Tag Archives: Columbia Center for Oral History

Wednesday, June 18 at 2pm: Love, Literature & Oral History: A Public Interview with Dr. Farah Griffin

Love, Literature and Oral History:
Transmitting our Stories

A Public Interview with Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin

Farah GriffinThe Center for Oral History Research/INCITE (Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics) and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies presents a public interview with Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English & Comparative Literature and African American Studies, as a part of its 2014 Oral History Institute, “ Second Generation Memories and Stories.” The interview, which will focus on the power of love and the transmission of memory in African American communities, will be conducted by Janée Moses and Dr. Marcellus Blount will provide response.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 18, 2:00-4:30pm.

WHERE: Columbia University, Knox Hall, Room 509, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor. Campus Map.

Farah Jasmine Griffin is a professor of English and comparative literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, where she has served as director of the Institute for Research in African American studies. In addition to editing several collections of letters and essays she is the author of Who Set You Flowin’: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995), If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001) and Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (Thomas Dunne, 2008).

Marcellus Blount, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Co-Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, teaches American and African American literary and cultural studies at Columbia University. He has been a Research Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia, a Visiting Fellow at Wesleyan’s Center for Afro-American Studies, a Rockefeller Fellow at the Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Visiting Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. He has published essays in PMLA, Callaloo, American Literary History, and Southern Review. He co-edited Representing Black Men with George Cunningham. His first study is entitled “In a Broken Tongue: Rediscovering African American Poetry.” His current project is entitled Listening for My Name: African American Men and the Politics of Friendship. He was the Sterling Brown ’22 Visiting Professor of English at Williams College.

Janée A. Moses is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan in the American Culture Program. In May 2014, she earned a Master of Arts in Oral History from Columbia University. Her thesis, It matters whom she loves: An Oral History of the Life and Works of Amina Baraka, excavates the history of Black women participants of the Black Arts Movement and the importance of knowing whom they loved. In 2012, Moses earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on 20th century American cultural history, women’s history, African American history, gender studies, literary studies, and love. Oral history remains her primary method in pursuit of re-examining history in order to advance our understanding of the present.

INFORMATION: For more information, please email Terrell Frazier at terrellfrazier@columbia.edu or visit incite.columbia.edu.


May 1 at 5pm: Social Hall: An Oral History Exhibit

The Social Hall: an Oral History Exhibit
Produced and curated by Columbia University’s OHMA Students

Please join us to celebrate our exploration of oral history-based projects

WHEN:     Thursday, May 1, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

WHERE:    Social Hall
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway (at 121st Street)
New York, New York 10027


Columbia University’s Oral History Master of Arts 2014 Cohort is proud to present “Social Hall,” an exhibition of complex projects that both challenge and advance the field of oral history. By considering multimedia applications and social presentations, we wish to introduce a new audience to the field and to share its significance in our world, both past and present.

“Social Hall” is made up of individual projects that address a wide range of topics, including Argentina’s struggle for memory in a post-dictatorship society, a woman’s journey from Fort Mojave Indian Tribe to Yale University, the explorations of a scrap diver, definition of community in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and a documentary on Black men during the era of Black Power and Black Nationalism. These projects are connected through their dependence on oral history and their engagement with living individuals, our narrators.  All projects in this exhibit were developed by OHMA students.


The Oral History Master of Arts is the first program of its kind: a one-yearinterdisciplinary Master of Arts degree training students in oral history method and theory.  Jointly run by the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, one of the preeminent oral history centers in the world, and INCITE, a lively hub for interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences, OHMA connects students with the intellectual resources of a major research university, and with the intimate society of a small cohort of talented students.May 1 Flyer

APPLY: 2014 Summer Institute, Second Generation Memories and Stories


The Center for Oral History Research and INCITE (Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics) are pleased to announce our 2014 Summer Institute, “Second Generation Memories and Stories,” to be held June 16-27, 2014 at Columbia University in New York City. The program will explore the ways in which memories are formed and transmitted through family, cultural, political and social frames and experiences. Oral history has been a central methodology in exploring global themes of identity and post-memory through second-generation stories of immigration, migration, poverty, trauma and genocide, displacement and exile. Oral history also provides a setting for intimate exchanges between families, communities and cultures in a way that preserves and secures local and indigenous knowledge across generations, cultures and ethnicities: engendering individual and social resilience.

