Stretching the Archives: Ego-documents and Life Writing Research in the Netherlands: State of the Art

Leonieke Vermeer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    This review article offers an overview of ego-documents and life writing research in the Netherlands. It discusses the outcomes of extensive national archival projects aimed at establishing inventories of ego-documents held in Dutch public archives (diaries, memoirs, personal letters and other forms of autobiographical writing) from the period of 1500 until 1918. The most important research lines and debates on ego-documents, auto/biography and life writing are evaluated and linked to issues of disciplinary demarcation between literary scholars and historians. Developments in the last few decades point towards increasing collaboration between these disciplines, which is also needed to face the challenges and opportunities presented by digitisation. The online databases of ego-documents from the inventory projects are very valuable but have several downsides: they are far from complete and often not user-friendly or searchable by keyword. Furthermore, greater efforts should be made to stretch the archive beyond its traditional limitations and shed light on groups and perspectives that have been underexposed in history. This conclusion is also relevant to printed editions of ego-documents. These editions are welcomed, but could pay more attention to a greater diversity of authors and experiences, as well as to the visual and material quality of the sources.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)31-69
    Number of pages39
    JournalBMGN - Low Countries Historical Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 26-Mar-2020


    • Life writing
    • Autobiography
    • Biography
    • Ego-documents

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