Seasoned Storyteller

Jonathan Shafer Kohl, TFM ’13, has made it his mission to share the untold stories—and emphasize the unheard voices—of history. Through History Making Productions, a filmmaking company Kohl interned with as an undergraduate, and the company he’s worked for since he graduated, he is doing just that. 

Jonathan Shafer Kohl standing outside of a building with his jacket slung over his shoulder.
Photo credit: Joseph V. Labolito

Making history

While he was a student at Temple, a job at the University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center had Kohl spending hours upon hours in the archives—all alone most days, among the stacks and materials—inventorying, cataloguing and preserving donated film reels.

Torture for some. Kohl loved it.

“You get this feeling that you’re rediscovering lost artifacts,” Kohl said.

According to Kohl, the ultimate way to build community, to build a shared understanding of our past, is to unearth and share it.

“When you look just below the surface, there’s so much that has been untold,” he said.

Archiving, annotating, leading

Part of the college experience Kohl said he cherishes most was the intersecting of his majors—film and history—and his student job. He studied the history of documentary in his capstone course with professors like Paul Swann, now chair of the Department of Film and Media Arts, and learned the basics of archival preservation from archivists Brenda Galloway-Wright and John Pettit.

And it more than prepared him for his future career.

Today, as an archival producer, Kohl gathers old, historical photos, films, sound recordings, newspapers and more. He tracks down the information, organizes it for his team, and ensures all the proper licensing is secured. And in many instances, he works with archivists and librarians to digitally preserve these materials.

One of the most rewarding projects he has ever worked on, Kohl said, is a short documentary entitled Cecil’s People: The Freedom Fighters. For the film, Kohl and his team interviewed members of the Cecil B. Moore Philadelphia Freedom Fighters who marched with Moore in the 1960s, leading the fight to desegregate Girard College.

Jon at a glance

Learning from Philadelphia

Although Kohl had only dabbled with film before college, he knew he was most interested in the documentary track—mostly due to his interest in history. From there, studying in Philadelphia was a no-brainer.

“Philadelphia is so rich in historical institutions, museums, libraries and special collections.” Kohl said. “Having chosen that track, it’s hard for me to think of a better city.”

I think this is a great city to implement what you’re learning at Temple,” added Kohl, noting that the reason he feels most fulfilled every day is that in his work, education never ends.

“To me, when you continue learning about your world, it strengthens your perspective in life, it gives you a better understanding of the here and now,” he said. “What’s gratifying about what I do is the chance I have to share it.”

—By Lauren Hertzler, KLN ’13, and Cal Setar