Polish National Identity in Chicago

The Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project is a collection at the Chicago History Museum and contains interviews conducted in the 1970s on the Polish immigrant experience between 1880 and 1930. I am currently using this collection for a research paper, where I am examining how the city (around the turn of the 20th century) became a space where a strong Polish national identity could prosper due to theatrical performances and the circulated press. Reviewing the life stories of immigrants that the Polonia project undertook provides important insights on this identity formation. I recently took photos of the interview transcripts to create a hypothetical online exhibit.

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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”
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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”

The above pictures are from an interview with Helena Chrzanowski, which contains interesting details about her life in Chicago.  An important account describes how schools and other cultural organizations instilled in her a strong Polish nationalist feeling through the production of dramatic plays: “Everybody dreamt and everybody was working for this one ideal of the resurrection of Poland: everybody believed that Poland would be resurrected, so most of those plays were around that theme, the resurrection of Poland.”¹ Poland technically did not exist at the time and many of those who emigrated during the late 19th century were from rural areas and did not specifically identify with a Polish national identity. These interviews help with my research because it demonstrates how a national identity was able to grow and prosper in another country, specifically because of of dramatic plays.

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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”
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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”
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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”
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Chicago History Museum, “Oral History Archives of the Chicago Polonia Project”

Using Photoshop could help in creating an online resource, mainly in highlighting specific passages in the transcripts that demonstrate the Polish national identity construction. Since it is just interviews there aren’t many photographs, so the project might be monotonous. Editing the photos can add a more interesting element, however you would have to be careful to not alter them in a way that they lose there original message.

  1. Oral History Archives of Chicago Polonia (Project) records (Chicago History Museum), Helen Chrzanowski Interview Transcript, 1970, Box 1 Folder 2.

 

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