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5 questions for Leonie Wingen

In our ‘5 questions for’ column, we talk to interesting people and dive deeper into the field of oral history. Leonie Wingen works as heritage participation advisor at the Cultural Heritage Agency and is closely involved in the Faro Convention and the Oral history theme.


1/ Can you (briefly) introduce yourself?  

“I work at the National Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) as a heritage participation advisor. I also work as a freelancer for museums that want to increase diversity in their collection by adding objects, stories and perspectives. I help to set up and supervise collecting projects, collecting with people and organisations from outside the museum. Sometimes this is because of a particular knowledge or experience the museum does not have in-house, other times it is to make room for other perspectives. At its core, it is actually always about the personal story in relation to shared values.


I have been working in the museum world for about 15 years and am fascinated in how we as humans give meaning to objects, traditions and customs and how this meaning-making can differ between people and change over time. In doing so, I find it interesting to look at events and other changes affecting them. So it may not surprise you that I studied cultural anthropology and heritage studies”.


2/ At the RCE, you are closely involved in the Faro Convention and the Oral history theme. What exactly is your role?  

The Faro Convention focuses on what people see as cultural heritage and the (different) meanings they give to it. Personal stories and testimonies, recorded using the oral history method, give meaning to heritage and therefore fit well with the Faro principles. The convention also calls for an open attitude about what heritage is. For instance, certain (stories of experience) may be seen by groups or communities an sich as a form of cultural heritage. In the Faro programme, there are ambitions to give oral history a structural place in the heritage system, and to make national agreements for safeguarding, finding and accessing oral history collections. My role is to drive the implementation of these – and other – ambitions, to advise on them, and to guide and monitor developments in this area”.   


3/ What do you think is the impact or value of Oral History for cultural heritage?

“The oral history method is a valuable tool for collecting, preserving and being able to share oral testimonies and personal stories. Adding human stories to cultural heritage, told from different generations or cultural backgrounds, for example, contributes to a greater understanding of another person’s environment. Oral history also gives a voice to people whose heritage is not or less visible in museums or public spaces. And oral history is of course important for passing on knowledge about traditions and other forms of intangible heritage to future generations”.


4/ You are involved in participatory collection projects as a freelancer, collecting personal (experiential) stories. Can you name an example project that has made an impact?

“With the Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA) I recorded stories of residents living in a neighbourhood subject to large-scale development plans. Many single people live in this neighbourhood in the Nieuw-West district, including a large number of elderly people and newcomers. Due to planned demolition and renovation work, residents will have to leave their homes within five years. Some residents have already left, others are waiting, and new temporary residents are moving into the neighbourhood. SAMA is also temporarily housed there in a former house to organise cultural activities together with the residents. Social goals here are to increase social cohesion in the neighbourhood and combat loneliness.


Residents’ stories show who they are and that they are there. Short versions of them are presented with artworks they created during workshops, and with symbolic portraits created by the artist involved. Soon, the stories and art will be exhibited at both a local community centre and a street art gallery in the city centre.


What I find special about this project is how recording the stories, in conjunction with the other activities, has a social impact. The project gives the ‘forgotten’ residents a voice and self-esteem, connects them with each other, and contributes to a sense of community”.


5/ Finally, what project are you currently working on and would like to share with us? 

“Besides my work for the Faro programme, I am currently working with the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum on a collecting project on the theme of menstruation. We are collecting stories and objects that tell about how we deal with menstruation in society in the Netherlands. Menstruation is a broad topic which can cover menstrual poverty, sustainable and conscious choices, prejudice, feminism, physical discomfort, social discomfort, (lack of) facilities, and much more. Since everyone is directly or indirectly affected by it in society, it is important to gather from different perspectives and experiences. For this purpose, we organise group discussions and record stories of experience. Remarkably, there is still a taboo in society on the subject of menstruation. By making it discussable with this project, the museum contributes to breaking the taboo. Would you like to participate? Then Sign up!”