Lewis students assist with new history museum exhibit

Lewis students demonstrate that Burnham’s Chicago plan has a Joliet connection

Published: July 15, 2009.

Dennis H. Cremin mentors his
Public History class in conducting research
for new Joliet Area Historical Museum

Dr. Dennis H. Cremin, assistant professor of History at Lewis University and director of the History Center: Urban, Cultural and Catholic History of the Upper Midwest, and the students of his Public History class conducted research for the current exhibit showcasing the impact of Burnham and Bennett in Joliet that commemorate the Centennial of the 1909 Plan of Chicago. The “We Built This City: Burnham and Bennett in Joliet” exhibit opened July 14 at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The planning and growth of Joliet is the focus of the exhibit. A survey of Burnham buildings in Joliet and Bennett’s 1921 Plan of Joliet are included. “Joliet has always had some type of plan, and has prided itself on creating a sense of urbanity,” commented Cremin. He continued, “Bennett was hired to create this plan and then extend it into the future, and that vision still exists today.” Along with illustrating the history of the Plan of Joliet, the Burnham and Bennett exhibit investigates how the community evolved, and how current city leaders are taking planning into the future.

“This is very exciting,” commented Jason Kinnaman, a student in Public History class and resident of Plainfield. The Lewis University students conducted research, assembled exhibition notebooks, and drafted some preliminary text. He continued, “We are helping to create something that the community can find value in. We are telling a compelling story that will mean something to people.”

Public history specifically focuses on “applied history” that can include museum studies, archival work, historic preservation, and oral history. These disciplines have heavy service components, and the students used service learning in a real world environment for this exhibit. “At its core, public history is a very hands-on discipline, and this project gives us a chance to practice real skills in a real museum,” added Lauren Rizzo of Romeoville, who is another member of the team working on the Burnham and Bennett project.

“The students learned a great deal by working with professionals, such as Barbara Newberg, Joliet city planner and Heather Bigeck, Joliet Area Historical Museum collections and exhibits manager. Both provided key insight into the exhibit, but also what it is like to work in the field,” commented Cremin.

Students involved in the project include: Candace Coop of Minooka, Emily Custardo of Naperville, Jason Kinnaman of Plainfield, Brian Tierney of Chicago, Lauren Rizzo of Romeoville, Joshua Jacobson of Aurora and Kyle Skager of Frankfort.

A Catholic University sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis offers nearly 80 undergraduate majors and programs of study, accelerated degree completion options for working adults, various aviation programs and 22 graduate programs in nine fields. The 10th largest private, not-for-profit university in Illinois is being honored for the fifth consecutive year by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. For more information please visit www.lewisu.edu.

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