We encourage applicants to use the Institute to explore a broad range of applications of second-generation oral history research in contemporary contexts and fields including public health and medicine, immigration studies (including the impact of post-9/11 US policies on immigrant communities), sociology and social science more generally. The program will include presentations on how scholars, museums and memorials have used second-generation oral histories, and testimony, in ways that are crucial to illuminating forgotten or misunderstood experiences. The Institute will also include practical workshops in digital storytelling, interviewing and editing.

Core faculty will include:• Mary Marshall Clark, Director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research and co-director of the Oral History Master of Arts Program at the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics of Columbia University;

Peter Bearman, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics and co-director of the Oral History Master of Arts Program;

Doug Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries;

Alessandro Portelli, Professor of Anglo-American Literature at the University of Rome-La Sapienza;

Terrell Frazier, Director of Education and Outreach at the Columbia Center for Oral History;

Amy Starecheski, Associate Director of the Oral History Master of Arts Program at the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics of Columbia University;

Ronald J. Grele, Director Emeritus of the Columbia Center for Oral History;

Linda Shopes, Former President of the U.S. Oral History Association, Freelance Editor and Consultant in Oral and Public History.

• CCOHR staff, students from the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA), and others who have worked in the archive will enrich our discussions with their interpretations.

Low-cost on-campus housing will be available for those outside of the New York City area.

Please contact Terrell Frazier with any questions.


Surfacing Solutions: A Reflection on Oral History and Domestic Violence

The following post was written by OHMA students Sara Wolcott and Ellen Brooks:

In Alisa Del Tufo’s talk on Thursday, January 31st the oral historian and activist sought to inspire her large audience with the story of her life’s work.

Del Tufo credits inflection points, or life changing moments, with the direction of her career and her inspiration to use oral history to surface new solutions to domestic violence. The first major such inflection point was in 1987. The case of Hedda Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg, in which a young girl, Lisa Steinberg, was killed at the hands of Joel Steinberg, stirred significant public controversy and prompted Del Tufo to explore the link between adult domestic violence and child maltreatment; which up until this point had been ignored and unexplored.


In 1991 Del Tufo left Sanctuary for Families, which she had founded in 1984, and began the oral history project that ultimately opened up New York City’s eyes to intimate violence. To hear Alyssa explain the project, the ah-ha moment that led her to try oral history as a method and what she learned, listen to the following clip:

Conducting these interviews was a second inflection point for Del Tufo and whatsurfaced in these conversations with battered women inspired her to begin meeting with influential feminists, politicians, and community activists to begin to make a change. The primary result was a domestic violence handbook, “Behind Closed Doors: The City’s Response to Domestic Violence,” which brought the issue to the front and center of the city’s politics.


In oral history, we look at “a-ha moments” as moments when the narrator is able to create a new thought or response though the process of the oral history interview, “I didn’t know I felt that way” or “I’d never thought about it that way before.” This is not entirely different from what Del Tufo deems an inflection point. Both are self-imposed structural shifts in the narrative. When using oral history as a tool of activism, it is the a-ha moment or inflection point that recognizes the problem and can lead to the corresponding action.

As aspiring oral historians themselves, the authors of this blog post experienced a few inflection points/a-ha moments during the discussion. Sara was challenged and motivated by Del Tufo’s assertion that in order to make change, one must choose the right moment. As oral historians looking to make an impact on the world, what is our moment? Is it possible to not only choose the moment, but to create the moment? Can one document the present to change the future? Ellen’s inflection point came when Del Tufo discussed altruism as a motivation for battered women to tell their stories. Many of the women Del Tufo interviewed agreed to these intimate conversations not for their own well-being, but because they believed their stories might help others in the same situation. Should we assume (or hope) that these altruistic motives can be found in other at-risk communities? Towards the end of the discussion several people discussed other issues to which Alisa’s methods might apply – such as elder abuse and sex trafficking. How can we tap into and encourage this community service model elsewhere?

