page is translated from Dutch with Deepl Translator. 

5 questions for Gerdien Smit


In our ‘5 questions for’ section, we talk to interesting people and dive deeper into the field of oral history. Gerdien Smit is Collection Policy Officer and Assistant Chief Curator at Eye Film Museum. She examines the early years of Feminist Film Collective Cinemien.


1/ Can you introduce yourself (briefly)?

“This year I have been working already 10 years at Eye Filmmuseum: an archive, cinema, centre of expertise and film museum in Amsterdam North, dedicated to collecting, restoring, preserving, making accessible, presenting, researching and promoting film art, film heritage and film culture.


In 2022, I was given the opportunity to set up an oral history pilot study within Eye thanks to a Museum grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The starting point was oral history and a subject that is close to my heart: the underexposed role of women in film history.”


2/ Your research focuses specifically on Feminist Film Collective Cinemien. Can you tell us a little more about who they were?

“Feminist Film Collective Cinemien was founded in Amsterdam during the heyday of the second feminist wave. Cinemien felt that there were too few women working in the production, distribution and exhibition of films. By purchasing and distributing women’s films, they not only wanted to improve the position of female directors, but also counterbalance the stereotypical image of women in mainstream films and contribute to awareness of women’s film culture.”


3/ How did you end up at Cinemien and how did you apply the oral history method?

“Eye recently acquired Cinemien’s extensive collection, which consists of 2,000 film prints, posters, promo photos, film files and the company archive (1974-2006). Although many people know Cinemien today as an arthouse film distributor, few know that they had an activist past as a feminist film collective, and enjoyed great international prestige at the time. Using the oral history method, I looked for personal testimonies that could provide further context and depth to this special and hitherto underexposed collection.
I conducted oral history interviews with five women, both with the Cinemien-women and with women who were involved from outside the organization. There are many more people on my wish list, but those interviews will have to wait until a follow-up project.”


4 / What role does oral history play for archives such as Eye and what are the ambitions for the future?

“Within an archive, oral history is invaluable in offering underrepresented groups a platform when written sources are lacking. For Eye, oral history is therefore a valuable method to contribute to a more inclusive representation of film history, with diverse voices and perspectives. This can lead to a reinterpretation of film history and recognition of previously overlooked contributions. In addition, it is important and urgent to safeguard the stories and memories of older generations of filmmakers, collectors and professionals.

One of the objectives of this project was also to gather knowledge and experience within Eye that we can use in the long term. Behind this pilot study lies a greater ambition: a sustainable oral history program that is embedded within Eye’s activities.”


5/ When will the material from this study be accessible and will everyone have access to it?

“The video recordings of the interviews and the transcriptions will be stored in the Eye catalog and digital archive, and will be available to everyone in the Eye Collection Center’s center of expertise, the Eye Study. The recordings will be made public in mid-2024, well before the 50th anniversary in 2025, so that researchers, students, journalists, filmmakers and enthusiasts have access to new source material for their work.”