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5 questions for Marie Claire Dangerfield

In our ‘5 questions for’ column, we engage in conversation with interesting people, diving into the field of oral history and everything related to it. This month, a valuable conversation with Marie Claire Dangerfield who shares her knowledge and tips with us from her position as Information Management Specialist at  het Stadsarchief Rotterdam.


1/ Can you introduce yourself (briefly)?

“I was born and raised in Ireland and my passion for my work comes from the desire to bring people closer to their history and oral history is a fantastic method to achieve that. I have lived in the Netherlands since 2012, my first job was at Stichting Europeana in The Hague and since 2015 I have been working for the Stadsarchief Rotterdam as Expert Information Management. In my work in Rotterdam, I have been concerned with how we can bring people closer to the archive, whether that is by supporting community archive projects, promoting oral history or stimulating technological developments.”


2/ What is your expertise?

“My expertise lies particularly in stimulating and promoting practical practices for heritage practices. Think about combining the legal and technical needs of archives and the needs of community/oral history projects, among others, and how they can reinforce and support each other. This came together in the ‘Stories in Motion’ project with Norah Karrouche and Marjan Beijerings. This project focused on providing the tools to people who were in the process of setting up an oral history project. So from the idea, initiation, interviewing, transcribing and finally transferring to an archive. For example, I helped create templates for both consent forms for interviewees and researchers (so that all interviews can be used as data) and metadata (so that they are more accessible and findable in a database).”


3/ What does oral history mean to you and how did you come into contact with oral history?

“I always found it fascinating to see how people connect with the society around them and partly because of this, I decided to study Folklore and Sociology at University College Dublin (UCD). Inspired by using the fantastic folklore archive at UCD during my Bachelors, I set my course to obtain a Masters in Archives and Records Management also at UCD, hoping to help people record and share their stories and identity(s). When I graduated, I worked for a national oral history project working on the importance of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), a national sports organisation in Ireland. Thus, in addition to the folklore collections in my studies, I was introduced to oral history, and still find it a great connecting tool that reveals new perspectives within contemporary history and is an important addition to archival sources.”


4/ What lessons would you take away from Ireland when it comes to deployment and practice of oral history?

“Ireland in its current state is a relatively new country (the Irish Free State was founded in 1922 and became independent in 1949). When decolonising Irish history, oral history was an important tool for recording its own stories and identities. Oral history remains popular, especially where people feel their history is seen as less important. I think the popularity of oral history in Ireland has come from a bottom-up perspective, then and now. There are many groups initiating their own projects and there are more educational opportunities in oral history in Ireland for all kinds of people at different levels. Many libraries in Ireland facilitate their collection and record-keeping, making the projects and practices more accessible. The Oral History Association of Ireland, of which I am still a member, promotes oral history from a bottom-up approach. This works very well and is very empowering, and I think ‘Sprekende Geschiedenis’ could very well continue this in the Dutch-speaking areas.” 


5/ As an archivist you have also been involved in communities in Rotterdam, a question that often comes up is; how do you involve communities in your archive? What are your thoughts on this?

“An archive is not a library or museum, it’s not a place you just go to and that’s why it might not be on people’s map or they might think the archive is not for them. It is often seen as a place where old objects and documents are kept. Making it clear what a role of an archive is and what role it plays in a city is the first thing to do. Once that is done, it is easier to explain why people would want to hand over their material to an archive. When people understand that we value their material and contributions, they are much more open to working with the archive and it becomes easier to get them involved.


It is of course a long-term process, which is reflected in the archive’s mission/vision, the acquisition policy and the work done by the acquisition team. For me, it has been useful to work with other parties in the city, such as DIG IT UP, because they have a wider network and different contacts that groups trust more than a government agency. To engage different groups of communities, it works best to offer clear frameworks and tools in addition to working together, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every project. But also engaging with communities on how they want their material to be shared makes our work a lot more accessible and transparent.”


On the ‘Sprekende geschiedenis’ Forum, Marie Claire provides practical and useful tips for when you want to file your oral history material with an archive from an association or community. Check out the tips here, and join the discussion!