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Floris Plak MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Dutch History, History of Knowledge, Societies, Transnational History

Cohort/Start PhD: 2022-2023

Disability and Self-Governance: a Global Microhistory of Het Dorp Community and its Cultural Heritage from the 1960s

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Promoto(es): Prof. Dr. Monika Báar en Dr. Paul van Trigt

Duration: 1 september 2022 tot 1 september 2026

On Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 November, the Dutch television viewers experienced one of the greatest moments in history. The largest ever telethon in the Netherlands under Mies Bouwman’s coordination had initiated a self-governing, accessible residential community for approximately 400 people with severe physical disabilities near Arnhem. Since then, the television show and Het Dorp is firmly anchored in collective memory. Yet nearly everything that happened in the following six decades remains an uncharted territory. Even the significant international impact of Het Dorp as a space of international encounters and knowledge exchange as social and technological experiment remained unrecognized.

My research project aims to investigate how Het Dorp functioned as site of international encounters and knowledge exchange against the backdrop of global developments since the 1960s: the different stages of the Cold War, the expansion and retreat of the welfare state, the changing attitudes towards disabled people, the advances of the disability movement and technical and architectural innovations. A fully accessible living environment inspired comparable communities in countries such as Austria, Japan, Hungary, and Scotland. Het Dorp received countless international visitors such as Queen Margaret of Denmark in 1975. A visit of the American activist Irving Kenneth Zola let to the publication of his book Missing Pieces in which he identifies himself with the wheelchair-bound inhabitants of the community. Besides the visits of international dignities, the residential community hosted national and international conferences on sport and leisure, rehabilitation, sexuality, and other themes related to disability. This culminated in the organization of the 1980 Summer Paralympics in Arnhem when the event had to be relocated due to Cold War tensions.