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The City as a Lab

31 October 2022
Meet the Expert | Ariadne Schmidt

Meet Ariadne Schmidt, professor by special appointment of cultural history at Leiden University. Her work focuses on the history of urban culture, in particular of Leiden. Through collaboration and interdisciplinary research, she strives to illuminate the diverse sides of history. Additionally, she wants to bring awareness of history to the community and simultaneously highlight the way community experiences history.

In 2010 she started at Leiden University as Program director of the N.W. Posthumus Institute, and lecturer of Economic and Social History. Recently, she worked on the Transvaal history project, together with dr. Alicia Schrikker. “We want to make a history of the neighbourhood, with the residents themselves,” she says. “Also from the concept of citizen science, to include people with their own history.”

The project has many sides; students examined different aspects of the history of Transvaal and published contributions on the Things That Talk platform. Together with two research trainees, Dr. Schrikker and Prof. Schmidt organised two public lectures and a mini-festival full of activities for Leiden2022. Now, she is working on a publication with Dr. Schrikker. She explains: “It was really an experiment, for both of us, to dive into this,” since they bring together colonial, local and public history for the project, “it has worked out really well.” On the one hand, the project stepped slightly outside of her research expertise that focuses on the early modern period and the nineteenth century. However, she saw “how inequality played a role on different levels in the history of Leiden’s Transvaal, in which local and colonial history are entangled.”

This is the red line in her research. “I have worked on women’s history, which has expanded into gender and diversity in the history of Leiden’s city culture.” After her PhD research she did research on women’s labour, crime, and gender in pre-modern times. Recently, she took up another collaboration with Wessel Kraaij, professor of applied data analytics; the project ‘Linking University, City and Diversity’.

“That is also an experiment, it is truly interdisciplinary research,” she explains. The project aims to visualise data on the history of the university, to be used by researchers and a general public. It also provides a new infrastructure for future research, including her own. “I want to know what the establishment of the university means for the city’s development and vice versa.”

Collaboration and diversity stand out as a theme in her work. Professor Schmidt finds her interdisciplinary research refreshing and enjoys seeing the involvement and expertise of the community in public history. “The city is like my laboratory; in what way did city dwellers experience the city in the past? For all those different residents, the city meant something different."

Interviewed by LeidenGlobal intern Judith 
October 2022


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