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Monique van den Dries' Leiden Experience: 'Usually I end up with (too) many ideas and running projects'

Heritage expert Monique van den Dries has a long history with our Faculty. She did her studies and PhD in Leiden, and before returning to academia in 2008, she worked in heritage management for nearly 15 years. This has, given her a unique insight in the world outside of academia. ‘I want to literally bring archaeology to people who normally would not (be able to) visit a museum or an archaeological site.’

Cultural heritage

Monique studied archaeology at our Faculty, and did her PhD here as well. ‘It was in the 1990’s, and its topic was something rather technical: the application of artificial intelligence for analyzing and teaching students use-wear analyses.’ After finishing her PhD, she stepped out of academia to work in heritage management for nearly 15 years, at the State Agency for Cultural Heritage, and at the State Inspectorate.

‘In September 2008 I returned to the Faculty, as a postdoc on a 5-year EU Funded project, named Archaeology in Contemporary Europe. This was with Willem Willems, the then dean of this Faculty, with whom I had been working for many years in a former life.’ The academic interest in heritage was growing, and at the start of 2009, Monique was asked to develop a full master’s specialization on Heritage Management. ‘It attracted a large group of students right away and it got me  an appointment as assistant professor in 2010, to organize and teach it. And here I am, nearly 10 years later, still teaching and studying heritage management.’

The value of archaeology

Currently, Monique is occupied with preparing new lectures in light of the changes in the education programme. But work is also coming from abroad. ‘As I am external examiner at University College London, right now I am also going through a huge pile of course work from the UK.’ Research-wise she recently finished another EU funded consortium project called NEARCH. ‘This generated a lot of data on the value of archaeology for society and some specific communities, both in the Netherlands and abroad (e.g. Palestine). I am still gratefully harvesting this for additional publications.’

2018: Leiden Central station, running the pop-up exhibition ‘Archaeology and me’, on art work made by the public, inspired by archaeology. (photo by Franceco Ripanti).

Third mission

Monique is also the Dutch project leader in the EU funded consortium project EU-CUL: 'Exploring cultural heritage for fostering academic teaching and social responsibility in higher education. This is a unique and challenging cooperation between educational scientists and academic heritage specialists from five European countries. We are studying how universities may utilize cultural heritage for social responsibility objectives, their so-called third mission.’

Examples of knowledge transfer to address local social issues are uncommon, in particular those that instrumentalize cultural heritage. ‘That is what we are looking for. We are now identifying best practices to provide recommendations to heritage managers and policy makers in the social domain.’ The goal? A best practice catalogue,  a series of public lectures and an education module for students.

2019: Giving a tour for the EU-CUL group of international scholars to experience how tourists value Dutch heritage. (photo by Harry Fokkens)


‘To make sure I have absolutely no spare time left, I am also working on new grant proposals.’ Whether these grant proposals will meet with success or not will determine the following years. ‘We are almost constantly in the process of trying to get new projects funded, and who knows one will be successful.’

Monique has a long list of ambitions. ‘I aim of course to continue and finish the EU-CUL-project, but I will also try to start new projects with students, if time allows me to. I love doing real world projects with them.’ She lists of some examples. ‘We did some visitor evaluation studies for external partners (e.g. for the National Days of Archaeology, NIGRVM PVLLVM in Zwammerdam and de Tijdtrap in Rotterdam) and I may start or get involved in similar projects, for instance on the public value of the Limes as a World Heritage site.’

2019: exhibition Van Steenis (photo M. van den Dries)

Outreach and engagement

‘I have also been working on diversity and inclusion, in particular on gender issues relating to the profession and to how we study and present the past.’ She will continue to gather data on such topics. ‘I also like to continue working with students on outreach and engagement projects, like the small exhibition which is currently running at the entrance of the Van Steenis building. I intend to experiment with such activities in other contexts, to literally bring archaeology to people who normally would not (be able to) visit a museum or an archaeological site.’

(Too) many ideas

But this is not all. ‘Together with the State Agency and a colleague at the Faculty’s Heritage Department, Martijn Manders, I am preparing a feasibility study to conduct an oral history project around a ship wreck in Japan. Finally, some beautiful data from former projects are awaiting publication.’ After that, she hopes to do a conference, and a book, on heritage for social change. ‘As you can see, my problem is having a wide interest and a nose for opportunities, and that I consider many things important. So usually I end up with (too) many ideas and running projects.’

Pass on the trowel

In this series we ask a staff member to pick a colleague of whom they would like to know more. Monique van den Dries passed on the proverbial trowel to Marjet de Ruyter. She will be interviewed for the newsletter of November 2019.

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