Universiteit Leiden

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Beeld: Fred Ernst

Pepijn Reeser: ‘If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s dogmatic.’

My name is Pepijn Reeser, I’m 34 years old and I graduated in 2008 as a historian. I’ve been working in the museum world for about ten years, mainly as a freelancer. My most important project is Het Taalmuseum (the Language Museum); I’ve been involved in that since 2016. Leiden University is one of our founding partners.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

‘I’m actually not at all sure what I am right now! That’s probably at least a little bit true for all Humanities graduates. It’s not that you are something in particular, but rather that you have a certain way of looking at the world; you want to know how language and culture work. I was interested in that from a young age. I used to browse through encyclopaedias for fun – I found them fascinating. I think I chose a discipline that prioritises curiosity. That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was young.’

What don’t we know about you?

‘I think there are quite a lot of people within the faculty who don’t even know I exist. I’m not physically present in the faculty on a daily basis, and Het Taalmuseum is a relatively new initiative. It saw that as another good reason to take part in this series, because it’s important to me that academics know where to find us. They are increasingly being asked to make their knowledge available to a non-academic audience, and I think that’s a good thing: that knowledge is important for us to understand who we are and where we’ve come from. But academics are trained in research and education, not in attracting the general public. That’s where Het Taalmuseum’s expertise comes in.’

What’s your favourite aspect of your work?

‘I get a real kick out of finding good, creative solutions and visualising a topic in a way that sparks the curiosity of the general public. The study of languages and the Humanities is often abstract or conceptual rather than tangible; it deals with ideas, theories and unwritten rules – things that are difficult to imagine. We don’t have any exciting photos of the universe, and when we do have physical heritage it often requires a lot of explaining; it’s rare that it can immediately inspire someone’s interest. In a world where everything has a fancy design and you can find visual spectacle everywhere, that does present something of a challenge. We also visualise concepts outside of exhibitions. The real impact of the activities we organised relating to sign language was in the fact that we brought together interested parties from across the Netherlands. Another fun product was when we condensed the results of our search for the ‘unofficial’ Dutch spoken by people in Leiden into a Happy Families-style card game.’

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

‘I like to get outside from time to time. That’s how I relax, when I’m cycling or climbing mountains. I’m very aware that, even though it’s very varied, my work keeps me in front of a computer for a lot of the time. In my field it’s also easy for your work and your private life to get tangled up, especially as a freelancer. When I visit a museum or cinema in my free time I’m always thinking, “OK, what could I do with this? What choices have been made? How would I have done it?” A couple of years ago I went hiking in the Alps for a week, and that was awesome. I’m planning to go to the Pyrenees next spring. I love real exertion, more than just going for a stroll. It has to be physically challenging, you have to stretch yourself a bit.’

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those words be?

‘That’s a hard one! Creative, a perfectionist and … I can see the funny side of things. That’s a few more than three words!’ He laughs. ‘I believe that anything is possible. If you have a good idea, there will always be people who will get enthusiastic about it and want to help.  I have faith that things will turn out well. ‘If something doesn’t go according to plan, that’s fine. I actually like a bit of flexibility – if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s dogmatic.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Lieselotte van de Ven
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