Rob Oosterling manages the Unitas digital archive of historic photos. He has held this role since the youth association restarted the facility in 2009 and continued operations without a physical location.
In 2009, Unitas was on the verge of bankruptcy and the building on Generaal Foulkesweg was in poor condition and closed its doors. Part of the youth association’s archive went to the Wageningen municipal archive and the photo archive was rescued by Rob Oosterling, a former member of Unitas.
'Some of the photos had become wet and were rotting away in the building. In particular, the slides suffered the harshest damage: mould was growing on some of them.' The slides had previously been used during parties as a way to decorate the room. 'They were projected onto sheets that hung on the walls', explains Oosterling. 'After the parties, they were stored in Chinese takeaway containers. Unfortunately, some of them were so damaged by moisture that they could not be salvaged.'
At the end of 2009, Oosterling loaded his car with bin bags full of slides and photos. 'I think that there were about 10,000 of them', he says. 'I often acted as the photographer for the association when I was a member from 1987 to 1998, which is why I felt responsible for the image archive.' When he noticed that others were also interested in the photos and slides, he decided to put them online.
Oosterling spent a year and a half digitising the image archive. Some of the photos were in albums that contained descriptions, so he knew when these were taken. He had to make his own educated guesses for the others. Oosterling did not put all of the photos online. 'It can get a bit boring looking at fifty photos of diploma award ceremonies, so in many cases, I selected the most interesting handful of photos. That was difficult sometimes, because I didn’t know the people in the photos', he says.
He found photos of Queen Juliana hidden away in the collection. On 21 March 1960, Unitas presented her with the first copy of the book De vluchtende mens (The fleeing human). The book was a Unitas initiative, written to generate understanding and openness to the plight of refugees.
Nathalie Steins, a former member of Unitas and Oosterling’s partner, sent Oosterling’s site to University Fund Wageningen. The project site provides a platform to share memories that people have of WUR as part of the 100-year anniversary celebration. The site also offers the option to donate funds to the various projects that have been organised in relation to the anniversary. The memories will be displayed on Alumni Day (23 June 2018).
Those who know the stories behind any of the photos or still have some of their own old photos at home can contact Oosterling via firstname.lastname@example.org.