Dr. Michelle Winslow Discusses Oral History in Palliative and End-of-Life Care at the 2017 Oral History Summer Institute

Dr. Winslow speaks at the 2017 CCOHR Oral History Summer Institute.

Dr. Winslow speaks at the 2017 CCOHR Oral History Summer Institute.

By Fanny Julissa García, Summer Institute Communications Coordinator

During the second week of the 2017 Oral History Summer Institute, fellows welcomed Dr. Michelle Winslow, who traveled from Sheffield in the United Kingdom to present her use of oral history in palliative and end-of-life care. Dr. Winslow is the co-founder of the oral history service at the Sheffield Macmillan Unit for Palliative Care, where she pairs volunteers with patients interested in producing audio recordings of their life history. Preparation for these interviews includes training volunteers on oral history practice and interviewing skills.

Palliative care, as Dr. Winslow explained, includes the act of caring for people who are facing serious illness and end-of-life processes. The care patients receive helps to improve quality of life and aims to relieve pain and other distressing symptoms, including the psychological impacts of illness, which can include depression and anxiety.

The goal here is to normalize dying as a fact of life, and she uses oral history to help individuals remember themselves before they became ill. Long-term illness, she said, can disrupt a person’s sense of self, and oral history provides an opportunity to restore dignity, autonomy and affirm life.

Dr. Winslow’s oral history service creates high quality voice recordings, which enhance holistic care and benefits both participants and families. The oral history service uses the life history method to produce a multi-layered audio and written document of the person’s entire life. “Recalling and describing life events brings to light underlying patterns of meaning,” says Dr. Winslow, and may help participants conclude “unfinished business,” as well as appreciate the interest taken in them as people.

Many of the recordings are archived and available for research and Dr. Winslow explained that an added benefit of the oral history service and the process of recording patients in end-of-life oral history interviews is that they provide healthcare professionals an opportunity to hear these recordings and gain a deeper understanding of terminally ill patients.

Mary Marshall Clark and Cameron Vanderscoff, Co-Directors of the 2017 Oral History Summer Institute believe that what is most fascinating about Dr. Winslow’s work is that “in following the careful path of oral history procedures and ethics, Dr. Winslow has instantiated a flawless oral history program in multiple sites that will only grow.”

Vanderscoff agrees and added, “Her work pushes us to consider not only how our practice can find new traction and purpose in palliative settings, but how we can develop the oral history process itself as an act of care. She connects oral history more closely with an ethic of shared meaning-making, and for revisiting the potential of the life history approach as a positive intervention for both interviewer and narrator.”

For more information about Dr. Michelle’s work, read “Recording Lives: The Benefits of an Oral History Service” in the 2009 edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care.


Fanny Julissa García is a recent graduate of the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the Central American Refugee Crisis and the rise of immigration detention centers in the U.S. She currently works as a social media marketing content writer for various organizations including Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, the Columbia Oral History Master of Arts program, and the CCOHR 2017 Oral History Summer Institute.

 

Columbia Aging Center’s Dr. Ursula Staudinger presents work at the CCOHR Oral History Summer Institute

Dr. Ursula Staudinger presents at the 2017 CCOHR Oral History Summer Institute.

Dr. Ursula Staudinger presents at the 2017 CCOHR Oral History Summer Institute.

By Fanny Julissa García, Summer Institute Communications Coordinator

Dr. Ursula Staudinger, Founding Director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center and the associated International Longevity Center, presented presented a lecture and a seminar at the CCOHR 2017 Oral History Summer Institute. Dr. Staudinger is a lifespan psychologist, and her research focuses on the plasticity of the aging process and the implications it has for population aging. Her first presentation took place on June 5th and kicked off two weeks of powerful analysis and exploration on themes related to aging, lifespan psychology, and the cognitive impact of life history interviews on individuals.

The Columbia Aging Center is a co-sponsor of this year’s Institute, and Dr. Staudinger’s keynote lecture, titled, “More Years, More Life: Opportunities and Challenges of Demographic Change” put forward research she has conducted on the opportunities and challenges of a society that is characterized by longer lives, but questions whether this same society is any healthier mentally and physically.

Dr. Staudinger asked the question, “Are we capable of making use of longer lives and maintain productivity?” The answer is yes, but this requires significant investment and changes in our society. She presented the following five steps needed for a more engaged and productive aging population:

  1. Health promotion and sickness prevention for all.

  2. Education across lifespan for all.

  3. More versatile work biographies for all.

  4. Productivity through volunteering.

  5. Making use of the new economy of longer lives: health, education, financial instruments, technology and infrastructure.

Her seminar, titled, “Life Review, Reminiscence and Wisdom” focused on the process of life review- a central process for oral history- from a psychological perspective. Life review is one form of reminiscence that takes more than reconstructing the past from memories. The process of life review also entails an evaluation and explanation part. The way we reconstruct our past from memory is influenced by many factors aside from what happened in the past. We need to be aware of the situational and cultural impact. Other concepts that have been linked with the notion of life review in the psychological literature are autobiographical reasoning and life reflection. She also highlighted the counter intuitive finding that it is not enough to grow old to become wise. Rather, her research shows that the last stage in life pushes to integrate the past instead of questioning it and identifying pros and cons based on which deeper insights about life can be gained.

Dr. Staudinger’s presentation and research was widely quoted at the summer institute days after she presented, and many fellows identified familiar themes in their own research, including many who are working with narrators in early stages of Alzheimer’s, and dementia.

Mary Marshall Clark, Co-Director of the CCOHR 2017 Oral History Summer Institute said the following about Dr. Staudinger’s presentations, “She taught us that the art and science of remembering are deeply interconnected and reinforce the plasticity of the mind throughout the life span, and that creative aging is not only possible but achievable.  We are so grateful for her brilliant and thoughtful approaches to the kind of memory work we often do without thinking about it so explicitly.”


Fanny Julissa García is a recent graduate of the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the Central American Refugee Crisis and the rise of immigration detention centers in the U.S. She currently works as a social media marketing content writer for various organizations including Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, the Columbia Oral History Master of Arts program, and the CCOHR 2017 Oral History Summer Institute.

INCITE/CCOHR Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project at MoMA

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The first full-scale retrospective since the artist’s death in 2008, Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, is an exhibit organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Modern, London. Opening May 21, the show presents work from six decades of Rauschenberg’s acclaimed career.

MoMA is using excerpts from Columbia Center for Oral History Research’s Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project for the exhibition’s audio guide, so make sure to get a headset when you see the exhibition!

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The Liberation of Oral History: A Little History and A Lot of Work

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In this post, Mary Marshall ClarkDirector of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, Co-Director of OHMA, and Senior Member of the Columbia University Institutional Review Boardreflects on the recent update to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, which has clarified the exclusion of oral history from its research review mandates. 

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