New Additions to the Obama Presidency Oral History Research and Administrative team

After extensive searches, INCITE and the Columbia Center for Oral History are pleased to announce several additions to the research and administrative team for the Obama Presidency Oral History project. The project, expected to include 425 interviews and over 1200 hours of video and audio recordings, aims to produce a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions, and impact of the Obama Administration.

Three exceptional presidential historians will join the current team of Peter Bearman, Mary Marshall Clark, Kimberly Springer, Michael Falco, William McAllister, and Terrell Frazier. Nicole Hemmer is a political historian specializing in media, conservatism, and the far-right. She has undertaken a wide-ranging set of projects, including her first book, Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics (Penn Press, 2016). Dov Weinryb Grohsgal has taught in the Princeton University Department of History and served as an associate research scholar in the university’s School of International and Public Affairs. His research, scholarship and teaching focus at the intersection of presidential administrations, social movements, inequality, and race; his forthcoming book is “Bring Us Together”: The Politics and Policies of School Desegregation in the Nixon White House. Evan D. McCormick has held postdoctoral fellowships from the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. His work focuses on Inter-American relations during the Reagan Years, and contested ideas of security, democracy, and rights in the Western Hemisphere. Evan’s first book, under contract from Cornell University Press, is entitled Beyond Revolution and Repression: U.S. Foreign Policy and Latin American Democracy, 1980-1989

Also joining as Project Coordinator will be Liz Strong, a graduate of our Oral History Master of Arts program. Liz co-authored Columbia’s guide for oral history transcription and audit-editing in 2018. She has served as an Oral History Program Manager for the New York Preservation Oral History Project (NYPAP) and as Project Coordinator for the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn Project.

Research and editorial efforts will be aided further by current INCITE staffers Tess McClure and Julius Wilson. Tess is a journalist and editor, previously the deputy editor for VICE New Zealand. She recently earned a Master’s in Journalism at Columbia University. Julius, who also serves as INCITE’s Program and Communications Coordinator, graduated from Columbia in 2018 with a major in Sociology and a minor in African-American Studies, writing his thesis on journalistic professional values in the Trump era. 

The Obama Foundation and Columbia University Announce the Obama Presidency Oral History Project

Hundreds of people to participate in comprehensive record of the decisions, actions, and effects of the Obama presidency. Partners, University of Chicago and University of Hawaiʻi, Will Collect Oral Histories from President and Mrs. Obama’s Early Lives 

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NEW YORK — Columbia University and the Obama Foundation are pleased to announce that the Columbia Center for Oral History has been selected to conduct the official oral history of the Obama Presidency. This project will provide a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions, and effects of this historic presidency. The University of Hawaiʻi and the University of Chicago will partner with Columbia in this project. The University of Hawaiʻi will focus on President Obama’s early life, and the University of Chicago will concentrate on the Obamas’ lives in Chicago. 

“The pride we feel in counting President Obama as an alumnus involves much more than the recognition of his time as a student here many years ago. This is a relationship built on shared values and interests that is producing public spirited projects of enormous, even transformative, potential at Columbia,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “The latest venture will capitalize on Columbia's unsurpassed talent for assembling oral history and will, I am sure, create an invaluable resource for understanding an historic presidency.”

This project builds on a longstanding tradition of presidential oral histories. For more than 60 years, oral history has been used to record the stories of people inside and outside of the White House that shed light on a president’s time in office. This will be the second presidential oral history project to be conducted by Columbia, home to the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, which houses the Eisenhower Administration Oral History project. 

“Columbia’s experience executing complicated and detailed oral histories set them apart, and we believe the university’s thoughtful approach will result in an exciting oral history archive for historians, academics, and storytellers as well as the public to learn about and investigate the Obama presidency,” said David Simas, Chief Executive Officer of the Obama Foundation. “We are grateful to the University of Hawaiʻi and the University of Chicago for participating and ensuring that the important work that preceded President and Mrs. Obama’s time in the White House is integrated into this project.”    

“Michelle Obama famously observed that ʻYou canʻt really understand Barack until you understand Hawaiʻi. The University of Hawaiʻi’s extraordinary Center for Oral History is looking forwarding to exploring those early days with those who were part of President Obama’s story," said University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner.

