“Marcellus Blount Loved to Dance,” by Alice McCrum for The Eye, is a beautiful feature on the late English professor’s 33 years at Columbia University. Among Blount’s many achievements, he was instrumental in the founding of two ground-breaking institutes at Columbia, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS) and the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS). Drawing on Blount’s interview for the IRWGS’ Oral History Project, McCrum highlights how Blount, a queer, black man, became an integral ally to women’s representation at Columbia. Through his understanding of the similarities between African Americans’ and women’s struggles for representation at traditionally white male elite institutions, Blount’s activism and conception of community at Columbia broadened: “I was not bereft of community, it just looked different.” McCrum portrays Blount as ever humble, an amazing feature for a man whose activism and scholarship had a lasting impact at Columbia and beyond.
By Anne Cardenas, CCOHR Communications Fellow & Oral History Master of Arts student
The Harriman Institute at Columbia University was established in 1946, as the Russian Institute. My great aunt, Virginia Rhine Stein, was a member of the first class of the Institute. I’ve always looked up to her and love the connection we have from time spent in DC and public service. I’m especially excited that we now share the bond of attending Columbia as well. I spoke with her a few weeks ago about her experience at the Russian Institute and how it shaped her subsequent career.
Virginia was born in rural Arkansas in 1922 and attended Hendrix College. Upon graduating she interned in the Department of Agriculture and then worked for the FDA and the Board of Economic Warfare. After the war, and on the recommendation of a supervisor, she enrolled at Columbia University. She spoke of the origins of the Institute:
“During the war, the US government had to look to Russian emigres, ‘white Russians,’ for expertise on the Soviet Union, or Russia, and it was perceived, there was a conviction that we needed to have an indigenous, American cadre of experts in the Russian field and in the language as well, and that is the background for the thinking that went into the establishment of the Russian Institute.”
She eventually became one of these experts, working on the Soviet Union desk at the U.S. State Department, following the developments of women, the youth movement and education in the Soviet Union.
Her recollections of her time in graduate school at Columbia, in some ways, are not very different from what graduate students might experience today. She mentioned that the first class of 30 students organized themselves into a student body, where Marshall Schulman served as President, and she was Secretary. They organized seminars and held regular meetings. She also spoke of the pressures of the program, with intense Russian language courses. She even signed up for a life drawing class on Friday nights to “escape from the intensity of the course study.”
Of her time at the Institute, she said, “I learned to do research...and it broadened my outlook on the world.” I imagine the hundreds of graduates of the Russian Institute (and Harriman Institute) since that first class would agree with her.
In 2015, together with The Columbia Center for Oral History Research and INCITE, the Harriman Institute began a project to document the Institute’s role in foreign policy and academia. Interviews with prominent professors, staff and affiliates of the Harriman Institute can be found in Cold Wars and the Academy: An Oral History on Russian and Eurasian Studies.
Do oral history, politics and journalism ever meet? They did in September. In the multilayered reporting on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Linda Greenhouse, longtime New York Times reporter on the Supreme Court, used an oral history from our Guantánamo/Rule of Law Project to discuss how Supreme Court decisions regarding key Guantánamo cases were processed by the D.C. District Court – where Mr. Kavanaugh sits (her article can be found here). We are proud that our Guantánamo/Rule of Law Project has been widely used, by professors of law, journalists and authors to increase an understanding of the law and justice.
OHMA is excited to announce that as of July 1, 2018, Amy Starecheski will become the Director of OHMA.
Mary Marshall Clark, with whom Amy has been co-directing the program, will become a Founding Co-Director, with Peter Bearman. Mary Marshall will continue teaching our core Oral History Method, Theory, and Interpretation and Thesis Seminar courses and advising students and will continue as the Director of the Center for Oral History Research. Please join us in thanking Mary Marshall and welcoming her into her new role, and congratulating Amy.
Amy and Mary Marshall each have some thoughts to share at this moment of transition:
The moment Amy Starecheski stepped into the Center for Oral History Research in 1997, and I talked with her, I knew we had struck gold. I hired her as a work-study student to audit-edit transcripts and soon she was giving me sage advice about who was succeeding as an interviewer as who was not. I was sorry when she graduated, and missed her advice! Only a few years later, Peter Bearman and I began the September 11, 2001 Narrative and Memory Project, and I called Amy to see if she would be willing to do interviews for us. She quickly became one of our most talented, sensitive and effective interviewers while she was still in her mid-twenties. She went on to teach in our summer institutes and lead a major global oral history project on the history of Atlantic Philanthropies. As she was leaving Columbia to earn her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at City University of New York, I let her know she would have a permanent place at Columbia and in the world of oral history when she was ready to return. I kept my fingers crossed and she did. In 2012 she came to co-direct OHMA with me and shaping OHMA with Amy has been one of the great joys of my career. It is a tremendous pleasure for me to watch Amy take the reins of OHMA and emerge as one of the most inspiring leaders and scholars of oral history in our times. I am lucky to continue to work with her and with OHMA, and watch her successes close by. Of course, the program would not exist without the generosity, intellectual rigor and support of Peter Bearman, founding co-director of OHMA, who also watches from close by, and who made our dream of an MA program possible.
- Mary Marshall Clark
I am honored to take on the role of Director of OHMA. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Mary Marshall’s ten years of leadership of OHMA, and the many years before that during which she developed and nurtured the idea of this program. Without Mary Marshall Clark, OHMA would not exist. Her extraordinary combination of personal care, critical engagement, and intellectual rigor has shaped this program at its deepest levels and has transformed ten cohorts of students. I know at a very personal level how valuable her mentoring is, as I have been lucky enough to benefit from it for over twenty years now. This spirit of generosity in training future generations of oral historians is what animates OHMA. As we prepare to welcome our 11th cohort this fall, I am grateful that future students will continue to benefit from her teaching, guidance, and support, and even more grateful that I will!
- Amy Starecheski
We at the Columbia University Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR) are proud to announce the release of our Oral History Transcription Style Guide! This guide includes comprehensive sections on the transcription process, formatting (including templates), fact-checking, editing and review, and specific style rules. CCOHR Director Mary Marshall Clark had this to say about the guide: "We are proud of releasing this guide to oral history transcription and editing, filled with insights culled over seven decades of work and processing thousands of oral history interviews. The purpose of this guide is to make our ethical and technical procedures for translating the spoken word into written form fully transparent and useable, while simultaneously demonstrating oral history's deep debt to literature and rich, open-ended dialogue."
Begun in 2016, this style guide takes to heart the philosophy of CCOHR's oral history practice regarding transcripts, described here in the guide: "Our transcripts must clearly communicate a speaker’s intended meaning in text, serve as useful and accessible primary source material, and represent the co-creation inherent in the oral history interview and transcription process."
The style guide's creation was led by oral historian Liz Strong in consultation with the team here at CCOHR and INCITE, primarily with CCOHR Director Mary Marshall Clark and former INCITE/CCOHR project manager Caitlin Bertin-Mahieux. Others who offered their invaluable advice include David Olson (Columbia), Amy Starecheski (Columbia), Doug Boyd (University of Kentucky), Michael Sesling (Audio Transcription Center), Michelle Holland (Baylor), Teresa Barnett (UCLA), Martin Meeker (UC Berkeley), and Jaycie Vos (UNC Chapel Hill).
Our hope for this style guide is that it will be a go-to resource for those preparing oral history transcripts that respect the spontaneity of the spoken word and the literary qualities of the written word, for broad public access.