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Television series producers traced cultural heritage in Dutch landscape
Scenery heavily influenced by centuries of human activity
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
The photographs on the center pages of the May 25, 2011 issue of the Windmill Herald all were taken in the Netherlands, including a very un-Dutch rolling landscape (Southern Limburg) and a desert scene (Veluwe). It is true, the country is not as flat as a pancake as some say it is, and not every area has been totally remade by Dutch ingenuity and muscle power.
To a North American crossing the Netherlands by car, the distance and the size of the country will seem insignificant. But anyone hopping on a bicycle, or setting out on foot, will quickly appreciate how large and extremely interesting a ‘small’ country it actually is.
Bike or walk? The idea may not be so popular with North Americans, but there are numerous groups of people in the Netherlands who regularly explore the little known paths and trails and old, frequently scenic rural roads.
Do we walk, bike, drive or go by boat, or by a combination of these options? That was the question weighed by authors Kees Slager and Theo Uittenbogaard as they considered the idea of doing a television series as well as a book on a proposed journey between the island of Texel in the North and the island of Tiengemeten, some distance south of Rotterdam, on the South Holland border with Zeeland.
The two had been asked to try and bring to life Dutch nature in the context of Dutch cultural heritage, concepts which in the scheme of Dutch history usually overlap. While discussing the idea, they were struck by the plan’s logistical complexity. A Dutch immigrant returning home from a trip and who joins a group of friends on a canal tour, will enjoy the scenery but may never learn a thing about who had dug the canal, why it was built and what role it played in the local economy and what effect it had on the region. These questions were for which Kees and Theo required answers tailor made for their viewing audience.
Holidaying sons and daughters of Dutch immigrants probably will not concern themselves with entertaining or educating a television audience. However, they might think about another audience they owe explanations to about roots and heritage: their extended family and their children and grandchildren. Will the next generation connect with its roots? Unfortunately, many have not, but will yours? Who can best serve as the “bridge” generation but the one who knows both languages and are (somewhat) familiar with Dutch history? For this reason alone, the holidaying North American Dutch ought to be interested in the story beneath their beautiful Dutch video images and photography.
As journalists and historians, Kees and Theo wanted to share the history of the canals they traveled on, tell their audience why the waterlocks along the way were different, why the terrain’s elevation was higher in some places and decidedly lower in others.
To obtain that information, they turned to sources those of Dutch ancestry looking for roots in the Netherlands should not overlook: local historical societies (in many places known as heemkundeverenigingen.). Additionally, they approached nature groups, and landscape and monument preservation experts depending on the area they visited and the unique landscape features they encountered.
Members of the North American Dutch community who have a comprehensive family history or only a family tree ought to pack a copy along when visiting to the Netherlands and check out the places identified in them. With the information in hand, approach the visits in a similar fashion as did Kees and Theo by retracing the wanderings of ancestors, try to locate their former homes or farms and the roads where they lived, the city hall in which they tied the wedding knot and registered newly born offspring. If the work history of ancestors is known, local historical societies may be able to pinpoint buildings, which housed suppliers (for example, bargemen generally patronized places close to waterlocks and sluices, while farmers frequented smithies and butchers vleeshallen).
A close reading of the book Holland, van Texel tot Tiengemeten (see also the left side of front page of the May 25, 2011 Windmill Herald issue for the book's availability) offers ideas on approaches to research which can easily be adapted to anyone's particular situation.
By recording the findings on such a trip by camera and notes, the trip may well become a family keepsake, the way a 1823 tour of the Netherlands, largely on foot and by barge and coach, served as a model for the one by Kees and Theo about 180 years later.