Logging Lives with Lydia: “Preserving the History of Joliet: An Oral History Project”

Oral History

Over the course of my college career as an English major, I have been introduced to various types of writing including, but not limited to, professional, creative, and analytical. I have had experience with designing a CD cover using Photoshop, writing recursive poems in creative writing, and writing research essays on Julius Caesar and The Pre-Raphaelites, but I had never created narratives from interview transcripts and recordings. Now, as a senior, I have been introduced to a style, which before recently, I had not known at all–oral history writing.

This brings me to the details of the project. A local Baptist Church in Joliet, IL, by the name of Second Baptist Church, is recognized as being the oldest African-American Church in the Joliet area. In April of this year, the community will celebrate their 140th anniversary. For previous anniversaries, the Anniversary Committee of the church has put together a collection of photographs into a book; however, they aspired to create a project much larger than this, seeking the support of the Lewis community. Thus, the project began in the Sociology Department where students of various classes conducted interviews with the members of Second Baptist Church and then transcribed them. Similarly, the Art Department crafted spreads of what would become the design of the anniversary book. The design would then include a number of 400-word narratives based on the original interviews, and this is where I come in!

At first, I felt intimidated by the oral history writing style given its name. I devoted much time to research in order to gain a deeper understanding of the historical context surrounding the project and collected the transcriptions as well as the audio recordings for over 30 members of the church. The church members provided various historical documents–newspaper clippings, book chapters, and photographs–which allowed me to familiarize myself with their community and the church’s history. Most significantly, as I began writing the narratives, I constantly asked myself and my mentors many questions. It is a process that begs the writer to ask questions at all times. How do I know what is the most important information to include from these interviews? How do I intertwine my own prose with that of the interviewees’? How do I preserve the interviewees’ voice and tone throughout these narratives?

During the process of writing these narratives, I have learned how powerful language can be and how impactful projects much like this one can be on the preservation of history for future generations. Throughout the course of the next few months, I would like to share my journey as a writer and the insights I have gained in the oral history writing process.

— Lydia Kozlowski, Blogger

Lydia Kozlowski’s Bio:

Lydia K

Lydia is a senior at Lewis University majoring in English with a concentration in Language and Literature, and minoring in Professional Writing. She enjoys reading short stories, dabbling with design, and writing consistently in her personal journals. Lydia also enjoys reading memoirs and watching documentaries. Along with being an editor for Jet Fuel Review, she is a Publicity Coordinator for Sigma Tau Delta Rho Lambda Chapter and a tutor and ESL/ELL Specialist at Lewis University’s Writing Center. Outside of her educational endeavors and commitments, Lydia stays active by running on nature trails and rollerblading around campus.

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