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5 questions for Gerrit Terlouw

In our ‘5 questions for’ column, we talk to interesting people and dive deeper into the field of Oral history. Gerrit Terlouw supports Sprekende geschiedenis in its treasure hunt for oral history collections in Twente. What discoveries does he make during his work and what challenges does he encounter?

1/ Can you (briefly) introduce yourself?

‘My name is Gerrit Terlouw. Almost all my working life, I have worked for a Dutch manufacturer of copying and light printing machines and large industrial printers. Some 40 years in management positions, the last few years of which were in the Senior Management team of our company in the United States. The departments I managed were always technical and/or sales support. After retirement, I decided to delve into other things and, given my interest in history, I started studying Cultural Studies at the Open University. That study led me to spend a period treasure hunting for Talking History’.


2/ Where does your interest in oral history come from?

‘Studying Cultural History is often about certain periods, events and their connection, about what kind of influence events had or sometimes still have. But what you often don’t get an answer to in such a study is an answer to the question of how (even ordinary) people in such a period experienced those events and what influence it had on their subsequent life story. Oral history fills this gap and is thus a very interesting and essential addition’.


3/ How does that work, the search for hidden oral history collections and why is it so important?

‘Many Oral history interviews have been conducted in the last 50, 60 years. They are often information collected for a study, a book, a museum, or by a group of interested people. Often the subjects are local. Regularly, a collection is only given attention for a short time, then the interviews disappear into archives or literally somewhere in the basement or attic. Older interviews are sometimes only conducted and recorded orally but with changing technology, we see media like cassette tapes, Super-8, Betamax, etc. being used. With the passage of time, those older interviews often become interesting again. So it is vital that these interviews are found and made available to all interested parties with modern technology.


Treasure digging literally means looking for all that hidden gold. This starts by approaching people at archives, museums, local history societies, institutes, or people involved in culture and history. After collecting tips, searches are made via the internet and in archives to find further information. Sometimes this requires tracking down original interviews and their media, while in other cases transcripts have to be searched. Finally, everything is collected, digitised if possible, presented on the Speaking History collection page and included in the database’.


4/ Do you notice that because of your question and search, archives are more likely to digitise or prioritise certain collections?

‘Through my asking and searching, I notice that people get enthusiastic and eager to cooperate. Often they then come up with additional tips or help search for information. For example, I have received a commitment from the Overijssel Collection (a large shared archive) that they will give priority to digitising a collection if I request it. A request is currently underway to digitise the recordings of Coenraad Rood, a collection of 17 videos in which Rood talks about his childhood in Amsterdam, his path during the war (which passed through many concentration camps) and his life afterwards’.


5/ What surprised you most in your search for the collections?

‘What has surprised me most is the wealth of material that is there, but often very difficult to access. It makes me suspect that a lot of material has also already been lost. One collection that I find very interesting is formed by interviews with Moluccans in Overijssel, 70 years after their arrival in the Netherlands. Some 30 stories depict the experiences of the first, second and third generation. Another surprise was the collection Vooruitboeren, sixty interviews with farmers in Overijssel. Both collections are so interesting because they tie in with our contemporary discussions on agriculture and colonial past.


I am currently looking for interviews with textile workers in Overijssel and have come across seven interviews conducted some 40 years ago. I have been able to find the transcripts of three of these interviews and I am now looking for the remaining four and the cassette tapes on which they were stored. Very interesting because the interviews are not only about working in the textile industry, but a lot of attention is also paid to their housing and living conditions.
So I hope to find some more interesting collections, and I keep myself recommended for tips’.


Do you have a tip for Gerrit? Then get in touch via e-mail.


This interview is originally conducted in Dutch and has been translated with DeepL translator.