HHH Impact Award candidates: Eileen van der Burgh on the online exhibition about quarantine station Heijplaat (Rotterdam)

This year, HHH inaugurated the first Antonie Luyendijk-Elshout Early Career Impact Award, which rewards an excellent translation of academic research into public outreach. The HHH board awarded the prize to Antje Van Kerckhove for outstanding outreach projects stemming from her research on the use of DES, a synthetic estrogen, in Belgium. Overall, the board was very impressed with the quality of the applications it received. We thought it would be a great opportunity to share some of these projects with the HHH community. This month, Eileen van der Burgh, PhD candidate at Leiden University, discusses the online exhibition she developed during her internship at Erasmus MC, focusing on the Heijplaat quarantine station in Rotterdam.

Eileen van der Burgh

The story behind the Rotterdam quarantine facility

In 1934, the Heijplaat quarantine facility opened in Rotterdam, following a decision-making process that spanned over sixteen years. During the late nineteenth century, it became evident that Rotterdam needed a well-equipped quarantine site, as epidemics were frequent at that time. After its opening, the facility was rarely used for its intended purpose: isolating people who were potential carriers of contagious diseases. Advancements in preventive medicine significantly reduced the occurrence of epidemics, making the facility less important. In fact, the quarantine site was used for its intended purpose only three times. The necessity of having a well-equipped facility seemed to have diminished during lengthy decision-making process. Ultimately, the Heijplaat quarantine station made a significant contribution to the city’s healthcare issues by housing elderly dementia patients from 1954 to 1981. In a nutshell, this is the story behind the Heijplaat quarantine station, a facility that was once needed urgently but had become obsolete by the time it was completed.

Quarantine station Heijplaat, 1946.
Source: Rotterdam City Archives.

From thesis to website

My master’s thesis explores the decision-making process behind constructing the Heijplaat quarantine station and the subsequent search for alternative uses of the facility. I combined my thesis research with an internship at the Erasmus MC, in the department of Medical Ethics, Philosophy, and History of Medicine. In the early stages of my research, I was curious about what I could do with the story of the Heijplaat quarantine station. Coincidentally, my parents moved to Heijplaat in 2021, allowing me to frequently visit and study the quarantine station firsthand. I soon noticed the local residents’ enthusiasm for Heijplaat’s history. With its deep connection to the shipbuilding company RDM, the area has a fascinating past. This strong interest in local history made me realize that I should share my research findings with the Heijplaat community.

During one of my weekly meetings with my internship supervisor, Ruben Verwaal, we came up with the idea to create an online exhibition about my research on the Heijplaat quarantine station. While this idea seemed very exciting to me, I also quickly realised that creating a website is quite different from writing a scholarly thesis. The narrative had to be crafted in a different manner, both literally and figuratively. Fortunately, my background in graphic design proved useful, as I was already experienced in visual thinking. Throughout the research process, I focused on collecting visual materials, such as maps of the institution and newspaper articles, so I could incorporate them in the online exhibition. The website’s themes largely overlap with the chapters of my thesis but also include additional information, such as the design and layout of the quarantine institution, illustrated by drawings from the Rotterdam City Archives. Rather than describing the website’s contents in detail, I invite you to explore it for yourself: https://quarantaine-heijplaat.nl