Oral History in the New York Times


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


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



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

Announcing the 2018 CCOHR Oral History Transcription Style Guide!

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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.

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.

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

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

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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