10 August 2012

Brieven aan de Toekomst

Brieven aan de Toekomst (Letters to the Future) is not a current project: it took place fourteen years ago (but I've got this stamp now!). It was a national campaign to encourage people to write a letter speaking about their life in a day: 15 May 1998. The initiative was taken by the three major institutions that deal with Dutch culture: the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur (Utrecht), the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum (Arnhem) and the Meertens Instituut (Amsterdam).

The purpose of this correspondence was the construction of a large national archive that describes daily lives of Dutch people. So scientists of the future can consult the archive to study how were eating, clothing, festivals, rituals, joys and sorrows, relationships with family, friends and colleagues, religion, sexuality... at the end of the millennium. 

Over 52,000 letters arrived in response to this campaign. The collection is now at the Meertens Institute, stored in acid-free envelopes and boxes. The general public can consult a selection of letters.

The letters  arrived in different forms: handwriting, typed, e-mail, tape-recorded, registered on floppy disks or shaped into beautiful drawings. Sometimes the senders included small objects like a eraser or a toothbrush, that could disappear in the next years. The letters were sent by all kind of people between 8 and 98 years old (but most came from the age group 45-75). There are also collective letters created by school groups, and about four hundred Dutch people who live outside the Netherlands participated in the project.

They spoke about everything: what was eaten, what clothes were wore, how warm it was, what they undertook with friends, what happened that day in the schoolyard... Also personal and emotional events are described, with festivities such weddings, birthdays in stark contrast with funerals, and incest experience and an unpleasant memory of loneliness.


  1. Uau, una carta al futur. Miraves aquell programa de TV3 que havia gravat les mateixes persones cada 10 anys (en tres torns) per saber com es veurien 10 anys més tard? Menys documental, però una vivència molt interessant.

    1. Crec que vaig veure'n algun capítol. Si no vaig errada, la idea original era de la BBC.

  2. Wow, Eva, you are a real investigator!! How good of you to dive into Dutch language, and to even teach me things I didn't know until now! (I love the Openluchtmuseum - did you notice the '100 years Openluchtmuseum' stamps I've stuck on some mail for you? - and I know the Meertens Instituut, but the Dutch Center of Volkscultuur is new to me :-)
    Thanks for posting!

    1. Or course I can't read in Dutch. But Google Traductor (and others) did the work for me... ;)

      Yes, I remember the stamps. And this one attracted my attention a lot, so I investigated. I find the project really cool!


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