And in a joint statement from the University of Chicago, Adam Green, Associate Professor of American History, and Jacqueline Stewart, Professor in the Department of Cinema and American Studies, announced, “We are pleased to collaborate with Columbia on this exciting project. The stories of Michelle and Barack Obama are intertwined with the story of Chicago and the South Side in particular. We look forward to contributing to that historic narrative, with a focus on how their city helped to shape them as civic leaders.”

During the next five years, starting this summer, the Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with about 400 people, including senior leaders and policy makers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists, and other key figures -- Republican and Democrat -- outside of the White House.

The Obama Presidency Oral History Project also will incorporate interviews with individuals who represent different dimensions of daily American life, whose perspectives enable the archive to weave recollections of administration officials with the stories and experiences of people who were affected by the administration’s decisions. This project will also examine Mrs. Obama’s work and legacy as First Lady.

“We are honored to document the legacy of President Obama. Our goal is to set a new benchmark for presidential oral histories in terms of the diversity and breadth of narratives assembled and depth of understanding achieved,” said Mary Marshall Clark, Director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research and a Project Co-Investigator. “Central to our project is a commitment to candidly document the stories of key administration alumni and bring them into conversation with the varied experiences of ordinary Americans.”

Clark will work with Peter Bearman, Jonathan R. Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, and Kimberly Springer, Curator of Columbia’s Oral History Archives.

“We conduct interdisciplinary research, and a trademark of this project is bringing together experts from across fields of knowledge and expertise to ensure our interviewers are asking the right questions, whether they are in the offices of policymakers who enacted the Affordable Care Act, or at the kitchen table of citizens whose lives were affected by it,” said Bearman, who will serve as the principal investigator for the project.

Columbia University also announced the formation of the Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board, composed of leading presidential historians, including Robert Dallek and Douglas Brinkley; acclaimed journalists such as Michele Norris and Jelani Cobb; and top scholars in history, political science, sociology, and public health, who can speak to how this period affected the lives of those inside and outside of Washington. A full list of advisory board members is below.

The oral histories are expected to be publicly available online at Columbia University no later than 2026. Following the project’s completion, the Foundation will look for opportunities to connect the oral history archive with related collections and content, including the National Archives-administered digital records of the Obama presidency.

“Columbia is committed to preserving our past for use in the future,” Springer said. “Columbia’s collection is distinguished for the inclusion of perspectives, not just ‘Great Men,’ but the many others who shape our world. Our archive includes a vast array of histories so that current and future generations of historians and citizens can learn lessons from our times.

Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board

  • Lee C. Bollinger, Chair, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

  • Peter Bearman, Vice-Chair, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and Jonathan R. Cole Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

  • Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

  • Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor of Humanities, Rice University

  • Karida Brown, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

  • Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism and Director of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, Columbia Journalism School

  • Robert Dallek, presidential historian and author

  • Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, Columbia University

  • David Hollinger,  Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

  • Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University

  • Jennifer Lee, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

  • Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Harvard University

  • Helen Milner, B.C. Forbes Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Director of the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

  • Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study

  • Michele Norris, radio journalist and former host of the National Public Radio (NPR) evening news program “All Things Considered”

  • Vicki L. Ruiz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chicano/Latino Studies, History School of Humanities, University of California, Irvine

  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University

  • Keith Wailoo, Chair of the Department of History and Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Background on Columbia Center for Oral History

The Columbia Center for Oral History, founded in 1948, is the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, with more than 11,000 recorded interviews and over 25,000 hours of transcript. The collection is renowned for its diversity, including memories from the 1870s to present, from the experiences of labor organizers to recollections of Supreme Court justices. Columbia is also home to the nation’s only graduate level training program in the field of oral history.

Housed at INCITE, Columbia University’s leading interdisciplinary social science research center, Columbia Oral History’s recent major works include projects to document how New Yorkers experienced September 11, the “Rule of Law” project to examine Guantanamo and civil rights law in the 21st Century, and a history of the Council of Foreign Relations.

CCOHR and INCITE partner with Human Rights Campaign for new oral history project

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The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOHR) and INCITE are pleased to announce a new oral history project in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, which will focus on the HRC’s mission, achievements, growth, and role in the LGBTQ movement. The project will collect and archive approximately 150 hours of audio and video, recorded over the course of 80 sessions with 40 narrators consisting primarily of HRC founders, staff, and board members.