For more information on oral history projects inspiring social change, check out the following sites:

Groundswell http://www.oralhistoryforsocialchange.org/

Tibet Oral History Project http://tibetoralhistory.org/index.html

Voices of Rwanda http://voicesofrwanda.org/

Khmer Legacies http://khmerlegacies.org/

It Gets Better http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject

Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project  http://youtu.be/NHRkPuJfasg

Other organizations founded by Alisa Del Tufo:

Connect http://www.connectnyc.org

Threshold Collaborative http://www.thresholdcollaborative.org

[Video] Oral History and Public Health

On Thursday, December 6, 2012, the Columbia Center for Oral History in partnership with the Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA) Program, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program (CUSP), and Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars co-hosted the event, The Newtown Creek Community Health and Harms Narrative Project: Oral History and Public Health.  The event was part of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series and an Open House for the OHMA Program.

The event started with a Q&A session between Suzanne Snider and the current OHMA students about her work as a writer and an oral historian.  In addition to teaching at the New School University, Snider is also the founder and director of Oral History Summer School. She has worked as an interviewer for Columbia University’s Center for Oral History, the New York Academy of Medicine, HBO Productions, and the Prison Public Memory Project among others.

During the Q&A session, students asked Snider about how she got her start in the field of oral history.  She spoke about getting her MFA in Nonfiction at Columbia, but it was in fact, an Oral History course that led her to fall in love with the field and eventually to pursue a career in it.  She then presented on her latest project, which focused on documenting the public health concerns of individuals residing in communities along Newtown Creek in New York City.  Snider spoke about some of the major problems encountered during the course of the project as well as the online mapping and social networking platform, Habitat Map, which was instrumental in her approach and methodology to give voice to community members who had been impacted by their polluted environment.

As part of the Open House for the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA), the event also included a short introduction by the Director of OHMA, Mary Marshall Clark, and comments from an alumna of the program, Kristen LaFollette and the Associate Director of OHMA, Amy Starecheski.

Post by OHMA student Maye Saephanh

[Video] Interviewing Interviewers about Interviewing

Andrea Dixon, who received her MA in Oral History and is now a PhD student, says that theoretical understanding will help with oral history’s struggle for legitimacy. Her dissertation research consists of interviews with oral historians about their interview practices and the origins of those practices. “Reflecting about the practice via the practice – it’s pretty meta,” Dixon joked to a packed housePart 1 of her enlightening presentation began with a YouTube clip of Penn State historian Lee Stout exploring the question “What is an Oral History Interview?” Through Stout’s answers, Dixon discussed how oral history is a unique research method that is both process and product, creating new sources. This understanding of oral history is widely shared. But Dixon also urged us to look at the oral history interview as a “communication event” imbued with “symbolic interactionism.” She pointed to the gap between dialogue and communication, teasing out how we can know that the oral history interview is a communicative event.

Part 2 of the presentation is where Dixon delved her dissertation work – interviewing the interviewer about interviewing. She explains that she wants to understand the bedrock assumptions underlying oral history practice, and to see if there are some unexamined beliefs or adherence to theories by oral history practitioners. This is a project that is only feasible and relevant in the 21st century; standing on the sturdily built foundation that oral historians of the past sixty years have built, the next wave of oral historians, of which Dixon is an exceptional member, are able to face larger and more complicated questions than ever before.

Dixon grapples with social epistemology, which, applied to oral history, amounts to what oral historians assume is true about social interactions (like the interview) and the study of whether these assumptions can be proven true. Dixon discussed the matter of narrative depending on coherence (or the allowance of incoherence) as well as the dependence of intersubjectivity on subjectivity, performance on language and memory on self. For oral history to be accessible and understandable, users need to understand these relationships. And the accessibility of oral history is one of Dixon’s primary concerns. She asks the question; how accessible is oral history? And conversely, how is oral history accessible? Dixon sees oral history as an emancipatory enterprise which can and should be used across academic genres. A deeper study of the epistemology of oral history has the potential to lead to a better understanding of the sociology of knowledge.

Dixon stated that all epistemology is still responding to Descartes: “what if what we know turns out not to be true?” She talked about knowledge as “justified belief” and about how oral historians have had secondary status because of subjectivity. “Social epistemology – why does it matter for us? Because it is crucial that we engage critically on the bases of our practice… as oral historians, we are really studying what it means to be human – a different kind of truth.”

Post by OHMA students Sara Wolcott, Ellen Coon, and Ellen Brooks.