In the series ‘What makes them tick’, Erasmus researchers explain why they love their research and where their passion comes from. In this episode, PhD candidate Siri Driessen talks about her research on different groups of visitors to war sites. ‘I believe that you cannot tell everything with words only. You need images, sounds, smells.’
‘I’m researching different groups of people that visit sites of war. What motivates them to go to those places? What do they mean to them? I study three specific groups: Dutch military who visit former war sites to study tactics, Dutch veterans who feel an urge to return to the places they stayed during the Bosnia-war in the 1990s, and young volunteers who go to summer camps located on former war sites in order to preserve those places.’
What makes her Tick
‘I’ve always been fascinated by how tiny details from the past, like physical objects, but also sites, can open up a whole world of images about what that past could have looked like. You see a strange name on a tombstone, for example, and realise that this was once a real person. You imagine who he or she was, and how they might have died.
‘As a student I went to an exhibition on the history of astronomy. It was when I looked at the pictures, that I suddenly imagined the men and women who took them, the ones who were awake every night to take that one perfect picture of the moon. It really fascinated me, and I ended up writing my master’s thesis about it.
‘I first got interested in war sites during a master's project I did on the 19th century Crimean war. It was one of the first wars to be photographed. But because of technical limitations, there are no photographs of the war itself – only of desolated landscapes. You know a lot of deaths and bad things occurred there, you just cannot see it. Still, these images pop up in your mind. It made the pictures very haunting to me.
‘A similar thing happens with the landscapes I am studying now. If you don’t know the story behind them, they are just landscapes. But for the people who know the story, these landscapes have a completely different meaning. This summer I will go to Bosnia and see the war sites that the veterans told me about myself. I believe that you cannot tell everything with words only. You need images, sounds, smells, for a more complete picture.
‘It’s the same for many people who visit war sites. Only when you stand there, some new or surprising knowledge may come up in your mind, things you cannot know in advance. This knowledge is not just factual, it may also be a feeling. Something like: Ah, so this is how rain smells in Bosnia. It might not translate into your research, but helps you to better understand the circumstances under which people lived back then.’
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