These interviews will center on the organization’s most transformative moments, like the early AIDS crisis, marriage equality, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the expanding focus around diversity and state work, with the recognition that these developments are crucial not only to the organization’s history, but to that of the LGBTQ movement more broadly. The project asks, just as the HRC has asked: what can a single organization tell us about a social movement and social change? How do historic moments shape organizations and vice versa? How do institutions with diverse constituencies reconcile competing needs and agendas for a forward-thinking movement, all while effectively responding to consistent external attacks?

As the field of oral history has shifted from a focus on the past to helping organizations evolve in the present, part of CCOHR’s central mission has been to address human rights challenges that dynamically link the past to the present and future. This project aims to continue that work, by promoting public knowledge about the unique history of the HRC in a way that can inform and contextualize the pursuit of equality moving forward.

Interviews from the LGBTQ Columbia University Oral History Project are Now Available!

The Columbia Center for Oral History Research and INCITE are proud to announce the archival of our LGBTQ Columbia University Oral History Project. Bringing together the oral histories of several LGBTQ+ people and allies affiliated with Columbia University, the project adds to the history of LGBTQ+ people at the university. The archive includes interviews with noted alumni and affiliates John D’Emilio, Tony Kushner, Robbie Kaplan, Ann Kansfield, Laura Pinsky and Dennis Mitchell. Interviews were conducted by Jamie Beckenstein, Mary Marshall Clark, Terrell Frazier and Jean Howard.

The interview transcripts, audio and video are cataloged and archived at the Columbia University Oral History Archives at the Rare Book and Manuscript reading room in Butler Library, Columbia University. Researchers may access the transcripts at their convenience, though they should contact the archives 48 hours in advance to request audio/video access free of charge. Records of the interviews are available here.

The video above, created by Sophie Bearman, highlights some of the conversations captured during the project’s oral histories.


Columbia University Press to Publish New Oral History Series

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INCITE and CCOHR are excited to announce a new oral history series published by the Columbia University Press. The purpose of this series is to publish innovative, creative, rigorous, and analytical oral history books based on narratives that illuminate the critical stories of our times, locally and globally.

We are eager for contributions from authors who practice oral history within disciplines of social science and the humanities in traditional ways, and also welcome scholars and writers who use oral history to work at the intersection of these disciplines in non-traditional ways, incorporating new forms of writing attuned to orality, visuality, embodiment, generative practices and memory. We are particularly interested in books that draw upon large scale interview projects and collections. We anticipate publishing diverse genres of books in this series, from analytic books that rely on oral history as key evidence to edited narratives from archival projects, that creatively communicate the stories that our narrators tell.

We are interested in stories at many scales; in narratives that provide human access to world historical events, to the horrors of war and genocide, to the struggles and hopes of people displaced from their homes, to the visions, experiences and triumphs of those resisting oppression, but also in stories that reveal in their intricacy the meanings of place, of creativity, change.

In that spirit, we issue a wide call to younger generations of oral historians, those who are bringing new analytical and innovative thinking to bear on a field that is rapidly growing in the academy as well as the public world. Additionally, we seek to publish experienced authors seeking a new platform for their most innovative work.

We hope to publish multiple volumes each year.  Authors interested in submitting a proposal to the series should send a detailed description per these guidelines to the series editors: Mary Marshall Clark, Amy Starecheski, Kimberly Springer and Peter Bearman.

Contact email: Mary Marshall Clark, mmc17@columbia.edu.


Article remembering Marcellus Blount features IRWGS' Oral History Project

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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.

For more information on the IRWGS’ Oral History Project, click here.


"In a house that no longer stands..."

By Anne Cardenas, CCOHR Communications Fellow & Oral History Master of Arts student

Marshall Schulman, who became the director of the Institute, wrote an article, which had an opening sentence that is quite memorable, it began: ‘In a house that no longer stands, on a street that no longer exists, Columbia University’s Russian Institute opened its doors to its first class in the fall of 1946.’ Now I was in that first class, along with Marshall Schulman and it was a very rigorous two-year course. The first year we had intensive Russian language training, two hours or so a day. Along with taking courses in our special field- I chose Political Science, one could go the economics route, there was a specialty in the literature and language, in history and in political science. - Virginia Rhine Stein
Photo taken in 1950, provided by Virginia Rhine Stein.

Photo taken in 1950, provided by Virginia Rhine Stein.

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.

Oral History in the New York Times

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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.


Announcing the New Director of OHMA

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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:
 

 

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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
 

 

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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