Interactive exhibition To Tell The Truth
From July until October 2018 we display a new object in the VU heritage collections showcase and on the page interactive exhibition To Tell The Truth every few weeks. Alongside each item are three stories: one that’s true and two that are made up. Do you know which story tells the truth…?
The story that tells the truth is story number 2. These are Lever’s seashells.
With thanks to Gert Jan Bokdam for his no. 1.
1. Buttons from teetotallers
These blue and yellow buttons date back from the 1950s to the 1970s. They were sent to the home addresses of all prospective VU students prior to the start of the first academic year. In many cases, students’ mothers would sew the buttons onto their clothing. Students could then be assigned to different student groups, discretely separating the drinkers from the teetotallers. The idea proved rather ineffective in practice, however. Students did not take long to catch on to the buttons’ real purpose and quickly lent them a new meaning.
Male and female students enthusiastically traded the buttons. The expression ‘counting your buttons’ has since become a popular way of referring to your number of sexual partners among Dutch Protestant students.
2. Lever’s seashells
Prof. Jan Lever was the first to receive the Royal Shell Award in the early nineteen sixties. The prize was awarded in recognition of his proposal for a study on the sorting mechanism that determines where seashells wash up on the beach. Lever discovered that the left and right valves of beached molluscs did not wash up on shore randomly. As he found, tidal patterns sort the valves in such a way that the left valves predominantly end up in one location, while right valves end up elsewhere. This phenomenon is also assumed to have affected the shell fossils that washed up on beaches many millions of years ago and are currently deep underground. The analysis of shells in soil samples could thus yield useful information on tidal currents in bygone times, leading to useful applications in terms of exploratory oil drilling. Lever used the prize money from the Royal Shell Award to have tens of thousands of brightly coloured artificial shells manufactured. He then saw to it that these artificial shells were strewn into different parts of the sea near the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog. Many consecutive batches of new students spent summer camps on the island testing Lever’s hypothesis. The artificial shells kept washing up on the beach for many years.