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Oral History

Old Main was not just the center of Illinois State Normal University; it was an important place for the many people whose lives unfolded within its walls and in its shadow. To better understand daily life within and around Old Main, we began recording oral histories from the eldest alumni we could find—those who attended the University between 1933 and 1942—and also from faculty and administrators who worked in Old Main before its demolition in 1958. The purpose of these oral histories was to elucidate existing archaological remains and historical records.

We asked our interviewees for their memories of the building. They described its classrooms and offices, stairways and lounges, verandas and clock tower. Their stories gave substance and context to photographs we found in the University Archives and brought to life the impressions of campus life we gained from historical accounts, the analysis of excavated remains, and University yearbooks. Through the oral histories of alumni and emeritus faculty, we also gained a sense of campus life and culture at Illinois State Normal University (“Normal” was dropped from the name in 1964) in the 1930s and 40s. Their tales also took us out of Old Main and into the buildings of the surrounding campus, into restaurants and boarding houses of Bloomington and Normal, and into the spaces of their lives beyond college. Despite these narrative travels, we have organized their stories around the building itself, from the basement and grounds to the dome of clock tower.

 

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Above: Old Main at Night, 1938 Index

Left: North Side, 1938 Index

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OldMainProject@IllinoisState.edu

Old Main Project
Normal, Il 61790-4660
Phone: (309) 438-8668

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